“All parts of the body which have a function if used in moderation and exercised in labors in which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy, well developed and age more slowly; but if unused and left idle they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly.” (Hippocrates, 400 BC)
I have a love-hate relationship with exercise. I spent years trying to convince myself that all of my daily activities added up to enough exercise—I gardened, carried wood and shoveled snow; I walked (occasionally) and parented; I am on my feet all day at work. I was surely more active than the average person.
Then an old knee injury flared, after a slip on the ice. As I adjusted my gait to compensate for that, my hip started to ache. Every time the knee seemed to begin to heal, I would re-injure it with some small activity. I had knee surgery—twice. I began to fear the pain, to feel like my body was at risk whenever I did anything the least bit out of my norm. I felt like I was suddenly older than my years, and any positive benefits of physical therapy, chiropractic and massage were short-term.
I knew, intellectually, that strengthening and stamina were the key to making a lasting change, so although I had never loved aerobics and hated the idea of committing time to exercise, I started exercising!
Now, I am zealous about it. Why is it so important?
1. Exercise helps to control weight by both burning calories and ‘stepping up’ your metabolism.
2. Exercise combats chronic health conditions. Being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. It strengthens your heart muscle, lowers your blood pressure and improves blood flow.
By reducing body fat percentage, exercise can help in noninsulin-dependent diabetes. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 (involving over 3000 prediabetic men and women) found that 20 minutes a day of aerobic physical activity was more effective than the drug metformin at preventing full-blown diabetes.
3. Weight-bearing exercise is essentially for good bone health. Bones stay strong and increase in mass in response to the positive repeated stresses they are exposed to. Also, by increasing muscle strength and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps to prevent back pain.
4. Exercise boosts energy and decreases fatigue by delivering oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
4. Exercise reduces stress and improves mood. Levels of “soothing” brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are released as we exercise. Research (2010) suggests that vigorous exercise, three times a week, can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants.
5. Exercise helps you sleep better, longer and more soundly. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime so the ‘high’ keeps you awake!
6. Exercise helps us age more gracefully. Stronger bodies mean better balance and fewer falls. Most types of arthritis are less likely to develop in active joints.
There is even evidence that being more active can extend your life. A study in July, 2012 showed that people who are physically active for 7 hours a week have 40% less risk of early death than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.
Cognitive function is enhanced by exercise, too. In a 2006 study of people aged 60 to 79, those who walked briskly for 45 minutes three days a week experienced an increase in brain volume, especially in regions involving memory, planning and multitasking. In October 2012, Neurology, published research that suggested that people who stayed physically active into old age tended to have larger brains with less atrophy than those who did not exercise. Regular exercise also appeared protective from white matter lesions, which are linked to thinking and memory decline.
The Alzheimer’s Research Center recommends exercise as one of the best weapons against Alzheimer’s. Exercise appears to protect the hippocampus, which governs memory and spatial navigation, and is one of the brain regions at risk in Alzheimer’s. In 2000, Dutch researchers found that inactive men who were genetically prone to Alzheimer’s were four times more likely to develop the disease than those who also carried the trait but exercised regularly
Recommendations for physical activity in healthy adults include at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity) a week and strength training exercises at least twice a week
Remember, almost everybody can exercise. You just need a workout adapted for your body. Check with your physician before starting a new exercise program, and work with someone knowledgeable about training when you begin. You won’t be sorry you did!
Linda Haltinner is a Chiropractic Physician at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic at (802)722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org. Find us on Facebook!