If exercise is so good for us, why aren't more of us doing it? Excuses range from not having time to being out of shape or feeling intimidated in the gym.Studies on exercise and its effect on health continue to underscore its benefits."Regular physical activity and a healthy diet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease," says Dr. Nancy Georgekutty, an independently practicing family practice physician on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.Regular physical activity improves muscular strength and endurance, cardio respiratory strength and endurance, and flexibility. Exercise can take many forms -- it doesn't have to be in the gym, but can be incorporated into daily activities like walking or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the dog, raking leaves or playing kickball with the kids. Staying active and getting a daily dose of sunlight will also help keep your mind and body balanced.To gain the full health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulatory system, Georgekutty recommends moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week, or the equivalent of walking one mile in 15 to 20 minutes. The weekly 150 minutes can be broken into 10- or 15-minute segments throughout the week.The key is to regularly do something that increases the heart rate. The way to know if you're getting a good workout is to recognize that your heart rate has increased. The recommendation is to work out at 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can measure by taking your pulse periodically, Georgekutty explains.To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. For a 45-year-old, for example, the maximum heart rate is 175 beats per minute. Fifty percent to 85 percent of 175 is 88 to 149 beats per minute.Need a little motivation? Here are some tips:Choose activities you like and you'll be more likely to stick with themWear comfortable clothing and well-fitted footwearSchedule your workout time, but be flexibleFind a buddy or work colleague to exercise withDon't overdo it -- start slowly and work up to avoid injuryUse music to get you moving -- and motivatedTake that first step out the door!Exercise helps you burn calories and lose weight. But remember, exercise alone will not help you lose weight if your diet is unhealthy."Follow a low-fat diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood and whole grains. And be sure to eat breakfast," Georgekutty says. "While we sleep our metabolism slows down, then rises when we wake up and eat. If we skip breakfast, our metabolism is not at its maximum. People should eat three to four sensible meals throughout the day to maintain a healthy flow of calories and a higher metabolic rate."Take steps today toward a healthier life by exercising regularly and making smart food choices to look and feel better. If you're ready to get moving, contact a primary care physician to make sure that your fitness goals are healthy ones. Don't have a physician? Visit MethodistHealthSystem.org/FindAPhysician or call 877-637-4297 today.Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.