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Dr. Zorba Paster: Take steps, including tai chi, to improve your health

What’s the best exercise you can do? I always ask that when I’m speaking.

If it’s a college audience, they say running (and then some laugh and say sex). For the more mature audience, the answer also is running, with a smattering of other answers: swimming, spinning, yoga, Pilates and, lately, Zumba.

You name it, someone’s doing it and claiming it’s the next best thing. So I’ll tell you my opinion on the best exercise. I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the best exercise is – trumpets please – any exercise that you will do.

Right on! Just get off your derriere.

While we’re on that piece of the anatomy, remember that the more sedentary you are from sitting at computers to watching TV, the more likely you are to expand. And considering our nation is considered the most obese in the world, we’re not doing well, are we?

Lots of studies have shown that exercise is cumulative. What you do during the day adds up. A five-minute walk here, a stair climb there – move it toward a 30-minute cumulative total in the day and you’ve got something to crow about.

This might be your plan because work and family chores can make it difficult to carve out time. But I suggest that you ramp it up a notch and measure what you’re doing with a pedometer.

Pedometers measure how many steps you’re taking. The goal is 10,000 steps a day. Many Americans get 2,500. That’s abysmal.

It’s true that for aerobic conditioning you need to get your pulse up to 80 percent of its maximum three days a week. But some of us can’t or won’t do this. Arthritis, injuries and time limitations make it impossible. So go for the 10,000 steps.

But you need more than that – you need strength and balance. As you age, these become more important because you need both of these to prevent those disastrous falls that can land you in the hospital. Fall and break your hip and you might have a lifetime of disability.

Anything that keeps that from happening is worthy. I suggest you consider the ancient Chinese exercise, tai chi.

This slow, steady, rhythmic dance improves posture and gait, stretches and strengthens muscles, and most importantly improves balance. It’s derived from martial arts, where balance is the key to success.

And here’s another benefit – it may keep you from getting a cold. New research from the British Medical Journal shows tai chi improves the immune system. Researchers found that adults who took a 12-week tai chi course had more “helper T cells,” the white cells that help us fight off infections.

My spin: Move it or lose it. Pick something that’s right for you. Try something new. As my mom would say, “Try it. You might like it.”

And maybe you should get on the tai chi bandwagon. I predict it could be the new yoga.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.