How important is exercise, really? It’s common knowledge that exercise is necessary for human health, but how does it affect us, what does it do to keep us well?
Leading an active life lowers disease risk
One of the main reasons we suffer so much chronic disease as a society is that we are largely sedentary. We have cars that get us from A-B, computers to do the shopping, machines that have taken over most manual work and very little time to exercise due to long work hours. 50-100 years ago, these things didn’t exist. Research shows the more exercise we do, the less likely we are to die from a heart attack, from cancer, or to suffer arthritis or diabetes.
How does exercise lower the risk?
Exercise creates stress that forces the body to strengthen. Muscles and bones increase in mass, hearts and lungs grow stronger and hold larger volumes of blood and oxygen, the brain is stimulated to grow neurons and release neurotransmitters, the gut digests and absorbs food better – we basically become supercharged. Without exercise, the muscles waste, we hold onto fat, cellular function is impaired and the body becomes a hive of inflammation.
Research strongly supports exercise as preventative health care
Recent studies have shown without a doubt that exercise truly is a health care system in itself. For example, after following an 8 week exercise program, arthritis sufferers reported greater range of motion, and better function of affected joints.
Researchers at Harvard and Stanford Universities compared the effectiveness of exercise versus drug therapy on causes of death for diabetes, coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. After reviewing 305 trials, which included nearly 339,300 people, they found greater beneficial effects for exercise vs drugs for those who had suffered strokes. Exercise was found to be at least as effective as medication for the other conditions listed, except in heart failure.
This also displays quite clearly the need for personal responsibility when it comes to lifestyle. Many chronic diseases can be prevented by simply putting health first, making the time and effort to eat well and exercise. Doctors will always be more than happy to put people on medication, but the truth is that they have very little training in nutrition and lifestyle modifications and do not have the knowledge to advise otherwise.
Remember, the human body was made to be active.
 French, H.P et al. (2013). Exercise and manual physiotherapy arthritis research trial (EMPART) for osteoarthritis of the hip: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Archive of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 94(2):302-14.
 Huesyin, N & Loannidis, J. (2013). Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. British Medical Journal. 2013;347:f5577