Our health clinic started participating in Walk with a Doc, a national volunteer program in which a doctor (or other health care provider) meets at a park on a weekend to give a free informational talk and to spend time walking with people from the community. (All the better if her own patients show up, too!) We started in the autumn, and I’ve given a few talks that I thought I would share here, too. This month: The Other Benefits of Exercise. Next month I’ll share about a little bit about diabetes and how to prevent it, and in August I’ll share my talk on Exercise: how much is “enough”?
Cousins getting exercise in 2013.
The OTHER Benefits of Exercise
We’ve all heard about how exercise can help with heart health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and weight loss. Exercise can decrease your risk of cancer. But even in a healthy person, exercise – whether it’s a daily walk, a run, a swim, or a yoga class—provides a myriad of benefits.
- Bone strength. Weight bearing exercise (walking, running, soccer, basketball, volleyball, Zumba, dancing…) helps prevent age-related bone loss. Even before menopause, weight-bearing exercise adds to the strength of our bones, so that when we start losing bone mass, we’re starting our downhill roll from higher on the hill.
- Improved sleep. Exercise (especially in the mid- to late afternoon) raises the body temperature, which can improve sleep at night. If you sleep poorly and have a hard time waking up in the morning, a thirty-minute morning work-out can be enough to reset your body’s clock. This is true for those suffering for jet-lag, too.
- Prevention of dementia. Aerobic exercise increases blow flow to all parts of the body, including the brain.
- Self-esteem. Whether it’s the happy-inducing effect of checking something off their to-do lists, or the endorphins secreted when they exercise, people feel better about themselves after they exercise.
- Better sex. When we’re feeling good about our bodies, we feel more attractive. Physically, the increased blood flow associated with exercise improves arousal in women. Men who have healthy hearts have a lower incidence of erectile dysfunction. Exercise can improve your endurance, flexibility, and strength, all of which… well, you get the idea.
- Improved joint function, especially in the setting of osteoarthritis. We all grew up hearing about how running would ruin your knees, but studies don’t support this myth. Instead, we know that running decreases your risk of needing a hip replacement by 50%. Walking decreased the risk of hip replacement by 16%. It makes sense logically that strengthening all the muscles around the knee will take some of the stress off the joint itself, but in this case we think the benefit of running and walking is mediated by the decrease in obesity among runners and brisk walkers.
- Reducing stress and depression. Studies in women (though the results probably hold true in men, too) have shown that depression changes not just the function but the structure of the brain. Exercise can prevent these changes and is part of a treatment plan for depression. Building exercise into your daily plan for stress management decreases your risk of becoming depressed.
- Addiction treatment. Studies show that aerobic exercise helps decrease recidivism in those recovering from addiction. True, we might be substituting one high for another, but it’s unusual for an addition to a daily workout to destroy a family or cause someone to lose a job.