• The Life-Extending Benefits of Exercise

      During the past half-century, tremendous research has focused on understanding the causes of age-related declines and the reversing effects of exercise. Researchers suggest that about a third of the negative effects of aging is due to genetics; the remaining 60 to 70 percent is dictated by behavior. An important example is the fact that up to 75 percent of heart attacks and strokes are caused by a sedentary lifestyle: in other words, exercise can lower that risk by 75 per cent!!

      The physiological factors most responsible for our bodies deterioration are: decreased blood supply to cells (example: high blood pressure), higher blood sugar levels (example: diabetes), and cumulative free radical damage (example: cell damage due to smoking). The amazing fact is that exercise affects all of these factors in a positive way.  It increases blood supply to all body parts by strengthening the heart to pump blood more effectively. As you build muscle, your body creates more blood vessels to carry nourishment to your cells. Muscles also store glucose more effectively with exercise, which reduces your body’s reliance on insulin so you’re better able to control your blood sugar levels. Regular workouts also activate enzymes that help reduce or block cancer-causing free radicals.

      More specifically, the benefits of exercise to your health include:

      Several large-scale studies have directly linked physical activity to increased longevity. In 1989, the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a study conducted at the Institute for Aerobics Research and the Cooper Clinic. Researchers there found that simply walking a half hour a day reduced death rates from both heart disease and cancer. The Harvard Alumni Health study, published in JAMA in 1995, supported these findings and also revealed that the benefits of exercise are cumulative throughout the day. In other words, you can do two or three 15-minute bouts if you don’t have time to do one 30- to 45-minute session and still reap similar benefits. The pedestrian lifestyle of New Yorkers benefits us also, as the New York Public Health statistics featured in the August, 2007 New York magazine cover article, featured: New Yorkers now live longer than other Americans, attributed to their frequent walking, stair climbing, and independence from automobiles.

      Exercise makes muscles stronger. The heart is a muscle, so it makes sense that working out strengthens the heart. It stimulates the heart to contract more efficiently with stronger force and at a lower rate. The exercised heart develops a better blood supply, very protective in the instance of a heart attack due to blocked arteries, because blood can be redirected to the heart through other avenues. Exercise has been associated with a 40 percent reduction in heart attacks in women and a 60 percent reduction in men. Those who do not exercise are three times more likely to die of a heart attack.

      A concerning measure for risk of heart disease and stroke is cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is measured as HDL (high density lipoprotein; the only measure that is favorable if higher) total cholesterol, LDL (low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides; these three measures are favorable the lower they are. Exercise has been found to improve all cholesterol levels and also change the size of the cholesterol particles in the blood to make them less adherent to blood vessel walls and less likely to cause artery-blocking clots.

      This is a well-known fact. There are many patients who are able to manage their blood pressure with exercise and avoid medications entirely. Lower blood pressure results in better blood flow to organs, helping them to function more efficiently throughout your lifetime.

      Most preventable strokes, similar to heart attacks, are caused by a blockage of the blood supply to the brain due to a clot or cholesterol plaques. The positive effects of exercise cumulatively lower risk of stroke significantly: 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week lowers risk of stroke by 24 per cent; 60 minute walks lower the risk 46 per cent.

      Exercise increases the number of blood vessels supplying the lungs, so they get better at absorbing oxygen and clearing carbon dioxide from the body. Lung volume (size) and air flow rate (expandability) increase with training as the lungs respond to the muscles’ demand for oxygen.

      Diabetes, the disease of either insensitivity to insulin, or underproduction of insulin, leads to high circulating blood glucose. This increases the risk for virtually every disease, and is known to decrease lifespan. Exercise makes cells more sensitive to insulin, which can make it easier to control blood sugar. In the case of Type II diabetes, exercise can help patients manage the disease without medications and is known to prevent diabetes in susceptible patients.

      In addition to enhancing the effectiveness of antidepressant medication and therapy, exercise also lowers anxiety, decreases irritability and stress, and reduces levels of anger, self-doubt and hopelessness. Exercisers also experience increased confidence and motivation, are better able to cope with daily problems, and benefit from the social interaction that physical activity often involves.

      Studies have found that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing colon, lung, breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, and melanoma. Regular exercise also decreases the risk of dying from prostate cancer in men over age of 65. A study published in JAMA in 2003 found that five brisk, 30-minute walks a week reduced the risk of breast cancer by 20 percent. And while this isn’t an excuse to start or continue smoking, smokers who lead an athletic lifestyle have a 28 percent reduced risk of developing lung cancer.

      Regular exercise decreases the amount of cortisol, a hormone released when your body or mind are stressed, while releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone. It provides a break in the day that allows you to focus on yourself and dispel any negative energy that accumulates during your day.

      The only way to build and maintain muscle is to challenge muscle by exercising it through strength training or repetition and exertion. An unused muscle deteriorates in size, strength and reaction time. Exercise results in bigger muscle bulk and prevents the predicted muscle loss otherwise associated with aging.

      Joints are lined by cartilage bathed in fluid to keep them moving smoothly. Exercise maintains joint function by stimulating the synovium, or joint lining, to continue producing fluid. Ligaments and tendons, which help move your joints and muscles, also become stiff and weak when they’re not adequately used.

      The spine is supported by muscles and ligaments that are designed to protect the spinal cord and surrounding skeletal framework from damage every time you move. Exercise helps strengthen these muscles and ligaments and make them better able to respond protectively during unexpected movements.

      Anyone who’s gone to a workout after a long day at the office can tell you how quickly they felt revived and energized. Exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to your brain and muscles, and boosts your body temperature, which perks you up.

      Exercise boosts resting metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories and store less fat.

      Exercise stimulates and even leads to the development of new brain cells, improving both long and short-term memory.

      Sleep experts agree that the more active you are during the day, the better your quality of rest and the easier it is to fall asleep.

      Being fit increases flexibility, strength and endurance along with improved body confidence and awareness; all these factors are directly related to sexual enjoyment and fulfillment.

      Exercise has been proven to trigger immune factors that fight viruses and infections, repair and heal cells, and oppose inflammation and destruction.

      Osteoporosis, the disease in which your bones become brittle and more likely to fracture, is a concern for all post-menopausal women. Exercisers have significantly lower rates of osteoporosis.

      People who are active are naturally more balanced and less likely to fall on their wrist, hip, or head. This reduces risk of fractures, hospitalization and surgery.

      Exercise prevents back pain, manages weight gain, relieves stress, and protects the fetus as the body becomes more adapt at responding to physical stress.

      Finally, in addition to exercise, other health-promoting activities, such as following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, getting regular checkups, and nurturing positive interpersonal relationships has been shown to increase longevity. It’s similar to how an athlete’s body adapts to a sport and how a healthy mind quickly learns new tasks. If you train your body to function like a younger person’s through exercise, social activity, mental challenges, and a healthy diet, it will adapt and reward you by performing well for years to come.