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Why Exercise Is So Important For Your Health

With increasing lifespans, rising chronic disease rates, challenged health care systems and an explosion in easily accessible health information - it seems everyone is searching and sharing their experiences in trying to discover that magic pill for perfect health. Maybe it is and has been right under our noses all this time.

Why is an athlete better off than you or me?

exercise-athleteHave you ever been in awe from the physical perfection of a professional athlete? Just last year we witnessed one of the greatest sporting events, the Olympics, bearing witness to those runners, riders, throwers, jumpers and others who dedicate incredible time and effort preparing their precision sculpted bodies for the highest level of performance in their sport.

Any such athlete rarely reaches this point alone. Trainers, coaches, Physiotherapy teams and the latest and most advanced sports medical research assists the athlete through the highs and lows of such demanding training. Sickness or injury would present a major set-back and strategies for prevention and recovery is hardly left to chance.

So why then is even a fraction of this knowledge and practical experience not influencing significant preventative and therapeutic benefits in response to the increasing burden of chronic disease, as a result of inactivity, in our general population?

Our health care systems are under threat of collapse if we don't find synergy between the available scientific knowledge and the practical implementation of preventative approaches to chronic disease.

In a journal article from the BJSM it is described why our default heath care system has become a disease-based rather than a health-based model of care.

Trying to fit prevention into a disease-based approach has been largely unsuccessful because the fundamental tenets of preventive medicine are diametrically opposed to those of disease-based healthcare.

While the higher echelons of global health organisation try to resolve this precarious situation we must carry on promoting the small yet powerful actions we can make for health improvements in our community.

You don't have to be an athlete!

Most of us won't commit to the arduous training of the competitive athlete. The good news is that we don't have to. Even the smallest commitment to keeping active almost guarantees a greater return of health benefit in relation to our time and effort.

If we could bottle or compress into a single tablet all the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise - it surely would be the ultimate 'magic pill' for optimal health.

Exercise Benefits

Exercise helps improve posture, increase mobility, reduce disability, improve mood, decrease pain and reduce the chance of developing chronic disease.

Regular exercise significantly reduces your risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis and depression, all of which have been linked to sedentary behaviour.

For pain sufferers, suitably structured exercise has specific effects on the chemical causes of pain within the body by producing the body’s own natural painkillers. Regular exercise also helps to distract you from and alleviate the feelings of pain. It significantly reduces your sensitivity to pain, depression, anxiety and stress—all of which contribute to your overall feelings of pain.

For a more thorough explanation of the pain process, how our thinking contributes and what part exercise plays in the pain management process - read this article - What happens when we feel pain?

How much exercise must you do?

Some is better than none! I really like this phrase:

80% of life is just showing up.

I believe the same holds true for health when considering which exercise plan or workout is best for you. The answer is the one you will show up for. Don't be over ambitious and commit to something you are unlikely to see through, which will only create the failure pattern in relation to your exercise commitment.

Start at a level that is right for you. If you're doing no exercise right now then start small, 15 minutes of walking a day would be really great. Move on to adding in a flight or two of stairs each day. And so on…

What if you are already exercising, how much is ideal?

This depends on who you talk to and what the individual goals are. If we're talking movement for optimal health then the accepted general recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking) a day with a day or two rest each week. Maintaining muscular strength and flexibility is also imperative to long term physical health therefore at least twice a week it is recommended to perform some weight bearing, strengthening exercises. This might include using some weights or resistance bands at home, in the gym, or doing Pilates or Yoga.

These times and frequency change according to intensity and goals. Someone wishing to lose weight or increase fitness for an event will need different training plans. In these instances it is a very good idea to see a qualified personal trainer or fitness coach who will help you get off to a good start.

Can I exercise too much?

Sure you can. There is such a thing as ‘chronic cardio’ where the amount of exercise you do can actually have negative long term consequences on your health.

Although in my experience, those I meet who are chronic exercises are often aware of what they are doing and are driven by something else rather than the pursuit of optimal health.

Another quote I recall from a runners forum:

I run to add life to my years not years to my life

Well I can't argue with that. Despite the potential long term health risks such folk have made an informed decision and are therefore consciously aware and responsible for their own actions and decisions.

In this article I am intending to inspire those who may be less active and less aware of their decision, conscious or not, to be inactive and the risks involved.

We have an ageing population and the elderly are generally the least active and most at risk for developing chronic disease. Despite living longer lives thanks to the safety of modern medicine the rates of chronic disease are increasing. Longer lives but of less quality is a false health economy in my book.

The greatest risk to our health

The main culprit is reported to be extended periods of sitting on a regular basis resulting in a sedentary lifestyle, the fourth leading risk factor for mortality. Some even claim that the number of deaths as a result of inactivity equals those caused by smoking. I appreciate we have to be dubious at times of statistical data but the reference is a powerful one.

Exercise at any age

The later in life you adopt a regular exercise routine the tougher it will be but no truer words apply as 'better late than never!'

Staying active into your older age will help you reserve muscle and flexibility which is essential for remaining stable on your feet and bouncing back more quickly from illness or injury if you do get sick. Your brain and cognitive function will thank you to; decreasing depression while retaining memory and clearer thinking.

If you have reached a point where you are afraid to exercise due to aches and pains, stiffness, weakness, feeling unsteady or lacking confidence - do not give up hope. Consult a Physiotherapist who will offer you a professional assessment of your mobility, strength, stability and balance and assist you by prescribing specific exercises to start you moving better again.

Group exercise classes such as Pilates with a professional instructor can be a great way to help you along this process. The class does not need to be age specific but rather cater for different levels of fitness and mobility. Such classes can be fun and socially supportive.

Remember, you don't need to break a sweat. Aim to get slightly out of breath while moving sensibly and stop the activity if you feel unwell.

The important thing is you just need to get active and keep your body moving.

Please watch this very informative and engaging short video by Dr Mike which perfectly presents what I have tried to explain in this article - 23.5 Hours

Yours in good health!

Simon. 


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