The Benefits of Exercise

  • June 26, 2024
  • /
  • Exercise
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  • Dr. Charlotte Moriarty

If exercise could be packaged into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the world. Exercise is defined by Oxford as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.” Exercise has a myriad of benefits for physical health, mental health, and metabolic health. Let’s break them down.

Physical Benefits
-improved muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness
-improved bone health
-improved functional health (i.e. ability to live independently)
-helps to maintain a healthy body weight
-decreased risk of heart disease
-decreased risk of stroke
-decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
-decreased risk of some cancers
-reduced pain and improved function related to arthritis

Mental Benefits
-improved self-esteem
-improved mood
-improved sleep quality
-improved energy
-decreased stress
-decreased risk of clinical depression
-decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
-reduced age-related loss of thinking, learning, and judgement skills

Other Health Benefits
-improved blood sugar control and insulin levels in individuals with diabetes or at risk for diabetes
-improved blood pressure regulation
-reduced anxiety
-reduced risk of falls
-improves success of smoking cessation

While all of these benefits are important to health, there’s a few that are especially important in the field of orthopedics.

-Exercise improves bone health by preventing age related declines in bone density, thereby reducing the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis
-Exercise reduces the risk of falls by decreasing age related declines in lean muscle mass and improving functional capacity, including the ability to balance, step, and climb
-Exercise improves joint lubrication and cartilage integrity, and reduces joint pain and stiffness in individuals with arthritis
-Exercise improves flexibility and strengthens muscles and connective tissues around joints
-Exercise increases total energy expenditure, which can help individuals to maintain or even lose weight. Exercise decreases both fat around the waist and total body weight. This is important because carrying excess weight is a major risk for developing arthritis of the knee and hip joints.

If you’re not already exercising regularly, hopefully I’ve given you at least one (if not multiple) reasons to start. If you are new to exercise, always check with your personal doctor prior to beginning an exercise program. Here are the current guidelines for you to consider and discuss with your doctor or health care provider:

-Exercise is anything that gets your body moving (pick something you enjoy!)
-Adults require a minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (e.g. brisk walking)
-Alternatively, adults may exercise a minimum of 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous physical activity (e.g. running)
-Adults also require a minimum of 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity each week

I cannot underestimate the importance of muscle-strengthening activities (weightlifting, bodybuilding, calisthenics, etc) for peak physical health. Strength and resistance training is critical for reducing age-related declines in bone and muscle mass, and helps younger adults to build peak bone mass during critical periods. Strength and resistance training is safe for all ages, including young children with supervision. It is important to learn proper exercise technique and therefore I recommend working with a physical therapist, personal trainer, or coach to develop a program that is safe for you.

Here are some ideas for where to find help developing your personal exercise program, with your doctor’s permission of course!
-physical therapist or sports performance specialist
-personal trainer at a local gym or training facility
-local YMCA
-senior center classes
-martial arts studios (Tai Chi in particular is successful in preventing falls)
-CrossFit and CrossFit.com (contrary to popular belief CrossFit is safe for all age groups and has a lower injury rate than most traditional sports, including running)

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