‘Movement is medicine’!

What if I told you there was a treatment out there with a low risk of adverse effects and benefits repeatedly shown in a large number of solid clinical studies including (but not limited to):

  • Weight loss, reduction in fat and cholesterol levels, improvement in blood sugar control, improvement in immune defenses
  • Reduced stress levels, more consistent and restful sleep patterns, improved mood, increased memory and learning capacity
  • Improved independence and reduced risk of falls in the elderly, reduced risk of hip fracture.
  • Reduced risk of breast, lung, colon, esophageal, stomach, liver, renal, bladder, bone marrow, and head and neck cancers.
  • Prevention/improvement of hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung disease, arthritis, back pain, spinal diseases, depression, and Parkinson’s disease.

How about that? With those kinds of benefits and such low risk, I’m sure many of you would like to know the cost and availability of this wonder drug.  But what if I also told you this treatment could be performed essentially free of cost?  Too good to be true?  Not at all!  This miracle cure exists and is readily available to everyone…

EXERCISE!!!  It seems odd to think of exercise as a medical treatment, but the scientific verdict is in: exercise has HUGE benefits for wellness and the treatment and prevention of a large number of diseases, often equalling or surpassing the most effective drug treatments.  This cannot be ignored, and we all need to do whatever we can to make regular physical activity a part of our routine.  To put it simply, exercise is probably the single most important thing I can recommend to patients to protect and improve their health.  You don’t even need to worry about losing weight to reap the benefits of regular exercise: if you are overweight and exercise regularly, you are still MUCH healthier than someone at the same weight who is inactive.

It can seem difficult to stick with a regular exercise routine, and personally I’ve worn out every excuse for my own inactivity: ‘I don’t have enough time’, ‘I don’t have the energy’, ‘I don’t want to tire myself out’, ‘It’s no fun’, ‘I don’t have the money’.    But getting the physical activity you need really is crucial for your health and worth the time and effort; besides, it’s actually not as difficult as you might think.  The WHO and other groups recommend that adults perform at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.  Moderate exercise, as they define it, can be anything equivalent to walking at a 3-4km/hour pace.  So you don’t necessarily have to commit to tiring or time-consuming activities to put a dent in that 150 minutes a week: just take your family or pets for a walk, ride a bike around the park, or walk to the corner store instead of driving a couple of times a week.  There’s a good amount of scientific evidence that even tiny amounts of physical activity –including interval training workouts lasting only 4-10 minutes a few times a week – can have worthwhile health benefits.  So really anything you can do to get yourself moving/sweating/increasing your heart rate is worth it, and it’s not that hard to make beneficial physical activity part of your everyday routine!

Firstly, since getting your regular exercise is so important, you should plan and organize yourself to make sure you get it done; schedule time in your weekly agenda for exercise, right alongside your weekly date night with your spouse or weekly dinner with family, or weekly work meeting — ‘Sunday morning hike in the park for 60 minutes, wednesday afternoon run and cross training for 45 minutes, Friday night yoga for 45 minutes’.  Also, ideally you should try to make exercise a fun and happy part of your life, with activities  you enjoy and can stick with for a long time: like with dieting, it’s no good for me to have patients be miserable on an exercise plan only to quit and go back to being inactive.   I encourage my patients to be creative and find physical activities that dovetail with their interests and values.  Do you like music?  Dance lessons are great exercise, a lot of fun, and can be done with your significant other, friends, or family.  Are you interested in meditation or relaxation techniques, or do you have an injury that limits your ability to perform strenuous exercise?  Yoga and tai chi classes are available all over the city, and are a wonderful way to get low impact exercise while relaxing and managing stress.  You like the water?  Swimming or aqua-aerobics are solid exercise routines, as are kayaking, stand-up paddling, and surfing.  Do you like the outdoors?   Panama City has a number of beautiful settings perfect for physical activity  — including Parque Metropolitano, Parque Soberania, Cinta Costera, Paseo Marino in Costa del Este, Parque Omar, Parque Kiwanis, and Amador.  You could also consult an exercise coach or personal trainer if you want an extra source of support.

This may sound like the same old scolding you always get from your doctor about exercise, but on this blog I try to share important information that we all need to try and heed to improve our health. I’ve also struggled to keep up adequate physical activity in my life, and this kind of information helped open my eyes to make a change regarding my own exercise needs.  Though we might not all be able to easily recognize it, physical activity is as vital and necessary for our day-to-day functioning as nutrition or sleep.  The miracle cure is out there: let’s all get moving!




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