Check out this New York Times article on how many ways exercise is medicine.

Below are my comments on certain parts of the article, and one very important clarification.

“Of all the things we as physicians can recommend for health, few provide as much benefit as physical activity.”

In the article there is a link to a study that looks at all the most powerful research on exercise as medicine. This means the results are not just from one study; rather, it looks at the trends in a group of well-designed studies. In other words – it is good, reliable information. What did they find?

  • Improving stamina and strength is possible for those with a wide variety of different health concerns.
  • Exercise training is safe for those with disease when patients are guided by exercise professionals.
  • Exercise training improves the prognosis in many diseases.
  • In some diseases such as arthritis, pain symptoms are reduced.

“For people (mostly middle-aged men) who had a heart attack, exercise therapy reduced all causes of mortality by 27 percent and cardiac mortality by 31 percent.”

That means if you have heart disease and you exercise regularly, you are 27% less likely to die from ANY cause and 31% less likely to die from a heart incident!  That is like adding another powerful heart medication, with GREAT side effects.

ATTENTION all readers with diabetes concerned about complications of the disease:

“People with diabetes who exercise have lower HbA1c values, which is the marker of blood sugar control, low enough to probably reduce the risk of complications from the disease.”

Does shortness of breath limit what you do in life? Our body is a “use it or lose it” system. This is one of the best demonstrations of that:

“Twenty randomized controlled trials have showed that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can walk farther and function better if they exercise.”

I could go on with the benefits but I won’t because the article gives more great information about how powerful exercise is as medicine.

“Many people will be surprised at how little you need to do to achieve these results.”

This point cannot be overstated. In popular media, the tendency is toward a “prove-yourself, exceed” mentality with exercise. Let’s be really clear here – if your goal is health, more is not better. After a certain point, too much exercise strains the body instead of heals it! How do you know how much? If exercise gives you energy, makes you feel better mentally and pysically, and you are feeling stronger over time, you have found the right amount. Exercise is no longer medicine when we overdo it -exercise then becomes a sport or a hobby. This is a very important difference.

Accumulating 30 minutes of movement in a day can do it. That means that even if you cannot do 30 minutes all together, split it up into shorter bouts throughout the day.  This is WAY better than nothing.

Here is the important clarification:

“Moderate intensity is probably much less than you think. Walking briskly, at 3 to 4 miles per hour or so, qualifies. So does bicycling slower than 10 miles an hour. Anything that gets your heart rate somewhere between 110 and 140 beats per minute is enough. Even vacuuming, mowing the lawn or walking your dog might qualify.”

This is where exercise recommendations can get very confusing and sap motivation, so please keep reading…

When finding the right level for exercise, it is much more accurate and reliable to listen to your body than to how fast you are going. This gets mixed up in the media so often.

Moderate intensity means your breathing level is between comfortable and a comfortable challenge. If it feels uncomfortable, exercise is too intense and it is time to slow down a bit. As long as the challenge is comfortable for your breathing, you are probably working in the right range for improving stamina with cardiovascular exercise for health.

Breathing measures what is actually happening in the whole cardiovascular system. Heart rate only measures one piece of that system. The numbers he gives above are too general to be worthwhile, so please do not follow that advice. Your body does not know how fast you are going, so don’t worry about it unless you are training for a competition. If health and well-being are your goal, listen to your body!

Please feel free to contact me with questions on this.

May You Be Well,