Astounding reduction rates from illnesses across the board all point to one thing. Diseases such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, risk of hip fracture and even risk of death have one common reduction factor: Exercise!
Exercise doesn’t have to mean heavy weight training, group fitness classes or even hitting the gym. The minimal level of exercise needed is simply walking for 30 minutes, five times a week.
Exercising in order to achieve something has always been the norm, however it doesn’t reflect the crucial importance of exercise to live a life free of chronic illness and disease.
The problem of inactivity is quite obviously an issue of public health. There seems to be a belief that exercise is reserved for individuals who want to achieve a goal — lose weight, build strength, gain muscle, increase flexibility or boost endorphins.
In reality, exercise should not be viewed as an ‘add-on’ to one’s lifestyle, but moreso as a crucial and consistent habit. Similar to drinking enough water or getting enough sleep, walking for 30 minutes, five times a week, is just as important as the healthy behaviors we view as obvious in our routines.
Steven Blair, a tenured professor at the Arnold School of Public Health, published a journal on the problem of inactivity in 2016. The attributable fractions data table in his journal studied death risk in absence of behaviors, for example if a smoker was a non smoker, or an inactive person was minimally active. The study found that low fitness was the strongest prediction of death. Blair noted that while low cardiorespitory fitness accounts for 16% of deaths in both men and women, doctors and health professionals are more likely to test levels of cholesterol and blood pressure than to test activity level of individuals at risk.
It’s crucial to mention Blair’s observation of the medical advice, ‘exercise to lose weight’ and that creating the goal of ‘weight loss’ in the patient’s mind completely overlooks the actual importance of exercise — to offset chronic illness, improve health and physical mechanisms and above all, to stay alive!
When someone goes on a diet to lose weight they are in a mindset of ‘lack’ meaning they are depriving themselves of certain foods and behaviors in order to lose weight. A lot of times, this diet culture approach can end with a reverse effect, where people engaged in juice cleanses or keto diets end up gaining back all the weight they lost, shortly after the diet.
Something as simple as shifting the focus can change the goal and affect the mindset. Engaging in healthy eating to benefit functionality of the body and improve mental clarity, for example, may generate stronger and longer lasting results, because the goal came from an individual’s best interest to care for their bodies, rather than from a doctor, recommending weight loss to meet a medical standard.
People are more likely to follow through with goals if the goals are self developed, which is why educating the population on the omnipresent importance of exercise for all facets of wellness, not just losing weight, could absolutely affect how people view and engage in exercise.
The importance of physical activity as a way to simply reduce the risk of chronic disease is nothing new.
A study in the 90’s conducted in Japan answered the question, if people’s walk to work was longer, did that reduce their chance of serious health problems, specifically high blood pressure? The study found that for every increase of 10 minutes in a persons walk to work, there was a correlating 12% reduction of likelihood to develop high blood pressure.
A more recent study measured two groups of cardiovascular patients; the first group had a stent put in their heart to alleviate pressure and the second group exercised on a stationary bike for 20 minutes a day. After one year, 88% of the exercise group were event free compared to 70% of the stent group. This study not only shows the effect of exercise on common diseases but also the result of inactivity, and parallel reliance on medical devices.
We rarely see fitness in the mix of medical trials and studies. This is due to a conflict of interest, the studies are often funded by pharmacutical companies that benefit from patients taking the drug in the study. We know all too well that the drug can sucessfully mask symptoms, but does nothing to alleviate the root of the disease or illness.
This proposes an intersting question, would you rather have the illusion of health or alleviate the cause all together? Judging by the 50% of Americans that don’t get 30 minutes of walking five times per week, along with the statistic of the average American spending 5 hours a day on a screen, it seems like the majority would rather live in an illusion.
Oftentimes, we find it easier to blame our health issues on external causes, and therefore, search for external solutions to fix them. If we can start taking responsibility for the illnesses and diseases we experience, maybe the responsibility to move our bodies, eat healthier and engage in behaviors that truly benefit our minds and bodies, exercise would become more of a priority rather than a passing thought.
Physical inactivity: the biggest public health problem of the 21st century by Steven N Blair, May 17, 2016 [ http://bjsm.bmj.com/ ]
23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? DocMikeEvans, December 2, 2011 [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo ]