Small Changes—Big Benefits
The saying goes, “we have two doctors, our right leg and our left leg.” A walk a day can make a huge difference. The least fit are helped the most. Studies have shown, even short bouts of exercise keep pounds off and improve health and fitness. There is evidence that the ability to exercise is more important in predicting how long a person will live than even obesity, heart disease, or smoking.
A 14 year study found that regular walkers received the most gains and were able to maintain functional ability later in life. A study of 72,000+ nurses followed for 8 years affirms that physical activity cuts risk of heart disease up to 54%, proportional to activity level. Dr. Edward Gregg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores this truth—“Modest increases in physical activity could have wide-ranging benefits ranging from improved risk factors to reduced disability.” The bottom line: exercise boosts the immune system, and physical activity significantly increases quality and quantity of life.
There is hope for diabetes, a deadly national epidemic. For borderline diabetics, the most recent research indicates that simple lifestyle changes are more effective than medication. Since obesity is a major risk for developing type 2 diabetes, (and many other diseases), weight loss is imperative for prevention. The Harvard School of Public Health studied dietary patterns of over 42,000 men. They found the typical Western diet, (high in sugar, fat, and red meat) put the men at 60% greater risk to develop diabetes after the age of 40. The Mediterranean type diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry significantly reversed those odds. A recent National Institutes of Health study affirmed, 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 days/week dramatically reduced chances of developing diabetes. They cut the study short by a year to get the word out. Another study went on to show that resistance training developed even greater muscle mass and improved insulin sensitivity. Type 2 diabetes is very preventable. Preventative measures are vital to our youth.
Most of us don’t have ideal, model bodies. And that’s just fine. We can be functionally fit, enjoying healthy vitality. Interesting research reveals there are less risks in being overweight and consistently active than normal weight and sedentary. (JAMA 1-15-03). Even 10 minute brisk walks improve health and fitness. Losing as few as 10-15 pounds can significantly reduce risks of diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer. Moderate exercise is just as effective as intense for losing and maintaining weight loss, with less risk of injury. TV time is a great to row, or stationary cycle, etc.—this maximizes time to your optimal benefit.
Physical activity is also a stress-buster. When you move, even moderately, your brain secretes neuropeptides that counteract the stress response. Consistency is crucial to receive the most gains. Many studies of seniors show it is never too late to benefit from being physically active—even walking around the house will help.
For those who have difficulty walking there are plenty of options—cycling, swimming, yoga, tai chi, stability ball exercise, etc. Chair dancing is a wholesome activity, increasing the heart rate and developing range of motion. Wheelchair users can also tap into this activity. (See www.chairdancing.com).
So start the music and move to the rhythm. Embrace the moment and appreciate the benefits.