Exercise Is Medicine: Heal Your Body by Moving a Bit More

It is no secret that there are many health benefits to exercise. However, physical inactivity continues to be a fast-growing public health problem in the United States, with nearly half of adults failing to meet the recommendations for daily physical activity. Physical inactivity can lead to numerous health problems. This article explores the initiative of Exercise is Medicine.

Key takeaways:

Exercise is Medicine: what is it?

Exercise is Medicine is an initiative encouraging primary care physicians and other healthcare team members to include exercise when designing patient treatment plans. This program is committed to the belief that exercise and physical activity are vital components to preventing and treating chronic disease and should be regularly assessed by the healthcare team. Exercise is Medicine, and the National Physical Activity Plan seeks to make physical activity a "vital sign" routinely assessed with every patient interaction.

The problem

Physical inactivity is a growing problem in the United States, contributing to various chronic diseases and health complications like obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, depression, anxiety, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Half of adults don't get enough aerobic physical activity, and 77% of high school students don't get enough aerobic exercise. This has led to $117 billion in annual healthcare costs related to low physical activity.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, tobacco use, and high blood glucose. Studies have shown that adolescents and adults in the U.S. spend almost eight hours daily in sedentary behaviors, and 36% of adults don't participate in any leisure physical activity. Research shows that a low level of physical activity poses a greater risk of dying than the risk of smoking, being obese, having hypertension, or having high cholesterol.

Health benefits of exercise

Many studies show that there are many health benefits to exercise. Regular physical activity can do the following:

  • Reduce mortality and the risk of recurrent breast cancer by 50 percent.
  • Decrease the risk of colon cancer by over 60 percent.
  • Decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by about 40 percent.
  • Decrease the incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure by about 40 percent.
  • Reduce the risk of stroke by 27 percent.
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
  • It is twice as effective in treating type 2 diabetes than insulin and can save $2,250 per person per year compared to the cost of drug treatment.
  • Reduce depression as effectively as a prescribed antidepressant like Prozac or behavioral therapy.

Lower mortality risk

Additionally, studies have shown that active individuals in their 80s have a lower risk of death than inactive individuals in their 60s. Adults with better muscle strength have a 20% lower risk of mortality compared to adults with low muscle strength. Regular physical activity also leads to higher SAT scores for adolescents, a decrease in discipline incidents involving violence by 59%, and a decrease in out-of-school suspensions by 67% in elementary schools.

Cognition

Regular physical activity improves thinking or cognition for children ages 6–13 and reduces short-term feelings of anxiety for adults. Regular physical activity helps keep thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age and reduces anxiety and depression for better sleep.

Weight management

Eating patterns and physical activity both play crucial roles in weight management. When you gain weight, you consume more calories than you are burning. Participating in at least 20 minutes of physical activity daily helps decrease or maintain weight.

Infectious diseases

Physical activity helps reduce the risk of serious outcomes from infectious diseases, including COVID-19, the flu, and pneumonia. You are at an increased risk of getting sick if you do little or no physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that physical activity is associated with decreased COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, while inactivity increases hospitalizations and deaths.

A CDC study found that adults who meet the aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity guidelines were half as likely to die from the flu or pneumonia than adults who were less active than recommended.

Musculoskeletal

Protecting bones, joints, and muscles as you age is crucial, as they support the body and help you move. Keeping your bones, joints, and muscles healthy enables you to participate in daily physical exercise. Muscle-strengthening exercises like weight lifting help increase or maintain power and strength.

Movement recommendations

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week.

The guidelines also recommend that children and adolescents be active for at least 60 minutes daily.

Following these guidelines leads to better overall health with a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Considerations

If you are thinking about starting to exercise again to improve your health, there are some things you should consider. You should talk with your healthcare provider first to determine a safe exercise plan if you have any health conditions.

Making an exercise plan

If you are starting, you may want to consider low-impact activities like the elliptical machine, hiking, or walking two to three times per week. Then, gradually increase cardio and light strength training activities to ensure your body can tolerate it.

When starting strength training, use your body weight to do exercises like squats, lunges, and core activities. These activities can be done every other day. Then, work on adding or increasing weight to your workouts. Take a day off to assess how your body handles the activity and adjust if needed.

Before starting a workout, do warm-ups and stretch. Warming up and light cardio exercises help prepare muscles for exercise and help avoid muscle tightness and stress on the body. After completing your workout, cool down with more stretching and light cardio.

Avoiding injury

It is essential to try to avoid injury while working out. You can do this by ensuring you are activating the right muscles to perform your activity. Whenever you add an exercise outside your normal movement, ensure you use good body mechanics.

Listen to your body

Listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel after an exercise routine to learn what it can tolerate. If you are tired and sore, take a recovery or rest day. This helps prevent injuries.

By moving your body a little every day, you are taking measures to prevent chronic health conditions from developing or improve existing health conditions. Regular physical activity has been proven to have a variety of health benefits, both physically and mentally. By engaging in regular physical activity, individuals enhance their overall well-being, boost their immune systems, and prevent injury. Exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle.



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