Doctor's Rx

By Dr. Richard Rafoth

Regular exercise can be so much more than just a way to control your weight. The truth is that everyone will benefit from regular exercise. Maybe you are fortunate enough to
have an active day job and will get most of your weekly exercise there. But even if you are, it is likely that a little extra exercise time every week will yield big benefits as you age.

Here are four proven benefits of regular exercise:

Benefit #1 - Improved longevity

There is no question that those who exercise regularly live longer, more active lives than their sedentary peers. Numerous studies have proven the connection between an active
lifestyle and living longer. This health benefit is independent of the weight loss effect experienced by those who exercise regularly. Best of all, the benefits are not age independent. That means a regular exercise routine can enhance life for people who do not start a routine until they are well into their 60’s and 70’s.

You not only will you live more years, but they will be healthier years. Regular exercisers miss fewer days of work, have a lower overall cancer rate, experience fewer heart attacks and suffer from fewer chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Benefit #2 - Improved strength and muscle health

Just living longer is not the only benefit of regular exercise.  You will also be able to
continue those activities you enjoy for more of those days of your longer life.

As we get older, all of us gradually lose muscle cells. If the muscle
is stressed (forced to lifting weight) the remaining muscle cells
increase in size which then compensates for this inevitable loss of
cells. Maintaining your strength means you can stay involved in your
regular activities.

In addition, stronger muscles improve your balance
which in turn decreases the risk of falling, and the flexibility that
comes with regular exercise decreases the chances of a muscle pull or
strain if a fall might occur.

Although it is impossible to stop the inevitable aging process, we can certainly slow it down with a regular exercise routine.

How much stress is needed to maintain strength? Three times a week of
focused weight training will do the job, as will changing your daily
routine to add activities which will make the muscles work a little
harder - such as regularly taking the stairs (up as well as down) or
adding hills to your daily walk.

Benefit #3 - Improved heart health

Those individuals who stay active have a lower chance of dying from a heart attack or from a blocked blood vessel (exercise stimulates the growth of  additional “collateral” arteries in the heart), regular exercise improves the fitness of the heart muscle cells which means you can exercise longer and harder before you tire out. And the fitness benefit requires as little as a
dozen 20 second bouts of vigorous exercise three times a week. There
have been many articles on High Intensity Training (HIT) lately if you
want to find out more.

Benefit #4 - Brain health

Finally, we have the benefits of exercise on the brain. A recent study looked directly at brain cell development in exercised lab animals confirming an increase in the number of new brain cells with exercise. This supports the known fact that regular exercisers experience a slower rate of decrease in memory and mental function as they get older. And in the animal study, the longer the duration of the regular exercise routines, the more new cells were found.

How much exercise do you need to take advantage of the various health
benefits of exercise? If you walk the equivalent of an hour a day, you
decrease your chance of dying by almost 40 percent. And if you add 20 to 30
minutes per week of vigorous exercise (getting your heart rate up to
80 percent of your personal maximum heart rate or enough to break a sweat),
you get an extra few percentage points benefit as a bonus.

Changing a long-standing routine is a challenge, whether it is moving
to a healthier routine, a lower salt or lower sugar diet or regular exercise. Even though it is difficult, the benefits of adequate weekly exercise are clear. You will live longer while maintaining the ability to stay involved in life - both mentally and physically.

After all, isn’t that what life is all about??

Recent Column Posts (1 - 1) Additional Posts (2 - 7)