Advancing health through science, education and medicine

Exercise is Prevention

By: Sue Brown
Recently, I received a letter from my health insurance agency regarding a free online service which provided supportive self-help tools for health. It caused me some concern when they referred to high blood pressure and high cholesterol as common conditions. While these may be common conditions, the risk of developing many of these can be decreased with lifestyle choices, which was the aim of the on-line service.

Studies show that with lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise, both heart disease and stroke are 75 to 80 percent preventable and type 2 diabetes is 90 percent preventable. For those individuals who have a genetic predisposition to a disease or have already been diagnosed, lifestyle choices can help the individual manage the disease and reduce potential complications. Numerous authorities have noted the importance of exercise and lifestyle.

As early as 1979, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report stated that risk could be “reduced if persons at risk improved just five habits:…..diet,…..exercise.” In 1996, the Surgeon General’s Report addressing physical activity and health summarized the findings, suggesting that “people of all ages can improve the quality of their lives through a lifelong practice of moderate activity.” More recently, Dr. Jordan Metzl from NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery claims that “Exercise is the best preventive drug we have and everybody needs to take that medicine.”

But are we taking that medicine? ACSM and the CDC recommend an accumulation of at least 2.5 hours of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes five days a week. Yet data show that only about 21 percent of the adult population is meeting those guidelines. Other research puts the percentage as low as 5 percent. Most of us realize the importance of exercise so why aren’t we exercising?  That might be a question we each need to ask ourselves. The evidence in favor of exercise is certainly there. 

Additionally, if exercise is prevention, perhaps the emphasis should be on starting the habits at an early age. Research shows that children who participate in regular exercise are better off in many ways when they grow up. Considering the epidemic of childhood obesity and its associated co-morbidities that reach into adulthood, intervention at an early age is vital. By reducing caloric intake, reducing sedentary behavior and increasing physical activity, we will be setting a strong foundation toward preventing adverse health conditions in our youth, while instilling healthy habits that will pay off later on. Here are some of the noted benefits of childhood exercise:

•    Children who are physically active tend to keep being active as adults
•    Exercise will help maintain stronger bones
•    It assists in maintaining healthy body weight
•    Team activities help the development of interpersonal skills
•    It helps prevent or delay the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

So, put in a good amount of physical activity when you are planning family time, and when you’re considering an ounce of prevention for better health, remember that a good dose of exercise goes a long way. While there are some risks associated with increased activity, the rewards outweigh the risks.

Your body will thank you for it!

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