I have written many times on this website about the value of exercise for helping to relieve back, neck and joint pain and maintaining overall health.
I have a confession though – I hate exercising! Well, all that gym stuff anyway! You pay a crazy amount of money to go to a gym and you torture yourself in a smelly room for ages for FUN?? Well, Dr Moore does anyway, and enjoys it! But probably most of you go because someone has told you it is good for you – chiropractor or your GP. But do you really believe it and how much is ENOUGH exercise and what should you be doing at your age, and with your condition? Surely all that effort can’t necessarily be good for you?
If you do start, it is easy, after a couple of weeks, to convince yourself that you really don’t need to do this… so you give up. Sound familiar?
Right, I am going to give you a few facts that might make you change your mind about how you feel about doing more exercise. I hope to convince you that you don’t need to go to the gym for one thing and for another you don’t need to do hours of exercise every day. Science has proved it and you know how we love evidence based medicine at this clinic!
Dr Mark Tarnopolsky, who is a genetic metabolic neurologist in USA with an interest in the use of exercise in helping to deal with disease of all kinds, focused his recent research on finding that the scientific benefits of exercise–slower aging, better mood, less chronic pain, stronger vision and more – are real, measurable and almost immediate and also to demonstrate that it doesn’t take hours of exercise to achieve those benefits.
One of the best pieces of news is that so much of what we already do counts as physical activity. “Mowing the grass, raking leaves, washing the car–all that is exercise,” says Dr Berryman, an exercise historian. “Physical activity includes all movement, not just throwing a ball through a basket.”
What’s more, emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, “How low can you go?” says Dr Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Canada. I like the sound of this! It is possible to achieve all the health benefits of exercise but in just a fraction of the time?
Dr Gibala wanted to test how efficient and effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared with the standard 50 minutes per day recommendation. He devised a system of three exhausting 20-second bouts of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he tested the short workout against the standard one to see which was better.
To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Dr Gibala says. He has a book “The One Minute Workout – Science Shows a Way to Get Fit That’s Smarter, Faster, Shorter”.
If you don’t fancy an hour of exercise or a Zumba class or whatever, try a minute of this instead! Lack of time is the number one reason people say they don’t exercise, and I hate it so if I can achieve the same results in a far shorter period than what’s generally recommended, I would be very tempted! Dr Gibala is wondering if the workout can get even shorter. He’s even played around with the idea of a one-minute workout.
Not every type of exercise will work for every person, of course, but a growing body of research indicates that very vigorous exercise–like the interval workouts Dr Gibala is studying–is, in fact, appropriate for people with different chronic conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to heart failure. This is quite radical thinking, because for decades, people with certain diseases and even pregnant women were advised not to exercise. Now scientists know that far more people can and should exercise. A recent analysis of more than 300 clinical trials discovered that for people recovering from a stroke, for instance, exercise was even more effective at helping them rehabilitate.
Dr Tarnopolsky has looked at hundreds of research papers on disease and exercise, looking for scientific proof for the value of exercise and following this he concluded that “As time goes on, paper after paper after paper shows that the most effective, potent way that we can improve quality of life and duration of life is exercise.”
Dr Tarnopolsky has published some of those papers himself. In 2011, he and a team studied mice with a terrible genetic disease that caused them to age prematurely. Half of the mice remained sedentary for 5 months and the other half were made to run three times a week on a miniature treadmill.
By the end of the study, the fur of the sedentary mice was coarse and grey, their muscles had shrivelled, their hearts weakened, and their skin had thinned–even the mice’s hearing got worse. “They were shivering in the corner, about to die,” he says.
But the group of mice that exercised, even though they had been genetically compromised were nearly indistinguishable from healthy mice. Their coats were sleek and black, they ran around their cages, they could even reproduce. “We almost completely prevented the premature aging in the animals”.
I know what you are thinking – “I’m not a mouse!” That’s true. However, Dr Tarnopolsky has seen something similar happen in his ill patients. “I’ve seen all the hype about gene therapy for people with genetic disease” he says. Dr Tarnopolsky treats children with severe genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy–”but it hasn’t delivered in the 25 years I’ve been doing this,” he says. “The most effective therapy available to my patients right now is exercise.”
The great thing is, he now thinks he understands why and the great thing is that improvements to overall health are “real, measurable and almost immediate”.
In studies where blood is drawn immediately after people exercised, researchers have found that many positive changes occur throughout the body during and right after a workout. “Going for a run is going to improve your skin health, your eye health, your gonadal health,” he says. “It’s unbelievable.” If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.
The trouble is only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever, and 80.2 million Americans over age 6 are entirely inactive. How powerful it would be if we stopped worrying about how many hours we should be doing and instead did an intense short period of exercise more regularly as described above.
People with low levels of physical activity are known to be at higher risk for many different kinds of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and early death by any cause. Also inactivity can worsen arthritis symptoms, increase lower-back pain and lead to depression and anxiety.
This is not new – Hippocrates wrote in 400 BC that “Eating alone will not keep a man well” and that “He must also take exercise.” However, despite knowing the benefits of exercise for all these years, there has been a steady decline in the amount of exercise we do since the early 1900’s. That is even despite the number of gyms that have proliferated recently. The problem is only a dedicated few people actually use them – and it is those that should who don’t!
This year the National Institutes of Health in America will launch a six-year, $170 million study with a group of about 3,000 sedentary people, ranging in age from children to the elderly. They will start an exercise program and then donate blood, fat and muscle before and after they exercise. Scientists will then examine samples for clues to how the body changes with physical activity. A control group that doesn’t exercise will also be tracked for comparison.
As part of the study, researchers will do the same experiment in animals to get tissue samples from places like the brain and the lungs that would be too dangerous to obtain from humans. “It’ll be a tremendously enormous data set,” says Maren Laughlin, program director for integrative metabolism at the NIH, who is also a lead on the new study. In the end, the researchers think they’ll be able to identify every single molecule in the body that’s tweaked or turned on by exercise.
There are two ways of exercising – one is aerobic exercise when your breathing speeds up, your blood flows faster and your heart pumps faster which pushes oxygen into the tissues of the body.
The second is strength training, which builds muscle and strengthens bones. But stop worrying – you don’t need to go to the gym – you can try yoga, tai chi and Pilates. They are excellent forms of strength training.
Another major beneficiary of exercise might be the brain. Recent research links exercise to less depression, better memory and quicker learning. Studies also suggest that exercise is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, which is second only to cancer as the disease Americans fear most, according to surveys.
Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain for the better, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, courtesy of the protein BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration.
Exercise appears to slow aging at the cellular level.
Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician who runs a sports-medicine fellowship at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has prescribed exercise to his patients since the early 1990s in hopes of doling out less medication. “It really worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients,” he says. “If I could get them to do it on a regular basis–even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit–I would see dramatic improvements in their chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels.”
Until now, all the recommendations for increasing bone density have included low-repetition, high-weight types of training, says Jinger Gottschall, associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University. “But this just isn’t feasible for a lot of people. You can’t picture your grandma going in and doing that.”
His team found that lifting lighter weights for more reps improves bone density in key parts of the body, making it a good alternative to heavy lifting.
And as scientists learn more about why exercise is so beneficial, they’re hoping that the early 20th century reduction in exercise generally will be reversed
At McMaster University, Dr Tarnopolsky and his team can already tell with certainty which animals were allowed to exercise and which were sedentary. “You open up the sedentary mice and there’s fat all over the place,” he says. About half of those mice have tumors. “They just look god-awful.” In the mice who exercised they say “We haven’t found a single tumor,”. He said in conclusion “I think if people saw, they’d be pretty motivated to exercise.”
Maybe we should ALL be more motivated to exercise more – I know I am – I’m off to run up and down my stairs 10 times – and it hardly feels like exercising at all – and costs nothing!
Good luck and just try it for a week . Don’t think about it – just DO it – and see how you feel!