Preventing diseases through exercise
The ability of exercise to restore function to organs, muscles, joints, and bones is not shared by drugs or surgery. And, for most of us, exercise is safe and has none of the adverse side effects for which many medications and surgery can be responsible.
Here are some of the benefits of health-related fitness and exercise for some of the diseases that are most prevalent in the U.S.:
Coronary artery disease: Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the number one killer, responsible for 2,000 deaths in the United States each day. Exercise combined with a sensible diet can reverse established heart disease. Furthermore, exercise improves heart function, reduces several coronary risk factors and improves survival.
Strokes: Exercise is essential for restoring function following a stroke – a benefit not shared by drugs or surgery.
Hypertension: Substantial evidence shows that exercise is an effective treatment for mild and moderate high blood pressure and is a useful addition for the treatment of severe hypertension. Many patients who follow a regular, specifically prescribed aerobic exercise program can reduce their blood pressure without taking drugs.
Diabetes: Exercise can prevent or delay the serious complications of diabetes. It increases insulin effectiveness and the metabolism of sugar, thereby reducing the insulin requirement, which in turn reduces the risk of vascular disease.
Arthritis: In patients who have rheumatoid or degenerative arthritis, exercise improves endurance, strengthens muscles, and increases joint flexibility and range of motion. These, of course, are benefits that drugs or surgery cannot achieve.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis affects 20 to 24 million postmenopausal American women and an unknown number of men over the age of 80. Research indicates that regular exercise can prevent and control the disease.
High cholesterol: Regular exercise reduces total cholesterol and triglyceride levels and raises HDL cholesterol.
Obesity: The amount of your body fat is a useful indicator of health and fitness, as well as an early warning signal of many serious diseases. Daily, lifelong exercise is an essential strategy for achieving and maintaining optimal weight. Diet, though essential, cannot be relied on alone for successful weight loss and maintenance.
Depression: Psychologists have observed that walking or running has both physiologic and psychological benefits for people who are depressed. These forms of exercise reduce depression and anxiety, increase feelings of well-being, improve tolerance to everyday stress, and improve the self-image of depressed patients. Furthermore, exercise stimulates the release of the “feel good” hormones (endorphins).
Cancer: There is evidence that physical activity reduces the risk for certain kinds of cancer including colon and breast cancer.
What kind of exercise?
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC (http://www.cdc.gov), recommend moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week. If you are not accustomed to physical activity, you may want to start with a little exercise, and work your way up. As you become stronger, you can add a few extra minutes to your physical activity. Do some physical activity every day. It’s better to walk 10 or 20 minutes each day than one hour once a week. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about a safe exercise plan. He or she may check your heart and your feet to be sure you have no special problems. If you have high blood pressure, eye, or foot problems, you may need to avoid some kinds of exercise.
The majority of your exercise should be aerobic in nature (walking, running, cycling, swimming, or cross-country skiing). The choice of exercise should be guided by individual preference and previous experience. Walking and running are most often recommended because they do not require special training or skills. They are inexpensive, readily available, safe, and suitable for doing alone or with others.
For range of motion and strengthening of certain parts of the body, stretching and use of weight training can also be helpful. Strength training can also be of benefit with diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, and depression. Talk to a trained exercise specialist to find out what kinds of exercise can help you the most.
By Thomas D. Manfredi, M.S., Online fitness coach