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Exercise and Its Benefits

What if there was a pill that would keep you fit and lean as you aged, while protecting your heart and bones?  What if it was as good for your brain as for your body, if it made you stronger, more confident, less susceptible to depression?  What if it improved your sleep, mood, and memory and reduced your risk of cancer, all while adding life to your years and years to your life?  A great number of studies have found that exercise can provide all these benefits and more[11,12].  In other words, exercise is preventive medicine as well as antidote. For the world's healthiest and most long lived people, their daily lives are full of exercise at every stage and age.

In summary, the benefits of exercise are shown below:

  • Exercise is important in obesity[3, 7]
    • Exercise improves skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity
    • Exercise reduces stress, and resultant cortisol release
    • Exercise makes the TCA cycle run faster, and detoxifies fructose, improving hepatic insulin sensitivity
    • Exercise burns calories, and it reduces appetite
    • Exercise is essential for keeping off lost weight
  • Exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system[3]
    • Exercise can improve circulation
    • Exercise can decrease blood pressure
    • Exercise can decrease the levels of bad LDL cholesterol, and increase the levels of good HDL cholesterol.
  • Exercise regulates fuel[3]
    • As we age, insulin levels drop and glucose has a harder time getting into the cells to fuel them
    • Exercise increases levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which regulates insulin in the body
  • Exercise elevates your stress threshold
    • Exercise erases the effects of stress and improves your resistance to stress
    • Exercise combats the corrosive effects of too much cortisol, a product of chronic stress that can bring on depression and dementia
    • Exercise is one of the few ways to counter the process of aging because it slows down the natural decline of the stress threshold
  • Exercise lifts your mood[3]
    • Exercise increases your level of serotonin and endorphins, brain chemicals that affect your mood and sensations.  Thus it can improve mood and could even fight depression.
    • Exercise counteracts the natural decline of dopamine, the key neurotransmitter in the motivation and motor systems
  • Exercise boosts the immune system
    • Exercise is the pump to the lymphatic system as heart is the pump to the cardiovascular system
    • Those who physically active have a 50 percent lower chance of developing colon cancer[3]
  • Exercise helps your brain 
    • In mice, cathepsin B was causing the growth of new cells and connections in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is central to memory.
      • Experiments showed that blood levels of cathepsin B rose in mice that spent a lot of time on their exercise wheels. 
    • What's good for the heart is good for the head
    • Exercise reduces silent brain infarcts[8]
    • Exercise improves learning on three levels
      • It optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation
      • It prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information
      • It spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in hippocampus.
    • Exercise holds off dementia
    • Exercise improves mood and balances neurotransmitter function
    • Exercise increases neuroplasticity and neurogenesis
      • It does this through naturally increasing BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  This is super fertilizer for the brain.  It improves the function of neurons, helps them grow and sprout new connections, and protects them against cell death.  It is the key link between thoughts, emotions, and movement.
      • Exercise prepares your neurons to connect, while mental stimulation (i.e., learning) allows your brains to capitalize on that readiness
    • People learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)
    • Even though brain circuits are created through exercise, they can be recruited by other areas and used for thinking.  This is why learning how to play the piano makes it easier for kids to learn math.
    • Moving to an irregular rhythm versus a regular exercise improves brain plasticity
    • One study from Japan found that jogging 30 minutes just 2 or 3 times a week for 12 weeks improved brain's executive function
    • You can't learn difficult material while you're exercising at high intensity because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex, and this hampers your executive function.  However, blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.
    • In Arthur Kramer's study of 60- to 80-year-olds, MRI scans show that, after just 6 months of aerobic walking, the exercisers' brains looked 2 to 3 years younger on MRIs than they actually were[6].
      • Kramer recommends fast-paced "aerobic walking" at a speed of about 3.5 miles an hour, or two miles in about 35 minutes.
  • Exercise decreases your risk for metabolic syndrome or type II diabetes
    • Exercise helps to control your blood sugar and thus helps to manage or prevent diabetes
    • Exercise corrects and prevents insulin resistance
    • Exercise before or after a meal diminishes the postprandial rise in potentially harmful triglycerides
    • Exercise can reverse glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity[1]
  • Exercise reduces inflammation
    • Exercise decreases inflammatory markers (e.g., C-reactive protein)
  • Exercise helps relieve arthritis
    • Reduces pain through increased endorphins, your body's natural painkillers
    • Exercise can reduce back pain
  • Exercise lowers your overall risk of dying prematurely
    • Exercise can make you stronger and move flexible
    • Exercise reduces the frailty of old age
    • Exercise boosts overall motivation and the ability to be fully engaged in life
  • Exercise helps your lung
    • Exercise lowers your risk for upper respiratory infections
    • Exercise preserves your aerobic capacity
  • Exercise helps your muscle
    • Exercise tones and conditions your muscles, which can diminish any aches and pains.
    • Exercise can build muscle[1]
      • A high muscle-to-fat ratio causes your metabolic rate to increase
      • Muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest.  A pound of muscle burns roughly 15 more calories a day than a pound of fat.
  • Exercise helps your bones
    • Exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, can make your bones stronger
    • Exercise is really the predominant lifestyle determinant of bone strength in young women[2]
    • Exercise program made all the difference, while the calcium supplement had virtually no effect[1]
    • Exercise can increase bone mineral content[1]
    • Walking and any other types of movement stimulate the formation of synovial fluid, which keeps your joints lubed
    • Who participated in strength training for a year added 1% of bone density in their hips and spine, while the sedentary group lost 2.5% of the density in those areas
  • Exercise helps your vision
    • Exercise is an essential activity to prevent cataracts and age-related m
      acular degeneration
  • Exercise can stabilize your body's ability to regulate its internal temperature
  • Exercise helps your sleep
    • A study has found that people who exercised regularly slept almost an hour longer each night and fell asleep in half the time it took others[5]
    • Sleep doctor advises that you should stop exercising 4 hours before bed[9]
Dr. Steven G. Pratt[4] also lists all the diseases and conditions that exercise can help prevent and/or improve:
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Colon cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer[13]
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Type II diabetes
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Cataracts and macular degeneration
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Arthritis
  • Disability
Can you imagine what would happen if a pharmaceutical company developed a drug that could accomplish these benefits and risk reduction?  It would be marketed and sold in a manner that would make the sales efforts for Viagra look modest in comparison.  If you're looking for a panacea or a miracle pill, it doesn't exist.  But, exercise is almost like one.  Hear more on what people say about exercise:
  • Jack Lelanne
    • Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen.  Put them together and you've got a kingdom!
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • If you can't fly, then run.  If you can't run, then walk.  If you can't walk, then crawl.  But whatever you do, keep moving.
Types of Exercises

Choose any activity that fits your lifestyle.  To improve your overall health, you can focus in four areas:
  1. Aerobic capacity
    • Aerobic exercise is good for preserving the heart, lungs, and brain
    • The most benefits were found in people who walk 6 hours a week, even 2 hours a week can make a difference
    • Indoor activities include:
      • stair climbing
      • elliptical trainer
      • indoor rower
      • stairmaster
      • stationary bicycle
      • treadmill
    • Outdoor activities include:
      • cross-country skiing
      • cycling
      • inline skating
      • jogging
      • Nordic walking
    • Indoor or outdoor activities include:
      • kickboxing
      • swimming
      • kettlebell
      • jumping rope
  2. Strength
    • Activities that involve bouncing or jumping help strengthen your bones:
      • tennis
      • dancing
      • aerobics class
      • jumping rope
      • basketball
      • running.
    • Strength training controls cortisol more effectively when combined with aerobics than aerobics alone.
    • If you suffer from back pain, ask your health care professional about stretching and strengthening exercises
  3. Balance and Flexibility
  • You can practice yoga, pilates, tai chi, martial arts, or dance, activities that can enhance circulation, increases range of motion, and provides greater body awareness
How to Start

If you have a family history of heart disease or are under care for a medical condition, check with your health care professional before you begin to exercise.  Otherwise, you could start slow with an easy activity that fits your lifestyle.  Gradually, you can add other low or non-impact aerobics such as walking, biking, or swimming to your routine.  Make sure you stretch before and after a workout; it will help your endurance. 

Finally, remember this: move or die.  Since many of us don't work in laborious jobs, "leisure-time activities" become essential.  One study found that physical inactivity was an even greater risk to health than tobacco smoking.  In a study, conducted on a Chinese population, 1/5 of deaths of those over age 35 in Hong Kong in 1998 were due to physical inactivity.  So, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested, let's keep moving.

  1. Studies at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University
  2. Penn State Young Women's Health Study
  3. Spark by John J. Ratey, MD
  4. SuperFoods HealthStyle by Dr. Steven G Pratt
  5. Abby C. King et. al. at the Standford University School of Medicine
  6. 100 Simple Things You can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's by Jean Carper
  7. Sugar: The Bitter Truth (watch from 1 hr and 10 min on for exercise-related material)
  8. Exercise Reduces Silent Brain Infarcts
  9. "The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan" by Michael Breus, PhD.
  10. The Best Exercises for Healthy Bones
  11. Exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease: today's best buy in public health (PubMed)
  12. The End of Illness by David B. Agus, MD
    • He stated that the only proven fountain of youth is exercise.
  13. 3 ways exercise helps the prostate (Harvard Health Publications)
  14. The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life
    • How much exercise is too little, too much or just the right amount to improve health and longevity?
      • Based a recent research, scientists have found that the right dose of exercise is:
        • Working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. 
  15. Yang-Style Tai Chi Chuan 24 Forms (Travel to Health)
  16. The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life
    • The sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day
    • Those who spent up to 30 percent of their weekly exercise time in vigorous activities were 9 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who exercised for the same amount of time but always moderately, while those who spent more than 30 percent of their exercise time in strenuous activities gained an extra 13 percent reduction in early mortality, compared with people who never broke much of a sweat.
  17. A Protein That Moves From Muscle To Brain May Tie Exercise To Memory
  18. Staying Fit Isn't A New Year's Resolution For These Hunter-Gatherers

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