Exercise Is the Best Medicine

By Phillips, Bill | USA TODAY, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Exercise Is the Best Medicine


Phillips, Bill, USA TODAY


MOST EVERYONE knows that exercise is good for you, yet few understand how good it really is. Yes, working out helps burn calories, enhance weight loss, and strengthen muscles, but it also has been shown to make us happier as well as more intelligent and successful.

When I lust started developing exercise programs for people 25 years ago, there was not enough recognition from the mainstream medical community as to the benefits of regular exercise. Some health care professionals even would warn against it, propagating myths such as endurance training is bad for the heart and weight lifting would make a person "muscle-bound" and limit physical performance. Today, however, it is understood that "exercise can be used like a vaccine to prevent disease and a medication to treat it. If there were a drug with the same benefits as working out, it would instantly be the standard of care," explains Robert Sallis, vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

There has been a new call to action. For instance, Exercise is Medicine is a program that calls on physicians to assess and review each patient's physical activity levels at every office visit. Its mission is to make exercise a standard part of disease prevention and treatment. The group of health care professionals that organized this initiative believes that doctors should prescribe exercise to their patients just as they would a life-saving medicine. Ultimately, this should lead to a paradigm shift in modern medicine, one that will spark tremendous overall improvement in the public's well-being and substantial long-term reductions in health care costs.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that consistent exercise can double survival rates of breast cancer patients. These findings confirm and extend previous scientific studies which show that exercise significantly strengthens the body's immune system. Harvard Medical School reports that more than 60 studies in recent years make clear that women who exercise regularly can expect a 30% reduction in their chances of developing breast cancer to begin with.

Researchers at Duke University studied people suffering from depression for four months and found that 60% of those who exercised for 30 minutes, three times a week, overcame the condition without using antidepressants; this is about the same percentage rate as those who use medication exclusively in their treatment of depression--and exercise not only is a mood brightener; it produces dozens of other positive effects that antidepressant drugs simply do not.

There is considerable evidence derived from hundreds of studies, with thousands of subjects, proving that exercise is remarkably effective in relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety. The best results were shown to occur in vigorous exercise performed consistently, and the benefits continue as long as someone continues to work out. Moreover, exercise enhances self-esteem, produces more restful sleep, and helps people recover more quickly from adversity and better cope with social stress. The overall positive patterns of these studies make it remarkably clear that exercise plays an important role in promoting sound mental health and emotional well-being. It works for men and women, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens.

A study by the California Department of Education, involving 954,000 students in grades 5, 7, and 9 showed that the most healthy kids--the ones who scored highest on fitness tests and had lower levels of body fat did twice as well on aptitude exams in reading and mathematics compared to the least-fit kids. In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes that more physical fitness for students is a cure not only for unhealthy weight gain, but poor academic performance.

Other research demonstrates that consistent exercise protects us from the common cold, flu, and bacterial infections by elevating the body's production and circulation of immune cells. …

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