We have all heard the saying ‘exercise is medicine’ and this week, in an article reviewing the latest science on this subject, the authors point to 35 chronic diseases and health conditions that regular exercise and physical activity do much to prevent. The figures are astounding really, and show that physical activity is in some cases far better than any medication you could take.
There is actually a thing called sedentary death syndrome (SeDS), which is chronic, potentially life-threatening disease caused by an inactive lifestyle.
So impressed am I by the benefits of exercise in combatting SeDS that I’d like to share a few facts.
Low cardiorespiratory fitness is a more reliable predictor of death than risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes, or heart irregularities during exercise. In a review of 33 big studies it was shown that even small increases in aerobic capacity (3.5 ml O2/kg/min) bring a 15% decrease in risk of all cause mortality. Nice.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) means atherosclerotic arterial deposits are blocking blood flow to the heart. Being physically fit substantially lowers the risk of getting CHD, the leading cause of death in the UK and worldwide. Exercise training, especially aerobic exercise, promotes improvements in endothelial cell function and lowers the level of inflammatory markers. Aerobic interval exercise is even better than moderate intensity steady exercise.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of arteries, reducing blood flow, impairing lower extremity function and quality of life. Walking 3 times a week is associated with significantly less functional decline.
Other circulatory problems associated with inactivity such as hypertension, stroke and heart failure are all positively affected by physical activity. The most active adults have up to 30% lower risk of stroke and death. That is a huge benefit. People with normal blood pressure have an average 5 years longer life expectancy than people with high blood pressure.
Osteoporosis is a decrease in bone mass and mineral density that makes bones more porous and brittle. The best interventions are weight bearing exercise, jumping activities, and resistance exercise of all major muscles groups.
Mood in major depressive disorders can be substantially improved by aerobic exercise in the short and long term.
Well, the list goes on, and I could mention nonalcoholic liver disease, accelerated biological aging and premature death, insulin resistance and diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and cancer as other health issues that are dramatically improved or prevented by regular exercise. Inactivity is a primary cause of some of these conditions.
The review authors note that daily physical activity levels are hugely different today than they were in the stone age. They compare an average of 5000 steps a day now to up to 21000 steps a day then, and warn that as we can never revert to our natural way of life, we must increase our daily activity.
The key message is that physical activity of moderate intensity adds so much benefit to one’s life, and that could be as simple as walking regularly. If you need motivation to exercise consider the quality of life benefits you can receive, the absence of disease, and increased life expectancy as powerful incentives, rather than merely a better physique.