Besides evidence that exercise greatly benefits an impressive list of health goals, new evidence shows that moderate exercise can boost the immune system and protect us from chronic diseases. Already well established is that it helps in maintaining a healthy weight; managing/preventing diabetes; managing or avoiding hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease; reducing stress, arthritis, osteoporosis, and glaucoma; protecting muscle mass (and therefore, metabolic rate); maintaining flexibility and balance, and rebuilding new brain cells and connections. New evidence shows that it also reduces the incidence and severity of colds and flu. So if you are not worried about your weight, diabetes, your heart, or stress, and so on, how about just avoiding the flu, a cold or maybe even certain cancers? Beyond all the health motivators just mentioned, it appears that physical activity also has an anti-aging effect at the cellular level – it slows the aging process of your cells. That essentially affects your entire body.
If you’re out of condition, be sure to check with a physician before starting an exercise program. In addition, you may want to check out the guides posted by the federal government; and the Resources for the public are also available on-line. A new Activity plan is scheduled to be released early this year.
Dr. Robert Sallis, Kaiser Permanente’s chairman of Exercise is Medicine says: "If there were a drug with the same benefits as exercise, it would instantly be the standard of care."
Dr. Nieman from Appalachian State University raises a word of caution: high-intensity exercise over long periods, like running a marathon, can “take a good thing too far.” It can cause the release of stress hormones that can actually lead to immune system slowing down – increasing susceptibility to infection for short periods. But how many of us non-athletes need to engage in extra-long marathons? Our problem is just getting in the habit of doing moderate exercise regularly.
I like the story in the Wall Street Journal of the 66-year-old woman who started with just 5 minutes a day on the treadmill, and gradually increased her exercise as her fitness level improved. The bottom line is that she slimmed down to a size 12 from a size 18. Her comment was, “I look at exercise as no different than a drug I have to take to stay healthy.” The lesson to be learned is that we can start from where we are. Regarding exercise, I used to tell my class, “You don’t have a debate with yourself regarding a decision to brush your teeth, so make the same commitment to your exercise.”
As related to exercise, be careful not to compensate for exercising by giving yourself permission to consume extra calories, if your ultimate goal is to lose weight. Most of us can do just fine without any sports drinks (zero-calorie water will do the job) or so-called energy bars (I suggest that you try an energy apple).
In all these quotes about exercise being medicine, I like to point out that it is much better than regular medicine, because it lacks the drug interactions and harmful side effects of virtually all medications – so long as you avoid extremes and take normal precautions.