Why Exercise is Still the Best Medicine
Most of us got plenty of activity as kids. But as we move into adulthood, it can sometimes feel nearly impossible to hit the gym—even when we’re dedicated to our physical fitness. The next time you’re contemplating whether to binge on Netflix or exercise, consider this: there’s an undeniable link between being physically active and preventing a number of serious health issues.
This is exactly the idea that inspired the American Medical Association and the American College of Sports Medicine to launch Exercise is Medicine, a program that encourages doctors to design fitness routines that help patients overcome specific health hurdles. No, this doesn’t mean you can jog your way out of cancer or a broken bone. But research shows that in many ways, exercise really is the best medicine.
Experts have labeled our collective sedentary lifestyle a pandemic, but there’s an easy fix: simply get moving. Research shows regular physical activity can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases, improve your mental health and boost your quality of life.
But is exercise a magic bullet or just one factor among many? Here’s a quick overview of how regular exercise can help treat our physical and mental ailments.
Preventing heart disease and stroke
According to the New York State Department of Health, roughly 35% of coronary heart disease deaths were linked to a lack of physical activity. That’s an astounding statistic.
Heart disease and strokes are all too common (there were nearly 800,000 strokes in the U.S. this year), but that doesn’t mean they need to be our reality. Regular physical activity can play a role in preventing heart disease and stroke. Just 30 minutes of exercise each day can reduce your blood pressure, strengthen your heart muscles and improve your cholesterol levels and lipids.
Keeping your cool
Stress doesn’t just affect your emotional state; it also plays a significant role in exacerbating many conditions. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, stress in some cases can worsen conditions like diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma and more. But the right exercise habits can make you feel better now and set a healthy foundation as you age.
Exercise is considered one of the best ways to reduce stress and keep your brain in working order. Physical activity produces endorphins, chemicals in your brain that improve mood and help stave off the aches and pains that, well, come along with being a person. The influx of endorphins also helps you fall asleep, which can lower your stress overall.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, even taking a 10-minute walk each day can reduce anxiety or stress. Some patients have even found that exercising has eliminated or reduced the need for actual medication—though it’s important to consult a doctor before ditching your prescriptions.
Cuts chronic pain
Low impact aerobic exercise may help people suffering from back pain or other chronic pain. How? By improving muscle function and strengthening problem areas like the muscles around the spine. Exercise also has been shown in some cases to reduce pain from arthritis by loosening joints and increasing strength.
Works wonders for diabetics
Exercise is shown to slow the progression of Type 2 diabetes in adults. The American Diabetes Association recommends people with Type 2 diabetes exercise a minimum of 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes each day five times a week.
While that may sound daunting to some, all that regular activity will pay off. Moving helps us regulate our blood sugar, build bone strength and improve painful nerve problems associated with diabetes.
Cancer survival rates
Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, and the number of cases is predicted to grow by 70% over the next two decades. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Regular exercise has been shown to improve the outcomes in cancer patients, reduce the side effects from radiation and chemotherapies, and improve recovery time post-surgery.
Between staving off health conditions like heart disease and reducing chronic pain, there’s no doubt that exercise is an integral part of our long-term health. But it also provides powerful benefits in the moment, from reducing your stress to stretching your muscles and beyond.
So, the next time you’re feeling lethargic or unmotivated to move, consider this: a walk around the park or a trip to the gym can actually be better at reducing your exhaustion than taking a nap. Patrick O’Connor, the co-director of the University of Georgia’s exercise psychology lab, put it this way: “A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise. But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.”