Get Moving, Stay Young
Julian Whitaker, MD
If we could bottle the benefits of physical exercise, we would have one of the most powerful anti-aging remedies known to man. Physical activity rejuvenates virtually every organ in your body, adding energy to your days and years to your life. Some of the most common diseases of aging can actually be prevented, postponed, or reversed through physical exercise.
The most dramatic and well-known benefits of exercise are its effects on the cardiovascular system. Regular, moderate exercise strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, and enhances circulation. It helps reduce overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising levels of healthy HDL cholesterol. It decreases the risk of heart attack. And because exercise produces a healthier, more efficient heart, it increases the likelihood of surviving a first heart attack.
But the benefits of exercise don’t end there. Exercise improves carbohydrate metabolism and helps to prevent type 2 diabetes. It builds bone, strengthens muscle, and reduces fat. It alleviates asthma, prevents migraine headaches, and strengthens the immune system. It sharpens the mind, elevates mood, and promotes good sleep. It even reduces the risk of some forms of cancer. Exercise is simply one of the healthiest habits you can incorporate into your life.
Why Don’t Americans Exercise?
So then why don’t we do it? Fewer than two out of 10 adults exercise regularly, and three of 10 get absolutely no physical activity. We use our cars for 93 percent of all trips and log a mere 1.4 miles per week (350 yards per day) of walking. Is it any wonder that we’re more overweight and out of shape than ever?
The good news is that exercise needn’t be painful or prolonged to produce measurable improvements in your overall health and well being. So, before you revert to your favorite excuse (believe me, I’ve heard every excuse in the book; in fact, I’ve used a fair number of them myself!), let’s discard the most common reasons for avoiding exercise.
“I’m Too Busy to Exercise”
For many folks, fitting exercise into an already overpacked schedule seems almost impossible. But it takes less time than you think. Research has shown that short bouts of exercise provide the same cardiovascular benefits as long bouts and may be less stressful on the body. In fact, while light training enhances immunity, training too hard or too long actually depresses immune function, leaving you temporarily more vulnerable to infection.
How much time do you really need to invest to reap the benefits of exercise? The American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend accumulating just 30 minutes of exercise most days. Replace half an hour of TV a day with moderate physical activity and you’re there.
“I’m Too Tired to Exercise”
Paradoxical as it may seem, physical activity actually increases your energy. It does this in two ways. First, it strengthens your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. With regular, sustained exercise, your heart pumps more blood with each beat, your lungs supply more oxygen to your blood, and your arteries deliver more blood to your tissues. The end result is a body that does more work with less effort, and that means more endurance and energy for you.
Second, exercise acts directly on the brain to relieve depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which drain your energy. The magical effects of exercise on mood result largely from its ability to promote the release of endorphins. Endorphins, sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, are naturally occurring chemicals that have an opiate-like effect in the body. Endorphin production begins after about 20 minutes of brisk activity and continues for hours thereafter. People who exercise regularly benefit from a natural and energetic “high” throughout the day.
“I’m Too Old to Exercise”
Get outta here! One of the surest ways to feel old before your time is to be sedentary. And one of the simplest antidotes to aging is physical activity. According to an eight-year study conducted at Tufts University, men and women in their 40s who were inactive and out of shape were as likely to report limitations in daily activities as active men and women in their 60s. In other words, the fit 60-year-olds were functionally as young as unfit people 20 years their junior.
Exercise benefits extend well into old age. In a Hawaiian study, men aged 71 to 93 who were free of heart disease at the study’s onset were followed for two to four years. At the end of the study, men who walked a mile and a half per day were half as likely to have a heart attack as those who walked less than half a mile per day. If a 93-year-old man can walk a mile and a half a day, we “youngsters” have no excuse to retire to our La-Z-Boy recliners.
Find Creative Ways to Get Moving
Recent research suggests that simply making a conscious effort to fit in 30 minutes of physical activity during the day may be as effective as doing aerobic exercise in supervised classes several times a week. In a study published in theJournal of the American Medical Association, men and women aged 35 to 60 were randomly assigned to either a “lifestyle” activity group or a structured exercise class. After two years, participants in both groups were noted to have similar improvements in cardiopulmonary fitness, blood pressure, and percentage of body fat.
This less intense activity also promotes weight loss. Sedentary, obese women aged 22 to 60 on a low-fat, restricted-calorie diet were placed in either a lifestyle activity group or a structured aerobic exercise group. Although women in both groups lost similar amounts of weight during the initial 16-week period, after one year those in the structured exercise group had regained some of the weight, while those in the lifestyle group had maintained their weight loss.
Accumulating 30 minutes of activity during the day shouldn’t be difficult. Don’t use the elevator, take the stairs. Don’t park close to the entrance of a store, select a remote space and walk. Use the extra 15 minutes before an appointment to take a walk. Bound up the stairs two at a time, rake leaves, shovel the driveway, mow the grass, or vacuum vigorously. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you just do it.
- If you are over 40 or have a history of a medical problem, check with your physician before beginning an exercise program. Better yet, come to the Whitaker Wellness Institute, have a thorough assessment, and let our medical professionals design a personalized exercise program just for you. To schedule an appointment, call (866) 944-8253.
- Andersen, RE et al. Effects of lifestyle activity vs. structured aerobic exercise in obese women. JAMA. Jan 27, 1999; 281(4):335-40.
- Dunn, AL et al. Comparison of lifestyle and structured interventions to increase physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness. JAMA. Jan 27, 1999;281(4):327-34.
- Dustman, RE et al. Aerobic exercise training and improved neuropsychological function of older individuals. Neurobiol Aging. Spring 1984;5(1):35-42.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2008. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.