To Your Health
July, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 07)
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Get Up and Get Moving: 7 Big Benefits of Physical Activity

By Drs. Ronald Klatz and Robert Goldman

It's a simple formula: People who are physically active are healthier, less likely to develop chronic diseases, and have better aerobic fitness compared to people who don't.

In short, physical activity gives you a great chance to enjoy a long, healthy life - and who could ask for more than that? And yet despite the clear health benefits of regular physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over half of American adults do not engage in physical activity at levels consistent with public health recommendations.

Are you guilty as charged?

According to the CDC, adults need to engage in at least 2½ hours (150 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to achieve substantial health benefits. Examples include brisk walking (3 miles per hour), bicycle riding (less than 10 miles per hour), ballroom dancing, or general gardening. Indeed, aerobic activities that keep you moving are integral to an anti-aging lifestyle. Let's review some of the wide-ranging benefits of physical activity; then get up and get moving with some physical activity of your own!

1. Help Your Heart

While a routine program of physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of premature death in people with coronary artery disease, Richard V. Milani, from the Ochsner Clinic Foundation, and colleagues investigated how psychosocial stress influences the effects of exercise training. The team followed 522 cardiac patients, including 53 who had high stress levels and 27 control patients who had high stress levels but did not engage in cardiac rehabilitation. The study subjects were offered 12 weeks of exercise classes consisting of 10 minutes of warm-up, 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, rowing, jogging, or similar), and then a 10-minute cooldown stretch.

bicycle - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The classes were given three times a week and subjects were also asked to engage in one to three exercise sessions a week on their own. The researchers found that the subjects who became physically fitter during the study period (by exercising) were 60 percent less likely to die in the following six years. Exercise also helped reduce stress levels from one in 10 patients to fewer than one in 20 patients, which lowered the overall death rate for stressed subjects by an impressive 20 percent. Now that's a great way to lower your stress and increase your life span at the same time!

Source: Richard V. Milani, Carl J. Lavie. "Reducing Psychosocial Stress: A Novel Mechanism of Improving Survival From Exercise Training." American Journal of Medicine, October 2009.

2. Grow Brain Cells

In that a number of previous studies have suggested regular exercise improves brain health, David J. Creer, from the National Institute on Aging, and colleagues studied the underlying mechanisms dictating how exercise improves information processing. The researchers prompted adult mice to uses running wheels, finding that doing so increased their number of brain cells and enabled them to perform better at spatial learning tests compared to mice that did not exercise. The exercising mice were better able to tell the difference between the locations of two adjacent identical stimuli, an ability that the team found to be closely linked to an increase in new brain cell growth in the hippocampus portion of the brain.

Source: Creer DJ, et al. "Running Enhances Spatial Pattern Separation in Mice." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan. 19, 2010.

3. Fight Breast Cancer

Canadian researchers explored how sex hormones are positively influenced by aerobic exercise, examining how an aerobic exercise intervention influenced circulating estradiol, estrone, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), androstenedione, and testosterone levels, which may impact breast cancer risk. The researchers enrolled 320 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 74 years, in a year-long trial, with 160 women randomly assigned to 225 minutes a week of aerobic exercise, and the remaining study subjects maintaining their normal level of activity.