What is one of the best things we can do for our health?
As a society, we are obsessed with things we can do to look younger, live longer, avoid disease and feel good. We spend billions on medications, special foods, creams and a whole slew of other things. So, what really works? What is the best thing we can we do to live longer, healthy lives and avoid disease? Although some pills, supplements and foods may contribute to longevity and health, the answer is a simple intervention that everyone can do and often costs nothing: exercise.
We all know that exercise makes us look better, but its benefits are far more widespread. A recent systematic review published in the British Medical Journal found that active individuals experienced significantly less serious disease with heart attacks, strokes and diabetes all being reduced by as much as 25%. Other studies have found significant reductions in various forms of cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety and osteoarthritis for those who exercise regularly.
While some of these studies suggest a more intense exercise program can lead to greater health benefits, many studies found substantial health benefits with simple exercise programs at lower intensities, such as walking 15 minutes, five times a week. What this means is that you don’t have to do a triathlon or live at the gym to benefit from exercise – low levels of exercise also help make us healthier.
As if these benefits are not enough to convince you to exercise, people who are active also live longer. In fact, one large trial published in the Lancet followed almost half a million people and found that those who regularly exercised at a low intensity for only 90 minutes a week lived an average of three years longer than inactive individuals. Those people who were classified as being very active found further health benefits, with the most active group living about four and a half years longer than the inactive group. Not only did these people live longer but they also lived more of their life without disability. We all show some decline with age, but those who exercised regularly tended to have a better quality of life for a much longer period of time.
Unfortunately, only 20% of the population gets the recommended weekly amount of exercise (two and a half hours of moderate cardiovascular exercise and two strength training sessions per week.) Why is this? Well, it has been said that if exercise came in a pill form, everyone would be on it and herein lies the problem. Exercise does require more motivation, time and commitment than taking a pill.
Here are a few tips to make you successful at starting up an exercise program:
Choose an activity you like. You’re much more likely to stick with an exercise program if you are having fun.
Try a group activity where you are accountable for showing up. You’ll benefit from the socialization and be more likely to attend when others are expecting you to be there.
Know that it is common to get some aches and pains when you first start an exercise program. This does not mean you should stop! We can help and a visit to your physiotherapist can get you back on track quickly. (link to booking page)
By Sean Overin, Physiotherapist