Exercise: The Magic Pill

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What if you could take a pill that would do all of the following: both treat and prevent obesity, prevent cardiovascular disease, improve mobility, improve mood, provide stress relief, improve overall quality of life, prevent diabetes, improve healthy longevity, prevent dementia, and even prevent sudden cardiac death? Wouldn’t you take it? Well, that magic pill is called exercise, and getting moderate exercise on a regular basis works all of the above wonders and more.

Exercise and Cardiovascular Health

Decades of research has shown that regular exercise improves cardiovascular fitness and can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Even adding just 15 minutes a day of aerobic physical activity to a previously sedentary lifestyle can increase healthy longevity by a year or more!

There are many ways in which exercise can improve cardiovascular health. In the Nurses’ Health Study, those who walked briskly or otherwise achieved moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes every day had a low risk of sudden cardiac death during 26 years of follow up.

Other research has shown that physical inactivity in women 30 years of age and older may be a greater risk factor for heart disease than smoking or high blood pressure!

Still more research has revealed that physical activity results in fewer episodes of erratic heart rates in men and women aged 65 and older, which translates into less risk of heart attack and heart failure.

Regular physical activity has also been shown to help control blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, and improve the health of blood vessels throughout the body.

Exercise and Weight Loss

Regular exercise is a must in any weight-loss effort, and can play a major role in preventing obesity. According to the Guideline for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults published in 2013 by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and The Obesity Society, comprehensive lifestyle intervention programs will typically prescribe aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes per week—which is equivalent to at least 30 minutes per day for at least 5 days of the week.

To maintain lost weight or minimize long-term weight regain past a year or so, higher levels of physical activity are recommended: approximately 200 to 300 minutes per week, according to the guideline.

Other Benefits of Exercise

There has been much evidence that exercise improves mood and provides stress relief, and may even help with depression. Other research has shown that regular exercise can help prevent diabetes. And still more evidence has shown exercise can help prevent dementia, better than any crossword puzzle!

In sum, it is rare to find a good reason not to exercise or engage in physical activity in some way on a daily basis. If you want to get healthy and stay healthy, exercise is the most reliable, high-value way to do so.

Sources:

Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Spiegelman D, et al. Adherence to a low-risk, healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death among women. JAMA 2011; 306:62-69.

Brown WJ, Pavey T, Bauman AE. Comparing population attributable risks for heart disease across the adult lifespan in women. Br J Sports Med 2014. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-093090. [Epub ahead of print]

Soares-Miranda L, Sattelmair J, Chaves P, Duncan GE, et al. Physical activity and heart rate variability in older adults: the cardiovascular health study. Circulation 2014; 129:2100-10.

Jensen MD, Ryan DH, Apovian CM, Ard JD. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. Circulation 2013. Epub DOI: 10.1161/01.cir.0000437739.71477.ee

Cooney G, Dwan K, Mead G. Exercise for depression. JAMA 2014; 311:2432-33.

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