EXERCISE IS PERHAPS THE MOST EFFECTIVE MEDICINE

May 10th, 2012

The benefits of exercise have been associated with longer life, reduction in risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, asthma, and now, decreasing the mortality rate of cancer survivors.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that physical exercise is associated with reduced all-cause mortality in breast cancer and colon cancer survivors.

For decades, physicians have been telling sick or injured people, that bed rest and not exerting oneself when ill or injured, will help with the healing process.  While this may be true for some conditions, by in large, it is becoming quite clear, that movement, activity and exercise very often help and speed up the healing process and lead to less permanent disability or in many cases, complete recovery.

As long ago as 1966 a fascinating study carried out at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School looked at the benefits of healthy, hard-working, 20 year old men, resting three weeks in bed during a summer vacation.

3 weeks of rest and relaxation, what could be wrong with that? Well, it turns out a lot!  By the end of the three weeks in bed, the researchers found surprising changes that included: faster heart rates, increases in blood pressure, decreases in the hearts pumping ability, decreases in muscle power and a rise in body fat. These were characteristics found in men twice their age.  (This effect was due to too much rest, 7-8 hours of sleep a night is essential to over all good health).

Subsequently, the same men were put on an 8 week exercise regimen, which not only reversed the negative effects of bed rest but actually improved their health beyond their starting measurements.

Astronauts have learned the same lesson when traveling in space:  Exercise or get weak and/or sick!

These men agreed to be reexamined 30 years later. Though all remained relatively healthy, the effects of aging were quite noticeable.  They had gained an average of 50 pounds from their weight at age 20. Their body fat doubled, blood pressure increased, but despite these common effects of aging, they were still not as compromised as they were when they got out of bed after 3 weeks of bed rest.

Once again, the men, now 50 years old, were put on a moderate exercise regimen for 6 months. Though they lost only 10 lbs. on average, interestingly their heart function and blood pressure returned to close to where they were when they were 20 years old before the initial exercise program they participated in after getting out of bed.  Exercise reversed much of their age related decline.

Jean Baptiste LaMarck a scientist in the early 1800’s developed the theory of “Use and Disuse”.  The theory basically said “use it or lose it!”  Using your body in different and moderately challenging ways will help it resist the effects of time and aging.  For example using your lungs and heart to do aerobic exercise will keep them fit and strong.  Not using them often enough will weaken them.  Using your brain and cognitive skills to continue learning will keep most people sharp even into old age.

The handwriting is on the wall!  You have no one to blame but yourself, if you allow the effects of aging and time to rob you of your vim, vigor, vitality, physical skills and health.  If you are not exercising, there is no time like “today” to start.

 

Curt Hendrix M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S.