Exercise can help prevent disease

Q: I am not overweight, and my diet is pretty good, but every time I turn around it seems like I’m being told that I need to exercise to be healthy. Is exercise really all that important?

A: Studies show an unmistakable link between physical activity and health. An estimated 250,000 deaths per year in the United States can be related to lack of regular exercise. You can reduce this risk by incorporating even small amounts of exercise into your day.

Some examples of the role that exercise, or lack of it, plays in the development of diseases includes:

Heart disease: Individuals who are inactive are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than those who enjoy an active lifestyle. Exercise, especially aerobic activity, helps to strengthen the cardiovascular system, boosting endurance and stamina and supporting blood vessels. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, brisk walking (3-4 mph) reduced the risk of heart disease in women nearly as much as vigorous nonwalking exercise, as much as 54 percent reduction in risk.

Hypertension (high blood pressure): Blood pressure is influenced by many things, some of which we have no control over, such as family history. However, there are many controllable factors associated with hypertension, including diet and exercise.

Diabetes: People with Type I or Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes can benefit from regular exercise. Physical activity helps to regulate blood sugar, aids in metabolism and reduces risk factors for arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which occurs more often in diabetics. If you have diabetes, certain precautions must be taken when you exercise. The American Diabetes Association recommends that any diabetic wishing to start an exercise program first consult with a physician.

Stroke: Studies have shown that that people who burned 2,000 calories each week with exercise, or the equivalent of a 1 hour brisk walk, five days per week, had a 46 percent lower risk of stroke than those who did little or no exercise

Osteoporosis: Because bone is living tissue, it responds well to a properly designed exercise program. Weight-bearing (standing) exercise such as walking is beneficial, as is light to moderate weight lifting. Both help to prevent osteoporosis and can slow bone loss if it has already begun.


Consult with your doctor for proper guidelines before beginning any exercise program. While exercising regularly can be a challenge, research shows that if you can stick with it for three weeks, then you are much more likely to make it a habit. Along with helping to prevent many diseases, being active reduces stress, burns body fat, tones the muscles and helps control appetite.

Exercise can also help those who suffer with arthritis. More about this in next week’s column.

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