Exercise: The Best Medicine?

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Today’s post will focus upon physical activity and exercise which may now be considered amongst the most helpful aids in preventing death in people who have suffered from heart attacks and stroke. Doctors advise everyone from children to adults and elders to become physically active – and in doing so effectively maintain a healthy weight, keep their heart strong and improve cognitive function. However, can exercise really be compared to medical treatment in preventing and treating illnesses?

exercise the best medicine
Huseyin Naci, a graduate student at the London School of Economics, says:

Doctors should give their patients advice about the lifesaving benefits of exercise, and when possible they should refer patients to rehabilitation programs with exercise programs.

What were the findings?
– In stroke patients, exercise was far more effective than drugs
– For patients with heart attacks, exercise was on par with the preventative measure drugs offers
– Undertaking basic physical activity in the form of a brisk walk can help lower cholesterol levels, high blood levels and perform as powerfully as medications in keeping the body healthy

The reality, however, is less than 20% of Australians meet adequate daily physical activity recommendations. The majority of us are content with a repetitive pattern of sitting at work, followed by a static ‘couch potato’ state and finally,  sleeping – noticing a pattern? We just DON’T spend enough time being active, daily.

But, what exactly are the benefits of an exercise-filled lifestyle?
– Lower the risk of cognitive decline and early death
– Control weight and reduce risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (bringing blood sugar levels down)
– Decrease risk of depression, cancers and a number of other conditions
– Release beta-endorphins which assist in effective pain management and reduce stress levels

Exercise as a treatment is under-studied, and so we cannot fully understand the benefits it could potentially pose for those suffering from a host of varying conditions. The result is nationwide medical treatment consisting of drugs with an extensive list of side-effects, and a lack of study in beneficial changes to the body which exercising can bring about.

Exercise strengthens all parts of the human body — the heart, lungs, brain, blood vessels and muscles. The most important thing you can do for your health is to become active. The recommendation of two and half hours per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity such as walking or jogging is an essential, basic guideline to abide by. Muscle strengthening activities, including pushups, planks, situps and resistant band exercises involving all major muscle groups are a recommended inclusion two to three days a week.

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Better Bones – Exercise aids in offsetting the effects of osteoporosis through resistance training (weight lifting) and high intensity exercise (interval running) which both help build bone mineral density. High impact and dynamic activities placing skeletal sites under stress help increase bone strength.

Lessens Pain – Exercise is a major preventative aid in those who suffer from lower back pain. Weight lifting (if done with correct form and adequate weight) plays a significant role in preventing symptoms and lessening back pain – back strengthening exercises are pivotal to maintaining a strong and healthy spine.

Cancer Prevention – An increase in physical activity has been linked to the reduction in likelihood of acquiring certain types of cancer including breast and colon. Researchers at Washington University and Harvard University, discovered over the time-span of 25 years that those who exercised for an average of five to six hours per week were 25 percent less likely to acquire the disease over those who did the bare minimum of thirty minutes per week.

This article isn’t to divert patients from taking prescribed medication (particularly those with heart conditions such as heart disease), but rather to inform of the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle which can be used in conjunction with required medication. More research into the long term benefits of physical exercise is a necessity, which unfortunately is very under-studied and lacks any real investment – primarily due to the majority of research being funded by pharmaceutical companies which gain a monetary benefit from conducting prolonged studies of the affect of their medicine on patients.

However, what we can conclude, is that eating a balanced diet, stopping smoking, drinking and undertaking moderate physical activity can help reduce the likelihood of stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes and strengthen the heart muscle, bones and liver.

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