It is no longer a secret that regular physical exercise is now seen as an important predictor of good health and longevity. In fact, when prescribing an action plan that is geared toward good health and disease prevention, physical exercise goes hand in hand with a healthy diet. Researchers have suggested that inactivity might even be more detrimental to our health than smoking! This is remarkable, wouldn’t you agree?
It is believed that less than 25% of Americans receive regular physical activity daily. No wonder the incidence of obesity and diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer is on the rise. Many studies have shown a direct relationship between mortality and inactivity. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a few years ago, it was reported that people getting regular physical exercise cut their risk of death from any cause by 50%-73% when compared inactive people. The benefits of physical exercise extend far beyond weight management. Researchers also show that regular physical exercise can help reduce one’s risk of several diseases and health conditions and improve and overall higher quality of life. The risk of cancer mortality is reduced to less than 50% in those patients receiving moderate to vigorous physical exercise for at least 30 minutes daily (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007).
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise daily for about 6 days each week. You may ask, “What is moderate exercise?” Some experts believe that moderate exercise will cause you to break a sweat. You could also exercise to achieve at least 75% of your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. The number remaining is your maximum heart. Now the goal is to achieve 75% of that number. Let’s say that you are 20 years old. Then your maximum heart rate would be 200, but the desired heart rate to achieve would be 75% of 200 which would be 150.
Health literature reveals that as many as 1 in 12 of all deaths per year are a consequence of a lack of physical activity. Would you believe that exercise is then protective against many health conditions? Well, let’s look at a few health benefits that you should expect from regular physical exercise:
Cuts your risk of high blood pressure
Reduces risk of heart disease by 50%
Reduces your risk of diabetes by 50%
Improves mode and decreases the risk of depression and anxiety
Builds stronger bones and prevents fractures.
Helps with weight loss
Maintains muscle mass
Enables you to live a longer, fuller, and happier life.……..
I recommend that you start out with a goal. You must define what you hope to achieve. Could that be more energy, muscle strengthening, a healthier weight, better blood pressure or diabetes control? Here are a few tips:
START SLOW: You could begin by walking three to four times weekly for ten to fifteen minutes. This time could be increased as you become more comfortable. Remember to aim for a minimum of thirty minutes daily for at least six days weekly. If your goal is to lose weight then obtaining at least 60 minutes of moderate physical exercise daily is recommended. Remember there are more health benefits as you increase the intensity and duration of physical exercise, but don't forget , like anything else moderation is the key. Too much of a good thing may be detrimental to your health.
CHOOSE ACTIVITY THAT YOU ENJOY: For most people walking is the simplest form of physical activity, but if you are young and more active, then activities such as biking, jogging and swimming are great. Please do not forget that activities such as golfing, gardening, mowing the lawn and dancing are also excellent forms of physical activities to be engaged in. The most important thing to remember is to remain physically active.
EXERCISE PARTNER: It is also good to have an exercise partner; someone who will encourage you and hold you accountable. Remember to keep it simple, start with walking briskly for at least 30 minutes every day, this is regarded as the moderate exercise that we all need. Many times as I counsel my patients the question of “when is the best time to exercise” is usually a part of that conversation, but is there really a “best time”? Exercise is medicine and should be seen as a priority. When this is understood the time for exercise should not be a problem. Personally, I like to exercise early in the morning when I am more energized. I also realize that if I do not exercise at the beginning of the day then I will indeed have a problem finding enough time to exercise as the day progresses.
Stay focused and keep your eyes on the goal or goals that you initially set for yourself and do not forget to reward yourself when goals are achieved. Now if you are elderly and have not been physically active for some time, then speak with your healthcare provider before you begin. Remember everyone can participate in some form of physical activity. It does not really matter how old you are or if you are physically challenged. I am well aware that there are people with diseases such as arthritis, high blood pressure, lung or heart disease who might be hesitant to participate in any form of physical activity. Now if you are one of such patients, then discuss your plans with your healthcare provider and ask for medical clearance. Many healthcare providers are now understanding the therapeutic role regular physical exercise plays in, not only disease prevention but also in the actual treatment of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and heart disease. Therefore many of us physicians are now prescribing exercise in similar manners as we do medicines.
Let me to share this story with you just to emphasize the health benefit of exercise. Several months ago, an elderly man came to my office with difficulty breathing, irregular heart rate, depression, obesity, high blood pressure… he was obviously very ill. This patient had been in and out of the hospital with heart failure or arrhythmia about eleven times in less than a one-year time frame. After a thorough assessment, I formulated a treatment with his consent. Now included in his care plan was regular physical exercise. I will never forget what this patient told me when I revealed to him the treatment plan. He said, “Doc, I can only get from my bed to the chair”. Needless to say, I encouraged him and got him enrolled in my lifestyle program. He started the therapeutic nutritional plan along with daily physical exercise. The patient slowly started to become more active. Initially he needed a walker for mobility, then he graduated from the walker to a cane. He is now able to ambulate independently without any support at all. I guess some of you may be wondering about his general health. His story is quite exciting. He lost weight, his heart function improved, he became happier, depression resolved and most importantly he no longer needs in-hospital care. This patient is only one of my many patients who have dramatically altered his health destiny using exercise in combination with other therapeutic lifestyle modifications. Staying physically active will help you prevent, improve or reverse many chronic diseases as you continue on your journey to a healthier, happier and more abundant life.