With Chanukah almost here, I thought I’d present several recent findings that shine a light on some lesser-known or more recently discovered benefits of exercise. I extend kudos to you if you’re already active; but, if not, you’ll hopefully be inspired to make a commitment to yourself. As you’ll see from the research on exercise, it’s never too late to get started.
Because many of the health benefits of exercise are invisible, you may not be aware of them. Some of the benefits occur rather quickly; others take years to manifest.
A study conducted by Penn State College of Medicine found an association in older adults between twice-weekly strength training (compared to other studies that looked at exercise in general) and living longer. Data was collected on 30,000 people aged 65 and older for 15 years.
Only nine per cent of subjects engaged in strength training at least twice weekly; they had a 46 per cent lower risk of death for any reason compared to those who did not meet the minimum exercise criteria. After adjusting for factors amongst that sub-population that may have influenced their outcomes – such as higher levels of education, normal body weight and fewer pre-existing health conditions – researchers calculated that these subjects still had a significantly reduced risk (19 per cent) of death during those 15 years. http://tinyurl.com/zcv2cku
Regular exercise can also have positive effects on your brain. Exercise helps the brain develop new connections (a process referred to as neuroplasticity) to compensate for damaged ones such as in the case of Parkinson’s disease. Exercise also helps maintain old connections as well as restore some damaged ones. Exercise helps manage symptoms of Parkinson’s and can contribute to improvements with gait, balance, tremors, flexibility, grip strength and motor co-ordination. Many neurologists recommend intense exercise for Parkinson’s patients.
Exercise is also recommended for seniors to help slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Regular physical activity encourages the adult brain to create new neurons, a phenomenon known as neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is vital for recovering from a wide range of health issues such as strokes and brain injuries.
Exercise also preserves cognitive function in healthy older adults.
Regular exercise has an anti-aging effect. Many studies suggest that exercise can slow the shortening of telomeres – the structures at both ends of each chromosome that protect them from becoming damaged during cell division. When cells divide, their telomeres shorten. This shortening eventually causes cells to die or transform in ways that can negatively impact your health; for example, cancer or other diseases can develop. Scientists think that by slowing the shortening of telomeres with better lifestyle choices (e.g., exercise, healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, sleeping well, and preventing Type 2 diabetes), it may be possible to delay the onset of some age-related diseases and even increase lifespan. A study by the Universities of Mississippi and California found that exercise most affects telomeres in people aged 40 to 65. The research suggests that middle age may be a key time to begin or maintain an exercise program. http://tinyurl.com/z2lytez
Another study examined 2,400 twins and found that participants who did 100 minutes of physical activity per week had telomeres that looked five to six years younger than the telomeres in inactive participants. Participants who did about three hours of moderate to intense activity per week had telomeres that looked nine years younger. While the exact relationship between the more youthful-looking telomeres, health and lifespan has yet to be determined, this area of research seems promising. http://tinyurl.com/zr6tl8q
Fifty-one per cent of Canadian adults are considered sedentary. This prevalence of inactivity is higher than all other modifiable risk factors (e.g., smoking) for lifestyle-related diseases. There is “irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death.” http://tinyurl.com/gu42kwv
Science increasingly shows that “bad genes” do not necessarily have to be expressed or dictate your destiny. Don’t you feel more optimistic and empowered when you realize the potential of something as simple as regular exercise to improve your odds of a healthier life? And better health typically means a better quality of life.
Is exercise a miracle? I think of exercise as a wonder drug – because of the depth and breadth of its impact on health – although science is increasingly able to explain how it affects our bodies.