Exercise is the Best Medicine: Part 1

Obviously, I am biased towards exercise and appropriate exercise prescription. I think this is one area we can all be better (myself included). So, when I saw this article, I wanted to share it with everyone. This sums up a lot of what we feel and gives you a good background for why exercise should always be in the discussion for how to treat every illness.

One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose (blood sugar level), insulin, and leptin (appetite suppressant) levels by optimizing insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease, and may explain why exercise is such a potent preventive medicine.

In fact, researchers recently suggested that exercise is "the best preventive drug" for many common ailments, from psychiatric disorders to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. According to Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery and author of The Exercise Cure:

"Exercise is the best preventive drug we have, and everybody needs to take that medicine."

And, as stated by Dr. Timothy Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge:

"Exercise strengthens the entire human machine — the heart, the brain, the blood vessels, the bones, the muscles. The most important thing you can do for your long-term health is lead an active life."

Non-Exercise Movement Is Equally, if Not More, Important for Health

Unfortunately, many fail to get sufficient amounts of exercise. Worse yet, a majority of people may still endanger their health simply by sitting too much. Compelling evidence actually suggests that even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting is itself a risk factor for chronic disease and reduced lifespan...

Overall, federal data suggest only 21% of American adults meet the government recommendation to engage in two and half hours worth of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise each week. So, there's clearly a lot of room for improvement. Ideally, you'll want to exercise regularly AND frequently interrupt your sitting in order to optimize your health and longevity. Let’s review the reasons for this below.

Exercise Benefits Found to Be EQUAL to Drugs for Heart Disease and Diabetes

A recent meta-review conducted by researchers at Harvard and Stanford compared the effectiveness of exercise versus drug interventions on mortality outcomes for diabetes, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke. After reviewing 305 randomized controlled trials, which included nearly 339,300 people, they found "no statistically detectable differences" between physical activity and medications for pre-diabetes and heart disease.

This is a potent reminder of the power of simple lifestyle changes, as well as the shortcomings of the drug paradigm!

Besides optimizing insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity, other beneficial biochemical changes also occur during exercise, including alterations in more than 20 different metabolites involved in fat burning and metabolism, among other things. As stated by Dr. Church, exercise indeed affects your entire body from head to toe in beneficial ways. This includes changes in your:

  • Muscles, which use glucose and ATP for contraction and movement. Tiny tears in your muscles make them grow bigger and stronger as they heal. Gaining more muscle through resistance exercises has many benefits, from losing excess fat to maintaining healthy bone mass and preventing age-related muscle loss as you age. The intensity of your resistance training can achieve a number of beneficial changes on the molecular, enzymatic, hormonal, and chemical level in your body.

  • Lungs. As your muscles call for more oxygen, your breathing rate increases. The higher your VO2 max, your maximum capacity of oxygen use, the fitter you are.

  • Heart. Your heart rate increases with physical activity to supply more oxygenated blood to your muscles. The fitter you are, the more efficiently your heart can do this, allowing you to work out longer and harder. Your blood pressure will also decrease as a result of new blood vessels forming.

  • Brain. The increased blood flow also benefits your brain, allowing it to almost immediately function better. Exercising regularly also promotes the growth of new brain cells, boosting your capacity for memory and learning. A number of neurotransmitters are also triggered, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. Some of these are well-known for their role in mood control. Exercise, in fact, is one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.

  • Joints and Bones. Exercise can place as much as five or six times more than your body weight on them. Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis, as your bones are very porous and soft, and as you get older, your bones can easily become less dense and hence, more brittle - especially if you are inactive.