Exercise lowers health risks


Is exercise really essential to health?

Yes, very much so, especially in lowering the risk for diseases, as shown in the recently published studies discussed below.

To illustrate a point, let us exaggerate and consider a situation that is extreme: a person who is bedridden, a stroke victim or a quadriplegic, someone practically unable to move. What happens? The muscles all over the body atrophy and in most instances replaced with fats, become flabby and lose bulk, the heart and lungs deteriorate, the circulation slows down, metabolism becomes impaired, the immune system declines, and the brain and all other organs function poorly. Humans, animals in general, were not meant by nature to be sedentary. Physical activities are essential for cardiovascular fitness and are fundamental to a healthy lifestyle.

What benefits do we get from exercise?

Medical literature is replete with documented studies showing increased levels of physical activity and fitness are associated with a decreased the risk and incidence of heart attack and hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s. Exercise fortifies the immune system, making the individual more resistant to infections and diseases, including cancer! Regular exercise also makes one look better physically by improving muscle tone. The person who exercises regularly also has increased stamina, energy and capacity for work and leisure activities, superior ability to lose body fats and maintain a desirable weight, and has greater resistance to stress, fatigue and anxiety. They also have a more positive outlook on life. Those who are sedentary are twice more prone to develop a heart attack.

How much exercise do we need?

According to a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal, high level of physical exercise lowers the risk for diseases, especially for five on the list below. The WHO recommendation is 600 MET minutes per week. Greater benefit for disease prevention occurs at 3000-4000 MET minutes per week. Vacuuming for 15 minutes, gardening for 20, running for 20, walking or bicycling for 25 minutes or climbing stairs for 10 minutes could achieve the 3000 MET-minutes/week. The study showed that going up to 8000 MET minutes per week provide the greatest benefit. Increasing any of those above for another five minutes, or doing a combination (two or three) of those activities would be sufficient to extend the gains for the greatest risk reduction. Almost as easy as a walk in the park, with amazing health benefits.

The risk reductions were noted among these diseases: diabetes, 28 percent lower risk; ischemic (arterial blockage) stroke, 26; ischemic heart disease, 25; colon cancer, 21; and breast cancer, 14 percent. These are significant risk reduction.

What type of exercise is good for fitness?

Practically any form of physical activity helps, but a regimented exercise of about half an hour, done at least three to four times a week, at 3000 MET or higher minute/week, and doing those chores mentioned above, confers the great cardiovascular benefits. The activities partly alluded to above could be walking (leisurely to brisk), dancing, aerobics, bicycling, swimming, running, playing tennis, jogging, etc.

Why is brisk walking better than jogging?

In the 60s and 70s, jogging was very popular as a form of exercise. However, there were significant attendant complications resulting from jogging, like injuries to feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, etc. Studies in Sports and Cardiovascular Medicine two decades later showed that the cardiovascular benefits of brisk walking were the same as those derived from jogging, minus the injuries.

How fast should the heart rate go down after exercise?

Your heart rate should go back down to your normal rate (pre-exercise heart or pulse rate) within 15 minutes after ending your exercise. Therefore, it is advisable to always take your pulse rate before you start your exercise. If it takes longer than 15 minutes, you should reduce your pace. It is prudent to take a five to 10-minute warm-up, such as leisurely walking before engaging in brisk walking, or slow dancing before going into fast dancing, etc. After exercise, whatever it is, end the session with a five to ten-minute cool-down period that includes gentle stretching.

How many calories are burned by exercise?

For a 150-pound (about 68-kilo) person, doing the following for one hour burns the corresponding amount of calories indicated here: walking, 2 mph, 240 calories; walking 4.5 mph, 440; jogging 7 mph, 920; bicycling 6 mph, 240, 12mph, 410; jumping rope, 750; running in place, 660; running 10 mph, 1,280; swimming 25 yards per minute, 275; tennis, singles, 400. For half an hour of non-stop fast dancing (like swing or boogie), 200 calories; and, in contrast, for a 15 to 30-minute foreplay and sex, only 90 calories are burned, believe it or not.

Is there such a thing as over-exercising?

Everything depends on the individual and his/her objective in doing the particular exercise regimen. Beyond one hour of daily moderate or vigorous exercise will result in little or no added cardiovascular/pulmonary fitness, and may only increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries attendant to the physical activity. But if the aim is to lose weight, and if the person’s condition and endurance allow it, increasing the duration of the exercise may be done, but no more than an hour. However, remember that cutting the caloric intake, on top of the exercise, is the most effective way to lose the extra pounds. Consult your physician before embarking on any diet or exercise regimen.

The combination of diet and exercise — a healthy lifestyle — is the key to a healthier body and mind, and to maximal longevity.

***

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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