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The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

January 26, 2010 | 77,171 views

exerciseRegular workouts may help fight off colds and flu, reduce the risk of certain cancers and chronic diseases, and slow the process of aging.

A growing body of research is showing that regular exercise can boost your body's immune system, increasing the circulation of natural killer cells that fight off viruses and bacteria.

Regular exercise has also been shown to combat the ongoing damage done to cells, tissues and organs that underlies many chronic conditions.

Studies have found exercise can lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, and cut the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

Medical experts say inactivity poses as great a health risk as smoking, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression, arthritis and osteoporosis.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The WSJ article touches on just a few of the amazing health benefits of exercise I’ve been talking and writing about for nearly three decades, including that exercise can:

  • Reduce your cancer risk
  • Slow the aging process in your body
  • Boost your immune system

How Exercise Helps You Fight Cancer

Cancer thrives on sugar.

Regular exercise reduces your insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Controlling your insulin levels is one of the most powerful steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk.

Physically active adults experience about half the incidence of colon cancer as their sedentary counterparts. Exercise has a beneficial influence on insulin, prostaglandins and bile acids, all of which are thought to encourage the growth and spread of cancer cells in your colon. Exercise also improves bowel transit time, which means your body’s waste is spending less time in contact with the mucosal lining of your colon.

As the Wall Street Journal article points out, women who exercise regularly can reduce their breast cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent over their inactive counterparts. This is likely due to a lowering of estrogen levels.

The article cites a study in which women being treated for breast cancer were 50 percent less likely to die of the disease if they walked at an average pace for three to five hours a week.

Think about it. If just three to five hours of walking per week can so drastically improve your chances of surviving a hormone-responsive breast cancer tumor, imagine what a few more hours a week of exercise could do for you.

If you’re male, be aware that athletes have lower levels of circulating testosterone than non-athletes, and similar to the association between estrogen levels and breast cancer in women, testosterone is known to influence the development of prostate cancer in men.

Physical activity can reduce your risk.

A Cure for Aging?

Have you heard the news about telomeres?

Telomeres are strands of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes which protect them from damage. Gradual erosion of telomeres leads to aging on a cellular level –think of them as a kind of biological clock.

As telomeres shorten more, cell death occurs. These cell deaths are associated with serious disease and premature aging

There is no question that the leading edge of anti aging research is on how to prevent telomere shortening and actually develop therapies to lengthen telomeres. Many experts believe that lengthening telomeres could actually turn the biological clock backwards.

Since exercise has been associated with preventing telomere shortening, it is clearly a very powerful anti aging strategy.

Research indicates physically active people have significantly less erosion of telomeres than even healthy, non-smoking, but sedentary folks. Exercise activates the enzyme telomerase which stabilizes telomeres, producing an anti-aging effect at the cellular level.

Other equally important factors in slowing the aging process include:

  • A healthy diet based on your individual nutritional type
  • Reducing or eliminating grains and sugar from your diet
  • Sufficient, high quality sleep
  • A method to address your emotional challenges and daily stressors

Exercise Boosts Your Immune System

Exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body.

The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack your body.

Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold or the flu right up through devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer. It’s not possible to be optimally healthy if your immune system is weak or compromised.

Prescribing Exercise

I wasn’t surprised to read in the WSJ article that only four out of 10 medical doctors ever mention the importance of exercise to their patients, despite its proven health benefits.

According to Dr. Robert Sallis, co-director of sports medicine at Fontana Medical Center in California:

"Exercise can be used like a vaccine to prevent disease and a medication to treat disease. If there were a drug with the same benefits as exercise, it would instantly be the standard of care."

Typical of conventional medical thinking, somehow a vaccine or other drug with the same benefits as exercise would be preferable to exercise itself.

No, it would not.

But it’s at least encouraging to see recognition of this type for exercise as both prevention and cure.

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter and my website, you know I’ve long touted the importance of viewing exercise as a drug.

Actually writing out a prescription for exercise is an excellent way to take a proactive approach to your health. A great tool for creating your own exercise prescription is my Daily Exercise Table.

The Time is Now

No matter your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits for your health.

If you happen to be over 40 it’s especially important to either start or step up your exercise program. This is the time of life when your physical strength, stamina, balance and flexibility start to decline.

I can’t stress enough the importance of using precision to develop your individual workout program. You need to make sure you’re getting enough exercise to achieve all the benefits, but not so much that you injure yourself, and you need variety to condition and build your entire body and prevent boredom.

Your program should include aerobic exercise, anaerobic (interval) training, weight strength training, and core exercises to build, strengthen and improve the flexibility of all the muscles of your body, like yoga, Pilates or active isolated stretching

If you’ve been sedentary for any length of time or you’re out of shape for some other reason, it is vitally important to get started with an exercise program – but start small. One of the main reasons people don’t stick with a workout program is because they go too hard, too fast and wind up with an injury, illness or simple exhaustion.

Write your own exercise prescription based on factors including:

  • your current physical condition
  • your fitness goals
  • your health concerns
  • activities you enjoy
  • best time of day for you to workout

Your ultimate goal if you are overweight or have other health concerns should be an hour to 90 minutes of exercise every day.

Once you reach a normal weight, you can drop back to 45 minutes at least four times a week and still reap the incredible health benefits of regular exercise.

[+] Sources and References

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