Daily Exercise

EXTRACT – Scientific American Aug. 2013 pp 76-79 , Drs. Shari Bassuk, Tim Church, JoAnn Manson

We all know we should exercise, but few realize that being physically active is the single most important thing most of us can do to improve & maintain our health and live longer.

Regular movement   not only lowers the risk of developing or dying from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, it also prevents certain cancers, improves mood, builds bones, strengthens muscles, expands lung capacity, reduces the risk of falls and fractures, and helps to keep excess weight in check; and those are just some of the more familiar effects.

An explosion of research over the past few years has extended those observations even further. Besides physical health benefits, daily exercise appears to boost brainpower and the ability to carry out tasks that require attention, organization and planning, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhance the immune system’s ability to detect and fend off certain types of cancer, as well as effect positive changes at a cellular molecular level for specific conditions such as atherosclerosis (artery hardening) and diabetes.

Most bodily systems – cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine (hormone – sex, etc.) and nervous - benefit significantly from even a small to moderate amount of regular activity. Brisk walking for at least thirty minutes daily - five or more days a week or a vigorous activity like jogging or court basketball for 75 minutes total each week as well as muscle strengthening at least two days a week, yield significant health benefits.

Different Things to Different Folks            From snowshoeing to swimming to a fast walk on beach sand – exercise can take many forms and occur at different levels of intensity. Aerobic exercise is the type that significantly boosts the amount of oxygen needed by muscles, requiring the lungs to work harder. Its health benefits are also the best understood. But more stationary forms of exercise such as lifting weights or practicing one’s balance (Yoga) also have their place.

Moderate activity begins when your heart starts beating faster and you are breathing more heavily. If you can sing easily while moving you are at a light level of intensity. You are at a moderate rate if you can still talk or recite a poem while you are moving. If you can croak only a word or two at a time, you are exercising vigorously.

Habit            The benefits of exercise accumulate once physical activity becomes routine. The body adapts to the increasing demands being placed on it, leading to increased stamina with greater fitness. As exercise becomes a daily habit, muscles grow more sensitive to the effects of the body’s natural insulin. Broadly speaking, excess sugar, which unfortunately most North American diets now contain (e.g. soda pop), pretty much  gums up the works – causing all cells to age prematurely, including brain cells – leading to Alzheimer’s disease now commonly referred to as diabetes of the brain.

Diabetes             Regular daily moderate exercise means that the pancreas does not have to work as hard to help keep excess sugar glucose levels in check; natural or lower levels of supplemental injected insulin will then accomplish the same result as previous higher levels did. Exercise is particularly important for people with Type 2 Diabetes because it facilitates a reduction in insulin levels; higher insulin levels result in and are linked to more rapid production of cells which are in turn linked especially to breast and colon cancers. Increased glucose uptake through regular physical activity, bypassing the presence of insulin has been shown to reduce the need for insulin treatment. The greatest benefits for people with diabetes seem to come from mixing a variety of exercises - light, moderate and more vigorous - e.g. walking, riding, swimming, weights.

Life Giving            Generally speaking, even minimal regular daily exercise which gets us off our butts – can significantly extend a healthful life. People who spend as little as 11 minutes per day on leisure activities (taking an evening stroll, gardening, washing and buffing the car) had a 1.8 year longer life expectancy after age 40 compared to couch potatoes; while participants in regular moderate activity added 3.4 years. Those who remained regularly active 60 to 90 minutes per day after age 40 - added 4.2 years of quality life expectancy.

Rx –Prescribed Exercise                Given the continual and growing evidence for the health benefits of physical activity, the message is clear. Regular prolonged movement – at whatever intensity level can easily be safely managed, needs to be built into everyone’s daily routine and physical environment. Doctors and other health care providers are now strongly recommended to regularly write a prescription for exercise during routine office visits.

EXTRACT – Scientific American Aug. 2013 pp 76-79 , Drs. Shari Bassuk, Tim Church, JoAnn Manson