Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is generally used as a tool for weight loss, but it is so much more than that. According to healthypeople.gov, only 24.1% of adults are achieving the federally recommended guidelines for aerobics and strength training. That means the vast majority of people are not moving regularly, but here is why your health depends on it.

Looking at the facts for people of color, the non-Hispanic black population is even lower at 19.1% of the population receiving the lowest recommendation of exercise and the highest for obesity at 48%, which is 3.5 times the rate of the population. We need to take this seriously. There is strong evidence that lack of exercise and obesity is the catalyst for the development of many leading causes of death in the black community. Physical activity, coupled with a proper diet is essential to tackling this problem.

Race Differences In Obesity
healthypeople.gov

 

What is Physical Fitness?

Physical fitness is essential for people to perform activities of daily living. Health.gov defines it as “The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.” The components of physical fitness include flexibility, balance, cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and speed. Physical fitness and physical activity interact to improve health outcomes. The more physical activity you do, the better your physical fitness becomes.

health.gov

The recommended guidelines for physical activity for adults

  • 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  • 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity
  • Or a combination of both activity that is spread out through the week
  • Strength training should occur a minimum of 2 days a week
  • The activity can be broken up into small sessions of 10 minutes

The bottom line, a minimum of 150 minutes a week, is necessary for health benefits. If this seems like an overwhelming number to you, start slow and work your way up. If you are still not convinced that you need physical activity, here is how exercise improves your health.

Delays Death

Physical activity delays death from all causes, including the leading causes of death heart disease and cancer. Although physical activity is a lifestyle choice, it decreases premature death risk by 33% than those who are physically inactive.  The benefits of physical activity even occur with minimal amounts of moderate to vigorous exercise, than nothing at all. Research suggests a 20-minute walk a day to reduce the risk of early death. So what are you waiting for?

Brain Health

Physical activity can have an immediate effect on brain health right after an exercise session. It reduces anxiety, improves sleep, and improves cognitive function. Long term, physical activity increases deep sleep, reduces long-term anxiety, and reduces the risk for cognitive diseases, including dementia. Let’s look deeper into three ways physical activity is good for your brain.

Cognition

Physical activity promotes better processing speed and memory than those who are inactive. Physical activity gives you more clarity in daily administrative tasks, like planning and organizing.

Sleep

I talk a lot about sleep in terms of weight loss, but it is essential to our healthy minds. The ability to sleep through the night is an issue many adult’s face and physical activity can help. More physical exercise enables you to sleep better and get to sleep faster. In addition, some may not know that physical activity is associated with less daytime sleepiness, reduced need for sleep aids, and improved sleep for those with sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

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Improved Mood

Physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety when done long term. For depression, it can reduce the risk of developing the condition and reduces the symptoms for those who already have it.

Reduces Health Risks of Developing Disease

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together that increase your risk of developing chronic disease. The symptoms are too much waist fat, high blood sugar, high bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, or high blood sugar. Having three or more of these conditions will give you a high probability of developing a chronic condition. Exercise helps to reverse these symptoms to reduce disease risk.

Cancer

Participating in regular amounts of physical activity reduces the risk of developing certain cancers. These cancers include colon, stomach, lung, kidney, esophagus, endometrium, breast, and bladder. For those who have cancer, physical activity will improve your quality of life while increasing physical fitness.

Type 2 Diabetes

Those at risk for developing diabetes can prevent the condition by increasing activity to at least 150 minutes. Regular exercise improves insulin resistance, reducing the probability of developing type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, daily physical activity can help control your blood sugar to levels reached with medication interventions.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is another by-product of metabolic syndrome, and regular physical activity can reduce your risk. Daily physical activity lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol levels. Benefits occur with a minimal amount of exercise recommended but improve further with more activity.

Bone and Joint Health

Physical activity promotes a better quality of life by improving the movement of activities of daily living. Your bones, joints, and muscles support your body. As we age, preserving our musculoskeletal system is essential to slow aged related conditions. Regular physical activity promotes bone and joint health by:

  • Lowering hip fracture risk
  • Reducing fall risk
  • Slowing bone density loss
  • Improving arthritic symptoms and chronic pain
  • Building muscle

This reduces the functional limitations that come with aging allowing you to care for yourself longer.

Weight Management

The benefits of physical activity and weight loss are well known. Weight management is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions and conditions associated with low physical fitness. To maintain your weight, 150 minutes of physical activity is necessary, and for weight loss, an upwards of 300 minutes helps keep it off.

What Happens If You Don’t Exercise as Recommended?

CDC.gov

What happens if you still do not want to exercise? Think about all of the benefits I listed above and reverse them. You will increase your risk of many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. This, in turn, will increase your chances of mortality (death) from all causes. Along with disease development, it will decrease your quality of life by:

  • Increasing weight gain
  • Lowering Immunity
  • Promoting the development of hormonal imbalances
  • Losing Strength
  • Increasing risks of bone density issues like osteoporosis
  • Increasing inflammation

The Bottom Line

As you can see, exercise is medicine. Although it does help with weight management and body composition, it is essential for maintaining a quality of life. If you have not engaged in physical activity before, it is necessary to speak with your doctor first. There are risks with physical activity, so you want to make sure you approach it in the right way.

Sources

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm

https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf#page=39

https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351921 

General Health

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