From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
The forgotten pharmaceutical
By Kirsten Falcone, RN
We all have heard that exercise is good for us. Imagine a future where, instead of prescribing medications, physicians will consider daily exercise the “drug” of choice. This is what scientists are currently studying to bring about in the near future.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are currently undergoing a study to determine exactly how particular types of exercise affect the human body, specifically in relation to disease prevention and treatment. The five-year study, begun in 2015, includes a sample diverse in age, gender, race, and fitness level. Parallel studies are using animals for gathering information on vital organs, such as lungs, heart, liver and the brain.
You may have heard, “Sitting is the new smoking.” This clause is attributed to James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona, whose 30 years of research has concluded that too much sitting is a major cause of obesity, diabetes, breast cancer and dozens of additional chronic diseases and medical conditions. There is now a trend toward solutions such as using standing desks, and encouraging breaks for walking and stretching. Reducing sitting time is crucial to good health, even if you meet the recommended amount of exercise per week.
Exercise is crucial to good health. Performed properly, it lacks the long list of side effects frequently seen with pharmaceuticals. Therefore, a new mindset is emerging in the medical world. This new mindset is one that at the very least includes exercise in its pharmaceutical regimen, and at best replaces pharmaceuticals that have been all too commonly prescribed in its absence.
Imagine a medical system that replaces pharmaceutical prescriptions with exercise prescriptions. It might begin to look something like this:
Exercise instead of…
- Anxiety and depression drugs: Exercise decreases depression, lifts your mood, dampens stress, and decreases anxiety.
- Prescription and over-the-counter acne medications: More efficient blood flow will deliver oxygen and nutrients to your face and upper torso, including your back and other problem areas.
- Botox injections/expensive skin cream: Exercise can help you look younger and live up to five years longer because it helps slow down cell aging.
- Insulin, pain medications, and heart medications: Exercise helps prevent type 2 diabetes, alleviate osteoarthritis by strengthening bones and joints, and strengthens your heart muscle.
- Diet pills and weight loss medications: If you are overweight, exercising and portion control are enough to lose weight. Exercise will help build muscle and shrink fat cells.
- Hearing aids and cochlear implants: According to University of Florida researchers, exercise may help prevent age-related hearing loss. They believe this is because regular exercise reduces inflammation in all parts of the body—even the middle and inner ear.
Amount of exercise recommended: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, most healthy adults need 150 minutes per week of “moderate” aerobic activity (five days of 30 minutes, three days of 50 minutes, two days of 75 minutes). Interspersing “vigorous” aerobic activity will lessen the amount of time required. “What is the difference?” you say. Moderate activity includes brisk walking, lawn mowing and swimming. Vigorous aerobic activity includes jogging, dancing and bicycle riding.
In addition to aerobic exercise, many experts also recommend strength training. This includes weight resistance with each muscle group. You can perform these anywhere, not necessarily in a gym. Hand weights can be stored under the bed. You can use your own body weight for many strength-training exercises. There are also outdoor sports that strengthen muscles, including kayaking, hiking and rock climbing.
Also of importance is stretching. Many stretching exercises are essential for before and after aerobic exercise. Some of the benefits of stretching include improving posture, increasing blood flow to muscles, calming your mind, and reducing injury. Yoga and pilates use stretching and strength training simultaneously.
A relatively new kind of exercise program is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Please see the link below for “Everyday Health.” Basically, this involves alternating between moderate and vigorous activity in one exercise session.
If you think you don’t have time to exercise, think again. There are more types of exercise than structured running, treadmill, gym-type activities. Other kinds of exercise include anything that keeps you moving. Raking leaves, vacuuming, walking, dancing, swimming, running up and down stairs, jogging around the mall, hopping from classroom to classroom. All of these are exercise!
In the future, physicians will be writing “exercise” on their prescription pads, based on the results of current studies. You do not have to wait until the results of the studies are in; you can exercise now!
For additional information on the benefits of exercise, visit these Web sites:
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How much physical activity do adults need?:
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Benefits of physical activity:
UF News (University of Florida), Exercise is good for hearing:
National Institutes of Health, Study information:
Mayo Clinic Links (Sitting and health, Dr. James Levine, and How much exercise?:
The Active Times, “Sitting is the New Smoking—7 Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You”:
Lifehacker.com, Why Stretching is Just as Important as Exercise: