Exercise & Preventing Disease
It wasn't too long ago that people with conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, arthritis, asthma and heart disease, were told by physicians to "take it easy","stay in bed" or ingest several medications in order to stabilize these conditions. Today, there is little doubt how the impact of lifestyle changes, including exercise, can dramatically prevent, treat and even cure many of these ailments.
Any sustained movement, like walking, bicycling, swimming, or cross-country skiing, will reduce the risk of several life-threatening diseases, such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and possibly cancer. Exercise does not need to be boring, expensive, time-consuming, or inconvenient. Moderate forms of exercise will give the benefits needed to prevent disease. Gardening, dancing, walking, household chores, and even shopping expeditions can give you enough exercise to meet the daily requirement. All that's needed to personalize your fitness plan is a creative and adventurous spirit.
Exercise v.s. diet is often the debate that many health professionals evaluate. By examining each disease through clinical trials, we can better determine the efficacy of both exercise and diet in the treatment of many common ailments. Diet, for example, is the cornerstone of diabetes care, but if diet is combined with exercise, diabetics dramatically improve their condition by more than 45% than with diet alone.
"The problem with our health today, is that people are just not moving enough. You're talking about a dramatic decrease in our level of physical activity from just 30 to 50 years ago. That's a relatively insignificant amount of time for our bodies to adapt in comparison to the activity levels we had evolved to before the technological era. This combined with irresponsible eating habits is creating the health crisis you see before you today."
For people with chronic ailments, exercise used to be viewed as asking for trouble. However, current evidence suggests that in both health and disease, the overall prognosis is better for the exerciser than for the sedentary. For example, a recent study showed that intensive workouts can not only slow the progress of coronary disease, but actually restore lost coronary function when the disease is still stable.
"We've yet to find a disease state where exercise isn't helpful."
– Miriam Nelson, Ph.D, Tufts University.
Clinical trials indicate that exercise can help reduce the pain and joint damage caused by arthritis, decrease attacks and the need for medication in asthma sufferers, and ease anxiety and depression. Other research indicates that regular workouts may cut the risk of symptomatic gallstones by one-third. Exercise has also recently be found to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and improve adherence to such treatment.
For chronically ill individuals, the psychological as well as physical benefits of exercise can be profound. Even ten minutes of light exercise a day, can help most chronically ill patients feel more vibrant, energetic and alert.
"Exercise is empowering and energizing, and it increases your sense of control over the situation. You're never too sick or too old to get started exercising."
– Bess Marcus, Ph.D, Brown's University
One of the most effective killers in North America is cardiovascular disease. It is also a disease which is so easily preventable through proper exercise and diet. Out of a recent study conducted by Consumers Reports, almost 60% of people who had heart conditions, reported that exercise and diet (types of exercise and diet were not specified) helped them feel much better. Hypertension, a common precursor to cardiovascular disease is also directly influenced, treated and prevented by supervised exercise and diet.
Studies still show that most doctors still fail to advise patients about lifestyle changes to prevent and treat disease. Economic pressure for briefer doctor visits, lack of formal training in nutrition, exercise and lifestyle medicine, seem to underlie doctors' poor performance in this area.
People with chronic medical problems should insist their health-care providers give them information on how exercise and lifestyle changes can affect the course of a disease. If patients cannot obtain this information from their doctors, they should find an appropriate health professional who can.