Suffering people visit healthcare providers every day with complaints of pain, poor sleep, anxiety and fatigue. Imagine if we could make a medicine with minimal side effects that not only quickly helped these issues, but also improved blood pressure, immune function, memory, problem solving and heart health, and, decreased risk of cancers and dementia. Imagine a pill that would literally help you age less quickly. What if it could help make life after 50 feel healthy and have less disease? This medicine exists, and these results are supported by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). How much would you pay? What if I told you it would save you an average of $1,500 a year? The medicine is movement and physical activity.
New guidelines set by HHS clearly show that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less sitting are associated with all of the above benefits. Even people with chronic medical conditions can enjoy improved quality of life and function. Exercise keeps us younger by protecting the DNA that keeps cells alive and reducing inflammation throughout the body. The most exciting part of the new guidelines is the knowledge that even small amounts activity are beneficial. We now understand that any increase in the level of physical activity confers significant health benefits.
It is important to start small, and with gradual increases our bodies will adapt and strengthen. Eventually, exercise gets easier and a person can progress toward the ultimate recommendation of two and half hours a week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise where substantial health benefits accrue. The goal is to get a little short of breath, where you can talk but not sing. There is additional benefit to muscle strengthening exercises twice a week and balance activities for older adults improve bone health, function and decrease fall risk. For those facing significant barriers to exercise, a health professional can help work through the various issues and find enjoyable, sustainable ways to keep moving. There is plenty of room for us as a country to improve because less than 30 percent of Americans are currently getting recommended amounts of exercise and movement.
While exercise is safe for almost everyone, a few precautions can lessen the risk of injury. Choose safe environments, wear protective gear as needed, and make good choices about when and how to be active. Increase the chances for success by setting goals monitoring the goals, and seeking social support. Make goals that are meaningful to you, and engage in activities you enjoy. Consider an exercise partner or group to help keep you on track and celebrate each other’s successes. We do advise seeking the counsel of a healthcare practitioner in the case of chronic conditions or symptoms to help start exercising safely and working through barriers. However, anyone can start by just getting out of the chair more often. Today is a good day to start moving more.
About the Author
Chris Peterson is a physical therapist at Freeman Rehabilitation & Sports Center. He helps patients recuperate from injuries, illnesses and surgery. He works with patients to help them manage pain and reclaim their lifestyle and momentum. To learn more, visit freemanhealth.com/sportsmedicine or call 417.347.3737.