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Exercise As Preventive Medicine

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You can either choose to become a statistic or start to take an active role in preventing killer diseases and increasing longevit.

You can either choose to become a statistic or start to take an active role in preventing killer diseases and increasing longevity. How? A well-rounded exercise program with cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility training is the choice way to go.

Be it from cardiovascular disease, complications from an osteoporotic fracture or other preventable misfortunes, physical inactivity significantly lowers life expectancy directly contributing to 21,000 premature deaths each year. Heart disease and stroke are the number-one killers of both sexes, killing 79,000 Canadians each year. The Osteoporosis Society of Canada estimates 70 percent of the 25,000 hip fractures in Canada each year are related to osteoporosis. More women die each year from osteoporotic fractures than from breast and ovarian cancer combined. And yet, despite all these facts and the flashy runners we just bought a whopping 63 percent of Canadians don't exercise on a regular basis.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Research shows that regular physical activity, in particular cardiovascular exercise, reduces the risk of developing heart disease by as much as 50 percent. Regular activity plays a role in preventing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, non-insulin dependent (type II) diabetes and obesity. It can also help a person quit smoking and manage stress. All of these things are risk factors for developing heart disease and may be prevented with a proper exercise regime and healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

Cardiovascular exercise is any type of activity that uses large muscle groups and is carried out for longer than a few minutes. During this type of exercise your heart rate elevates, your breathing becomes laboured, you start feeling warm and you break a sweat. Challenge yourself, but not to the point that you're unable to breathe or are incapable of doing the exercise. Good examples of cardiovascular exercise are walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing and stair climbing.

Health Canada recommends cardiovascular exercise four to seven days per week for 20 to 60 minutes each day. You can continuously move for this amount of time or you can break up your activity into smaller increments over the day. For instance, you might walk for 30 minutes all at once or decide to walk for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and another 10 minutes in the evening. Either way you have moved your body for 30 minutes in total by the end of the day.

Weight-Bearing And Resistance Exercise

The more active we are at all ages the more likely we'll have strong and healthy bones. Building bone mass when we are young, then maintaining it as we grow older, are keys to preventing osteoporosis later in life.

To do this, the best type of exercise is weight bearing. This is any exercise that makes our feet and legs carry our weight. Activities such as walking, jogging, dancing, aerobics, cross-country skiing and stair climbing are all weight-bearing movements. These execises are also cardiovascular in nature, so by participating in such activities you help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve your overall health as well (follow the guidelines set out in the "Cardiovascular Exercise" section).

Resistance exercise (also called muscular strength and endurance) also fights osteoporosis. This is any type of movement that challenges your muscles against a resistance, such as your own body weight, rubber tubing, hand weights, weight-training machines or water. The focus is on strengthening particular muscle groups, which, in turn, strengthens bone in that area.

It is ideal to engage in muscular strength and endurance activities two to four days per week and to include exercises for all the major muscle groups (front and back of the legs, abdominal and lower back, chest and upper back). Ideally you want to work these muscle groups until you've tired them out without feeling overworked.

About Stretching

Another important type of exercise is flexibility and range-of-motion movements. These exercises help reduce pain and stiffening of joints caused by osteoarthritis or other diseases affecting the joints. By stretching your muscles, your body keeps mobile, for longer.

All muscle groups (upper body, lower body and midsection) should be stretched four to seven days per week. The best form is described as "stretch- and-hold" movements where you move a muscle into a position where gentle tension is felt, then hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds.

Range-of-motion movements include gentle reaching, bending and continuous moving. The goal here is to move the joint as far as possible. Some examples include arm circles, ankle circles, shoulder rolls and straightening and bending the knees.

When doing either stretching or range-of motion-activities, mild discomfort is quite normal. However, if you feel pain or extreme discomfort, you may be stretching too far. Ease up on the movement or eliminate it from your routine.

Remember: a little bit is better than nothing and a bit more is best. So dust off those runners and just do it for health and long life.

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