According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 117 million Americans today (about ½ of all American adults) have one or more preventable chronic diseases, and regular exercise favorably influences most common chronic diseases. We have ample scientific evidence which supports that exercise reduces the risk for many serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and some cancers including lung, breast, colorectal, stomach cancers, etc. In addition, exercise strengthens muscles and bones, relieves pain from arthritis, fights depression, helps maintain a healthy body weight, and decreases disability preserving independence as we age. Moreover, exercise is much more affordable, and you can customize your exercise regimen to your liking.
So what is exercise? Exercise is any program of activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive focused at improving or maintaining fitness. In contrast, physical activities such as walking across the grocery store, mopping or vacuuming the floor, or rising from a chair includes any movements requiring muscle contractions and an increase in burned calories. These tasks that most of us perform may not count as an exercise regimen but can still help with problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Combining physical activities with regular exercise programs will make you healthier. There are many forms of exercise including aerobic (cardio), strength (resistance), balance, and flexibility exercise.
How much exercise is recommended? The Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services urge all adults ages 18 to 64 to perform at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (or at least 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise) and at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, biking, swimming, etc. whereas strength exercise include weight machines, free weights, resistance bands, etc.
How can exercise help you? Regular aerobic exercise prevents heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US, by lowering systolic blood pressure (first number in blood pressure reading) by 4-8 mm Hg on average. Studies have shown that even 15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day can extend your life span by three years. Moreover, exercise can prevent buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Second, exercise can prevent or help control diabetes by lowering blood sugar, increasing insulin sensitivity, and maintaining a healthy body weight. In addition, exercise builds and maintains strong muscles and bones needed to fight fractures and reduce falls. By improving weight control, exercise can prevent as well as reduce arthritis pain. Last but not least, exercise can boost your mental, emotional, and physical functioning contributing to a better quality of life.
Please talk to your WRMC Providers if you have significant health issues like an injury or serious health conditions for advice before starting an exercise regimen. We can help tailor an exercise prescription based on your specific needs. I hope that the current evidence on exercise will convince you to start a safe exercise regimen if you haven’t already. What better way to start a New Year with a resolution to take care of your health by engaging in an exercise program.
Dr. Surya Boopathy is a 2nd-Year Internal Medicine resident physician. He's from Miami, Florida and attended Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University. His hobbies include reading health/science articles, working out, healthy foods, and traveling.