Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Elixir of Exercise

The next 3 blog entries will be about exercise--importance, amount, benefits--all in an effort to convince and motivate you to make physical activity a consistent part of your lifestyle.  It would be impossible to overstate the importance of exercise.

First of all, you cannot experience optimal health without activity/exercise in your life.  Physical activity increases physical and emotional well-being, prevents a long list of diseases, and seems to slow down the very process of aging itself.  Do you know someone who seems to stay perennially “young” looking?  Inevitably they exercise, regularly.   There’s a lot of talk about the anti-aging properties of foods, but hardly a mention about exercise.

Ironically, you will have more energy if you exercise.  I know, it doesn’t make sense.  We have more energy when we spend more energy?  Yup.  I do realize the huge time obstacle most people face—we are maxed out to the limit with a weakening economy and ever-increasing demands on our time, but the truth is you don’t have the time (or money, considering the cost of healthcare) to not exercise.  Improvement in energy translates into feeling better and being more productive with the time you have, not to mention preventing illness, a huge component of our economic well-being, both individual and collective.  Few of us really “have time” to exercise, but I wish my uncles, who all died in their 40’s and 50’s of heart disease, would have taken the time to exercise then--we would have more time with them now.

Then there is prevention of lifestyle disease.  You name the disease, exercise makes it better.  Most people are aware that exercise reduces the major risk factors for heart disease, but let’s strengthen the case and look at each of the individual risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  Exercise reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol, increases “good” HDL cholesterol, reduces triglycerides, reduces high blood pressure, reduces stress, reduces overweight/obesity, and even has anti-inflammatory properties (C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation in the body, is reduced).  Why do we spend so much more of our resources in the continual search and development of drugs to “help” reduce cardiovascular disease when we rarely tap into the much more effective no-cost exercise?  Many physicians are much quicker to put patients on a drug treatment program than on an exercise program, and we should be asking why.

But the positive effect of exercise does not stop with heart disease.  Exercise has an extremely positive impact on diabetes, obesity, cancer, intestinal disorders (including constipation, diverticulosis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease), alzheimer’s, depression, PMS, osteoporosis, and (perhaps counterintuitively) arthritis.  Exercise even improves sleep!  In fact exercise is SO important to your health that you would very likely be healthier to be a junk food addict who exercises than if you become a “health food nut” in a health food store who does no exercise—and that’s from a dietitian!  That’s how important exercise is.  (Note: I do not condone junk food addict exercisers—that is the addictive cycle of bondage to an eating/body image disorder that ate up 15-20 years of my life).
 
And there simply is no successful weight-management or weight-loss without exercise. . .  
Oh, you can lose weight on any starvation diet that comes down the pike, but good luck trying to maintain the weight-loss without exercise in your lifestyle. An often overlooked factor in weight management is the effect of lean tissue on burning body fat.  Muscle burns more calories than fat, 24 hours a day, even at rest.  The indirect effect of the calorie-burning by muscle tissue throughout the day is even greater than the direct amount of calories burned during an exercise bout, so maintaining muscle tissue is key to managing body fat and weight.  And be very aware that the converse is also true--if you lose lean tissue on a weight-loss program due to restrictive dieting and/or lack of exercise (which prevents muscle loss), it will result in a lower “metabolic rate” and you will sabotage any long-term effort at weight management.  Dieters usually regain all the weight lost with a little more besides (in the form of fat!).  Restrictive diets and weight-loss without exercise make people "fattier" in the long run. 

Weight-loss/maintenance is a wonderful by-product of an active lifestyle, but I do not recommend weight-loss be your primary focus.  I highly recommend that you do not exercise in order to lose weight, but focus on the many other benefits of exercise instead.  People who exercise in order to lose weight often struggle with maintaining the motivation to exercise once they achieve their weight-loss goal.  Have you gone through periods of exercising followed by a long period of time where you do not exercise?  If so, determine if your motivation to exercise is only in order to lose weight.  Weight-loss exercisers are sometimes in bondage to the lie that body image is a worthwhile goal.  After a while of living according to this myth (the truth is your worth is not based on your body image) people can even begin to resent doing the exercise.  After all, the advertisements show that life is supposed to get better when I reach my goal weight, right?  That is like basing motivation on the shifting sand of cultural myths (lies) instead of the solid ground of truth.  Life does not necessarily get better at a certain body weight (and may, in fact, get worse as life sometimes does)--the sand shifts, and the motivation crumbles.  Furthermore, an increasing number of people are using exercise to purge, developing an obsession to exercise which contributes to a very out-of-balance lifestyle and ever-weakening psychological, emotional and spiritual health.

One final benefit of exercise—the discipline that comes with exercise (and the energy to be more disciplined) seems to increase the discipline and motivation to eat well, and vice versa.   

Nope.  We just can’t overstate the importance of exercise. 
           
Enjoy!
Diane Preves, M.S., R.D.

A lot of people want to know “how much” is a good amount of exercise, so I will discuss that in the next blog.

Note:  If you have two or more risk factors, or a strong family history of premature coronary heart disease, or are over the age of 40 and plan to begin a vigorous exercise program, the American Heart Association and N.E.W. LIFE recommend that you get a stress test from your physician before you begin.  Heart disease is an insidious killer--you never know you have a problem until it’s too late.  Jim Fix was a well-known marathon runner who died at age 52 in the middle of a run of a heart attack, arteries clogged full of cholesterol.  He looked good on the outside and was a trained athlete!  The first sign of heart disease is sometimes sudden death.  Furthermore, it is important to see your physician for a physical if you have health concerns which exercise could potentially aggravate.  Of course, walking is always encouraged, and this can be a perfect way to begin adding more physical activity to the lifestyle.  


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