The HEALTH BENEFITS of EXERCISE*
We know it is important to exercise. Exercise is recommended by ‘everyone’ for everyone. But how much exercise and what type? No matter your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits to your health.
Inactivity and Health
Medical experts say inactivity poses as great a health risk as smoking, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression, arthritis and osteoporosis. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention states that 36% of U.S. adults did not engage in any leisure-time physical activity in 2008. It is expected that a similar percent would apply to Australian adults. Even lean men and women who are inactive are at higher risk of death and disease.
The Health Benefits of Exercise
· Aids in Weight Control
A key factor in achieving weight loss is regular exercise. It has also been shown that regular exercise is essential to maintain the new weight, having achieved it by life-style change including diet and exercise. Reducing obesity is an important goal and exercise will not only aid this but, as mentioned above, independent of weight loss the exercise will reduce the risk of death and disease.
· Boosts the Immune System
A growing body of research is showing that regular exercise can boost the body’s immune system, increasing the circulation of natural killer T cells (white cells in the blood). This is why regular workouts have been shown to reduce the incidence of colds and flu, and time off work as a result. Dr David Nieman (director of the Appalachian State University’s Health Performance Lab) has conducted several randomised controlled studies showing that people who walked briskly for 45 minutes, five days a week, over 12-15 weeks, had fewer and less severe upper respiratory tract infections such as colds and flu. These subjects reduced their number of sick days by 25-50% compared to sedentary control subjects. A healthy immune system is an essential for good health.
· Reduces the Risk of Cancer
In November 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research published a 537 page report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer. For five years, a 21-scientist expert panel evaluated the best published evidence (some 7000 articles) by a meta-analysis. Summarising the report were 10 recommendations of what to do and what not to do in order to minimise the risk of developing cancer. (See my March 2008 newsletter Prevention of Cancer for full details of these recommendations). The second recommendation underscored the importance of exercise in the prevention of cancer.
Ø Physically active adults experience about half the incidence of colon cancer as their sedentary counterparts.
Ø Women who exercise regularly can reduce their breast cancer risk by 20-30% over their inactive counterparts.
Ø In another study involving 3000 women who were being treated for breast cancer, it was found that, in those who walked at an average pace for three to five hours a week there was a 50% reduction in deaths, compared to more sedentary women.
· Slows Aging
Exercise lengthens our telomeres, or at least delays their shortening. Every time our cells divide, the telomeres (which sit at the ends of our chromosomes) keep getting shorter until our cells die or are damaged. Exercise thus slows down our aging. This is fully discussed in my August 2010 newsletter Telomeres.
· Improves Metabolic Fitness
By exercising, you improve physical fitness. This results not only in having a feeling of well-being, “feeling good”, but can effectively lower your triglyceride levels, increase the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol), lower your blood glucose levels and normalise your insulin levels (protect against diabetes). All these factors are indicators of “metabolic fitness”, which is a cornerstone of optimal heath.
· Leads to a Wide Range of Other Benefits
Many other aspects of our health have been shown to benefit from regular exercise and improved physical fitness. Regular exercise can:
Ø Reduce blood pressure
Ø Help to reduce the symptoms associated with stress
Ø Improve sleep, thus overcoming insomnia
Ø Reduce and can even ‘cure’ depression. (See my May 2009 newsletter Depression – non-Pharmaceutical Treatments that Work)
Ø Lower the risk of heart disease
Ø Increase energy levels
Ø Lower the risk of diabetes and reverse pre-diabetes
Ø Build strong bones (weight bearing exercise) by maintaining bone mineral density
Ø Improve mental functioning
Ø Prevent impotence
Ø Improve mental concentration and alertness
Ø Protect against arthritis.
How Much Exercise?
There are multiple books and articles on exercise with different recommendations, and personal trainers all have their own ideas as to how much and what types of exercise should be engaged in. Dr Kenneth Cooper published his book Aerobics in 1968, and thus gave us “aerobic exercise”.
For exercise to be ‘aerobic’, it has to bring about an increase in pulse (heart) rate to a calculated minimum (210 minus age, multiplied by 0.75).
Guidelines, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of both. The guidelines also say that additional health benefits can be had from as much as doubling the minimum recommendations for aerobic exercise. Also recommended are muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week.
Whatever exercise program you elect to follow, do so! The most common excuse people give for not doing their exercises is lack of time. So planning and discipline are an essential part of an exercise program.
Exercising is truly one of the best and most important things you can do for your health. Being physically active causes a beneficial ripple effect that typically starts off with a reduction in weight. Your body operates best when it is at an ideal weight. The body mass index (BMI) should be less that 25, preferable nearer 21. The BMI is the weight in kilograms divided by the height in metres squared.
Carrying around extra kilos will inevitably increase your risk of developing just about every chronic degenerative disease there is, and exercising creates the opposite effect - helping you reduce the risk of disease and increase your chance of living longer.
So exercising sets in motion a beneficial feedback loop that leads to ever greater levels of health, while lack of exercise makes your health spiral downward and opens the door to disease and premature aging.
A meta-analysis, published in July 2010 in the International Journal of Epidemiology, included a total of 22 published studies evaluating the impact of exercise on mortality of almost one million people. It clearly showed that if you are currently living a very sedentary lifestyle, the mere act of incorporating some light to moderate activity (30 minutes of moderate physical activity), five days a week, can reduce your risk of death from any cause by 19 percent. Those who engaged in moderate intensity activity a full seven days a week further reduced their risk of death from 19 to 24 percent. The smallest health benefit, however, was seen in people who limited their exercise to just walking (ie non-aerobic exercise). At least walking is better than nothing. If you are out of shape and unfit, start with walking and then build up to aerobic exercise, as set out above.
It is also recommended that you should walk a minimum of 5,000 steps a day, preferably 10,000 or more. This includes all walking throughout the whole day. The wearing of a pedometer is the ideal way to monitor this.
As you remove the emotional resistance that is keeping you from exercising, and plan regular workouts to fit into your schedule, you will find it easier to stick to your planned exercise routine. And the more you exercise - and therefore the more benefits you experience - the more addictive it becomes! You will not need enormous levels of discipline, since you will feel so good after regular exercise that you will not want to stop and lose that feeling.
*Copyright 2010: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the Huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.