The Drug Without Side Effects: Exercise

Other than diet, few things will help the body as much as exercise. As the chair of the British Academy of Medical Royal Colleges put it in her Foreword to the Academy’s 2015 report to physicians,

Physical activity is important in the management of long-term diseases, but it is even more important in the prevention of many other common diseases. I believe that if physical activity was a drug it would be classed as a wonder drug….

The report itself notes that the risk reduction associated with exercise is “better than many drugs.”

Indeed, science shows that getting the minimum recommended exercise – 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week – can reduce risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease, and other chronic conditions by at least 30%.

It also improves cardiorespiratory health (COPD), increasing the ability for exertion. Moderate improvements in peripheral vascular disease have been noted, offering more pain-free walking time and distance.

Physical exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function for both healthy adults and those with early signs of Alzheimer’s. It improves the quality of life overall, enhancing balance and strength with reduced falls and risks of serious fractures. In short, exercise can prolong independence and quality of life for the elderly.

This is impressive. Yet according to the CDC, an estimated 80% of adults don’t meet that bare minimum of just two and a half hours of activity a week.

Though the Academy’s report was intended to reach doctors, we think it’s a must read for all! Its message is clear: Lifestyle interventions are at least as effective as drug treatment with none of medication’s side-effects.

This report is bound to motivate you, maybe even scare you a bit. But if you have concerns before starting any physical activity, consult your health care provider. We trust you to make the best decision for your personal health goals. After all, you’re the best advocate for your health and are more than capable of using the recommendations in a way that fits for your current health and fitness level.

older couple walking in natureAnd remember: Exercise is just movement. It doesn’t have to be – nor should it be – the grueling “no pain, no gain” of yesteryear. Find something you enjoy and can begin safely and set a personal goal.

It doesn’t have to be gym time or yoga class or even anything “sporty.” Walk the dog. Dance. Garden. Play with your kids or grandkids. Jot down the activities you’ll do and note how often you’ll do them.

The main thing? Make movement an essential part of your day. And if you can find a friend or family members to join you as you take part in “active aging,” you’ll all benefit not only from the activity, but a sense of community, belonging and fun. All you have to do is take the first step.

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