Since the time of the great physician Galen, doctor to the gladiators and then emperors of Ancient Rome, it has been suspected that regular physical activity was good for you. How and why were difficult to quantitate before the era of science-based medicine.
Since we learned how to study stuff like this in a rigorous fashion, we have learned that exercise helps prevents cardiovascular disease (the heart is just a muscle, after all), protects the bones from osteoporosis, helps you sleep, and in general makes you feel better.
New studies in the last few weeks have added some serious heft to exercise as a medicine in and of itself.
First, a new 12-year, prospective, controlled study looking at exercise and hypertension: exercise, independent of blood pressure, lowered cardiac risk as much as lowering blood pressure by 40-50 points. That’s huge, since each 10 point increase in diastolic pressure can effectively DOUBLE your mortality risk.
Second, even if you don’t have high blood pressure, there’s the prevention of Alzheimer’s to think about. In another study recently published in Neurology, 716 older folks were assessed for cognitive function and activity level, then followed prospectively for a number of years. Those who fell in the bottom 10% for exercise had a 2.3 times higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people who fell in the top 10% for exercise. The effect was independent of the age in which they started working out. So it’s never too late.
Finally, here’s one to make us all sit up and take notice–sitting can kill you. In a prospective study of over 220,000 Australians, researchers found that sitting for more than 11 hours per day increased the risk of death from all causes by 40%.
So don’t be surprised if the next time you go to see your doctor, you come out with a prescription that just says, “MOVE!”