“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”— Translation from Hippocrates (ca. 460 B.C. – ca. 370 B.C.)
Everybody knows about the health benefits of regular exercise and a healthy diet.
But, did you know that the health benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the benefits from any medication? And exercise has fewer side effects too.
Researchers have known this for decades. In fact, researchers are working on a way to put all the benefits of exercise into a pill. Unfortunately the likelihood of success in that arena is limited, considering all the physiologic changes and benefits that exercise can bring.
Many people, including us, are skeptical that a “magic pill” can do all this and be as safe as exercise. Of course exercise is not as easy as “popping in pills,” but exercise is a lot less expensive, it can be done anywhere, you can adjust the “dosage” based on your comfort level, and it can be taken any time of day.
One positive “side effect” is that regular exercise can be addicting. Just ask someone who does it regularly.
Exercise strengthens the heart, which is a muscle, increasing oxygen demand and thereby causing the creation of collateral circulation around the heart and reducing cardiac events such as heart attacks.
It helps strengthen and tone all the different muscles of the body. These in turn support the joints (knees, hips, shoulders), which can help to alleviate the stress and pain of osteoarthritis.
Weight-bearing exercises increase bone mass and mineralization, which in turn can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Other ways regular exercise reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes, similar to certain commonly used medications, is by improving patients’ cholesterol profiles.
Exercise can increase the “good cholesterol,” or HDL, by nearly 30 percent and can lower some of the “bad cholesterols,” such as triglycerides, VLDL, and LDL.
Other diseases or conditions that can be significantly improved are Type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and certain cancers (breast, colon, prostate).
And there are more benefits, still.
What pill or pills can do all this with little side effect? There are none!
If this still does not convince you, there are a number of studies that link exercise to a reduction in sexual dysfunction for both sexes. A regular exercise program has been strongly linked to improvements in longevity for many reasons.
Just like any treatment, exercise needs to be done regularly, otherwise you will not receive maximal benefit.
Just as your doctor would write down the name of a drug and its dose, frequency and route, and the possibly duration that the medication should be taken, similarly, the exercise prescription has these components. It is individualized for each patient. Make certain that you follow up with your doctor regarding your progress.
As with any activity, exercise has some minor and a few rare serious “side effects,” so check with your doctor to see if you require any further precautions, medication changes or testing before starting a regular exercise program.
As always, this article is not a substitute for the personalized medical care of your physician.
For more information, visit these Web sites:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — www.cdc.gov
• U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health — www.nlm.nih.gov
• NIH Senior Health— www.nihseniorhealth.gov