Pleasant Surprise

September 2, 2014 in Exercise, Fitness, Health, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

I love surprises; no on second thought I only love pleasant surprises. Having said that, I must share a recent very pleasant one. I’d have to say it was almost a pleasant shock. I received my master’s degree in public health in 1985; so it’s been almost 30 years of the joys (and sorrows) of public health. One thing has seemed to be a constant over that time span, as related to risk factors for just about any health problem – SMOKING TOPS THE RISK LIST. But a new study out of the University of Queensland in Australia gave me a “whoa, something has changed” response. Now don’t begin thinking that I will embark on a smoking promotion initiative as a healthy lifestyle, but what this study does is to accentuate the importance of activity. I must admit that I’m still in the astounded stage, but let me share a little about the study first.

The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the lead researcher was Wendy J. Brown, PhD. The researchers conclude that programs that promote and maintain physical activity deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they presently are. As a matter of fact, Brown calls inactivity the “Cinderella” risk factor (actually, more like the worst of the two wicked stepsisters).

The researchers followed 32,154 women; they divided them into three age groups and tracked how smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and excess weight contributed to heart disease risk. In the women under 30 years old, smoking was the most important factor in heart disease risk. But here’s where the surprise for me came: In the women in their 70s being physically active would lower the risk of heart disease three times as much as quitting smoking, and significantly more than losing weight or reducing blood pressure. In all the groups over age 30, inactivity was the leading risk factor for heart disease – yes, that included smoking. Amazing!!!

This study instigated some new thoughts for me – this is one: People have a tough time quitting smoking and losing weight. If the number one killer of people is heart disease, maybe we should try a different approach.  Maybe those of us over 30 ought to go after that number one risk factor first; inactivity. Then go after smoking and reducing blood pressure. It ought to be easier, since blood pressure, at least is often tied to both inactivity and weight. Do you know anyone who began exercising and it became an embedded lifestyle? I know several, and their lives have been transformed. They are not afraid to tell about the joy of life they have now due to a healthy, vibrant body.  Maybe if you temporarily put smoking and weight loss and blood pressure control on the ‘back burner’ and just begin moving, then adopt a regular program of exercise, you can build your commitment muscles and then attack smoking while feeling the euphoria of the success of becoming more active. I’ve heard that success breeds success – why not give it a try?

You don’t need to become a marathon runner or a tri-athlete to reap the benefits of activity. Strive for three to six hours of activity per week. You might be a little tired at the beginning but after a few weeks you’ll notice that it boosts your energy level.

As I have written before, it’s good for the body to incorporate both aerobic activity and strength training in your week. In my life, I’ve relied on walking, gardening and going to the gym twice a week.  We’ve recently added water exercising to our activity. That gives resistance and aerobic activity at the same time. What a surprise it was to awaken one morning, a few weeks ago, with very sore thigh muscles after an evening water workout. It really encouraged me that I was working those muscles.

While I’m remembering the sore muscles from beginning a new form of exercise, I want to remind you that you should increase physical activity gradually. If you don’t you’ll end up tired, achy and uncomfortable. In my experience, I’ve seen many people who start with a gung ho attitude and end up sore. Or they end up getting an elevated scale number and conclude that the fluids collecting around the mini rips in their muscles (aka slight swelling) means that the exercise caused their weight gain. Both thoughts lead to the same conclusion – end of exercise program. If you start out gradually, you may increase the chance that you won’t quit.

One of the best places to start is to just move; especially if you’ve been staying inside or sitting at a desk for many hours per day. It always surprises me when I catch myself breathing a little heavier when I’m gardening. It doesn’t seem like I’m working very hard, but just bending over (repeatedly) to snag a weed here a weed there.  I’m moving my body – yes, it’s exercise.

This past weekend, I was sitting next to a little lady on a bus taking us to a story telling convention; she told me about her Silver Sneakers experience and showed me her Silver Sneakers card that gave her free entrance to a local gym, where she participated in specially designed exercises for seniors. It seems like there are many more programs for seniors, some, like Silver Sneakers, are paid for by health insurance and some are at senior centers. If you have limitations, find out what kind of exercise is best for you; but do it, whatever it is.

While I’ll never encourage smoking, this time, I’m saying; “Exercise may be a new avenue leading to smoking cessation, while decreasing risk for heart disease at the same time. Start some new goals for exercise and you may find yourself in a confident, better positioned to quit smoking if that’s a problem for you. If smoking not a problem, then great! That big risk factor is not there.  So go at your exercising with high hopes, knowing that it is perhaps the biggest step you can take forward in caring for your heart.”