With increasing lifespans, rising chronic disease rates, challenged health care systems and an explosion in easily accessible health information - it seems everyone is searching and sharing their experiences in trying to discover that magic pill for perfect health. Maybe it is and has been right under our noses all this time.
Why is an athlete better off than you or me?
Have you ever been in awe from the physical perfection of a professional athlete? Just last year we witnessed one of the greatest sporting events, the Olympics, bearing witness to those runners, riders, throwers, jumpers and others who dedicate incredible time and effort preparing their precision sculpted bodies for the highest level of performance in their sport.
Any such athlete rarely reaches this point alone. Trainers, coaches, Physiotherapy teams and the latest and most advanced sports medical research assists the athlete through the highs and lows of such demanding training. Sickness or injury would present a major set-back and strategies for prevention and recovery is hardly left to chance.
So why then is even a fraction of this knowledge and practical experience not influencing significant preventative and therapeutic benefits in response to the increasing burden of chronic disease, as a result of inactivity, in our general population?
Our health care systems are under threat of collapse if we don't find synergy between the available scientific knowledge and the practical implementation of preventative approaches to chronic disease.
In a journal article from the BJSM it is described why our default heath care system has become a disease-based rather than a health-based model of care.
Trying to ﬁt prevention into a disease-based approach has been largely unsuccessful because the fundamental tenets of preventive medicine are diametrically opposed to those of disease-based healthcare.
While the higher echelons of global health organisation try to resolve this precarious situation we must carry on promoting the small yet powerful actions we can make for health improvements in our community.
You don't have to be an athlete!
Most of us won't commit to the arduous training of the competitive athlete. The good news is that we don't have to. Even the smallest commitment to keeping active almost guarantees a greater return of health benefit in relation to our time and effort.
If we could bottle or compress into a single tablet all the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise - it surely would be the ultimate 'magic pill' for optimal health.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise helps improve posture, increase mobility, reduce disability, improve mood, decrease pain and reduce the chance of developing chronic disease.
Regular exercise significantly reduces your risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis and depression, all of which have been linked to sedentary behaviour.
For pain sufferers, suitably structured exercise has specific effects on the chemical causes of pain within the body by producing the body’s own natural painkillers. Regular exercise also helps to distract you from and alleviate the feelings of pain. It significantly reduces your sensitivity to pain, depression, anxiety and stress—all of which contribute to your overall feelings of pain.
For a more thorough explanation of the pain process, how our thinking contributes and what part exercise plays in the pain management process - read this article - What happens when we feel pain?
How much exercise must you do?
Some is better than none! I really like this phrase:
80% of life is just showing up.
I believe the same holds true for health when considering which exercise plan or workout is best for you. The answer is the one you will show up for. Don't be over ambitious and commit to something you are unlikely to see through, which will only create the failure pattern in relation to your exercise commitment.
Start at a level that is right for you. If you're doing no exercise right now then start small, 15 minutes of walking a day would be really great. Move on to adding in a flight or two of stairs each day. And so on…
What if you are already exercising, how much is ideal?
This depends on who you talk to and what the individual goals are. If we're talking movement for optimal health then the accepted general recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking) a day with a day or two rest each week. Maintaining muscular strength and flexibility is also imperative to long term physical health therefore at least twice a week it is recommended to perform some weight bearing, strengthening exercises. This might include using some weights or resistance bands at home, in the gym, or doing Pilates or Yoga.
These times and frequency change according to intensity and goals. Someone wishing to lose weight or increase fitness for an event will need different training plans. In these instances it is a very good idea to see a qualified personal trainer or fitness coach who will help you get off to a good start.
Next week I will published part 2 of this article covering important points such as
- Can I exercise too much?
- What is our greatest risk?
- Advice for exercising at any age, especially into your older years
Until next week, in good health!
by Simon Coghlan