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Exercise is Medicine

Published March 11, 2016 5:19 PM by Brian Garavaglia

I have addressed this issue previously, but due to its importance, it needs to be revisited in greater detail. As we age, we tend to become increasingly less active. Furthermore, many health issues that we incur are often blamed on our aging process when, in fact, they are problems of inactivity.

How often do we hear these types of statements? “My blood pressure is high, but this is to be expected at my age.” “You can tell I’m getting older since my legs get tired easily.” “Well, my doctor tells me I have a heart problem, but at my age, something has to be wrong.” Not only do we hear these comments frequently, passively resigning ourselves to not being able to change the course of health and aging,   but we will often justify our symptoms of disease as a type of “new normal” for our age. This is often manifested by comments like, “I have trouble sleeping and feel tired quite often during the day, but that is normal when you are as old as I am.” Furthermore, when we do encounter health symptoms that need to be ameliorated, what often comes to mind is, “Let me call the doctor and get a medication to get rid of the problem.”

What if you did not have to get a medication that would make you feel better? What would you say if the most important medication for preventing disease and illness and enhancing one’s functional existence and longevity is free? You may think I was peddling something, but in reality, there is a medication that is free and continues to be the most effective intervention: exercise.

I can anticipate what you are thinking. This guy is crazy. Exercise as a medicine? Where did he get such an outrageous idea? Well, I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it’s not mine at all. In fact, it is currently being promoted by the medical industry throughout the world, and the American College of Sports Medicine now has a certification is this area. More important than that is the social movement in the healthcare industry to promote exercise.

Think about this for a moment. Physical inactivity is the leading cause of death in the world today.1 Human beings, as biological organisma, evolved to be active. Yet, we have become increasingly inactive as a species. Today, approximately one-third of the world can be categorized as physically inactive. In addition, physical inactivity is one of the leading contributors toward premature mortality.1 During a period in which we have become increasingly concerned about living longer—and have heard so much about touted “anti-aging” remedies, often with little if any scientific evidence to support their stated claims—we often overlook the best and most scientifically supported type of intervention to live longer and healthier.

Why have we continued to look for longevity in a bottle or pill when exercise is readily available and free? The answer is that most people want to maintain their increasingly sedentary lifestyle, using a pill or elixir that would allow them to do so. When many individuals think of exercise, they often conjure images of gyms and boring, strenuous activities that are highly repetitive and monotonous.

This is just not true. The American College of Sports Medicine, as well as other important health professional organizations such as the American Heart Association, has promulgated some important guidelines related to increasing activity and maintaining healthier lifestyles. People of all ages, including older adults, should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This roughly equates to 30 minutes of exercise five days each week.

Here is the happy news. It could be is simple is walking, but gardening, cleaning out your basement, cleaning the house or walking at the mall also count as forms of exercise that add to the minimum of 30 minutes of exercise for the day. The goal of all individuals should be to spend less time sitting and more time moving each day.

As simple as this is, it has become increasingly more difficult to carry this out in recent history. The impact of our increasing technological innovations, and their subsequent influence on our daily lives, has continued to make this a surprisingly difficult undertaking. During a period in which technology benefits many areas of our lives, it has also become an obstacle toward allowing us to remain healthier through movement and exercise.

We know what we need to do to live longer and remain healthier, and exercise is at the cornerstone of this. Exercise is not just for those who are young, however; it increases in importance as we get older. Moreover, it is a medicine—the most important medicine available for preventing, curing and rehabilitating individuals.

The “exercise as medicine” terminology is not something being used lightly. Exercise is medicinal. It is a biophysical process that induces biophysical and biochemical changes within the body. Furthermore, you do not need a physician’s prescription, an insurance card or a pharmacist’s instructions in order to promote one’s health and longevity through exercise. What is needed is a change in our mindset and culture.

There has been an advocacy within organizations embracing the “Exercise is Medicine” movement to make questions about exercise part of the vital signs process addressed during any physical examination. Just as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and temperature are often the first things taken during a doctor’s appointment, many advocates think questions about the amount of daily or weekly exercise should also be part of the visit.

Another important cultural change is to make sure that all individuals are aware of the importance of exercise and the amount that should be done. For children, the goal is 60 minutes each day. For adults, regardless of age, the target is to average 30 minutes a day, but it can also be allocated in other increments as well. Nevertheless, getting adults, especially middle-aged and older adults, to build constructive exercise habits is an important part of preventative healthcare, which ultimately can help reduce the increasing cost of healthcare and enhance functional aging and longevity.

Changing how we view exercise is very important as well, especially in dispelling myths about it having to be arduous and monotonous. Activities such as gardening, bicycling or walking along a beach are often enjoyable and are still exercise. Thinking about doing something enjoyable that also causes movement should be the goal

It was mentioned that 150 minutes each week is the minimum goal for enhancing health and well-being. It should also be mentioned that the reduction in mortality by transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to this modest level of exercise is enormous. This leads to very significant enhancements in one’s functional capacity and longevity. Furthermore, one does not have to set aside 30 minutes each time for exercise. It could be done in smaller increments, such as 10 minutes three times a day and the same benefits are still incurred.

What is necessary is to build an exercise prescription mindset—thinking about what you can do all the time to get some form of exercise. For example, getting up from the table after eating or off the couch after sitting can be followed by 10-20 squats to enhance leg strength. While cooking , individuals can take can goods and lift them with their arms for five minutes. When shopping, they can park farther away so the walk is longer to the building—or even walk the parking lot for 5-10 minutes before going into the store. Building exercise habits throughout the day can ultimately enhance our nation’s health—in particular, the health of our older adult population.

Exercise is medicine—the most powerful medicinal force that we have available to us—and it does not need a prescription or pharmacy visit to be achieved. Yet, we often are dismissive about its power and importance. This dismissive attitude is also found within the professional community.

The power of exercise to prevent and even ameliorate conditions like heart and circulatory disease, diabetes and even certain forms of cancer has been well-established. Its ability to slow the aging process by maintaining muscle and bone strength and endurance has also been well-documented. Today, people will spend millions of dollars on pills with sensational health claims, but little, if any, scientific backing. Yet, exercise is often looked at dismissively and as activity meant only for the young.

The quicker we build a mindset that provides attention toward monitoring daily levels of exercise at all ages, the quicker we can make an impact on enhancing the health of our overall society. The potential dividends are enormous—not only for enhancing life expectancy, but for also enhancing the health and well-being of our society, reducing the cost of healthcare and improving the overall functional existence of our aging population.

 

References:

1. http://www.exerciseismedicine.org/support_page.php?p=2 

posted by Brian Garavaglia

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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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