What if someone told you there was a simple pill you could take that would markedly reduce your chances of developing nearly two dozen diseases? Not simple illnesses like a cold or a mild flu, but potentially life threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and even dementia as well as some cancers.
Plus, what if this person told you there were no bad side effects and that you didn’t even have to take this pill every day, but only needed to take it several times a week for it to have the same nearly miraculous effects?
If you are like most people, you would be demanding information on where you could get such a miracle drug and at the same time, you’d likely be wondering if you could possibly afford it or if your insurance would cover it?
Well, as you’ve likely guessed from the title of this article, such a “pill” already exists, and its name is regular exercise. In fact, if the pharmaceutical companies could bottle something that was this effective across such a wide variety of human ailments, they might be tempted not to bother with manufacturing other drugs at all.
Recently, physiotherapist Leslie Alford from the University of East Anglia reviewed 40 papers covering the latest research published between 2006 and 2010 on exercise and human health.
As a result of the review, there were some important recommendations made about the length and also type of exercise required to see these kinds of extraordinary health benefits:
One - If you are a healthy adult (18 to 65 years old) you should be getting 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate intensity exercise each week. That would mean walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day, five days out of seven each week. If you do more vigorous exercise, such as jogging you can dial that down to 20 minutes three days a week.
Two - Maintaining muscular strength is also important. We are not talking “body-building” here, but keeps muscles strong so you can lift packages, easily get out of a chair from a sitting position without the use of your arms and so you can get yourself up off the floor if you happen to fall. Healthy adults should do two sessions a week that work your body’s major muscle groups. Whether it's walking, running or lifting weights, weight bearing exercises also benefit you by keeping your bones strong, helping to stave off osteoporosis and improving your general body mechanics of balance and co-ordination.
But exactly why does exercise have such a powerful preventative effect across such a wide range of disease states?
Aerobic exercise (the kind you get when you go for a brisk walk) gets your heart pumping, which improves your circulation. This in turn lowers your blood pressure and over time, the heart muscle itself is strengthened, meaning that your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the same amount of blood (cardiac output) through your body. As a result, your resting heart rate is lowered.
Regular aerobic exercise also means your muscles use more glucose (sugar) and over time, your blood sugar levels decline. In addition, insulin, the hormone responsible for getting sugar into your cells so it can be used for fuel and is also a signal for your body to store fat, works more effectively. So your risk of type 2 diabetes drops, and if you are already a diabetic, exercise can help you control your blood sugar.
Weight training, in addition to strengthening your muscles, can actually reshape your body. If you are one of those people who carry a lot of fat around your midsection (which is a major risk factor for heart disease), weight training can help you get rid of it. Also a combination of weight training and aerobic exercise has been shown to help raise your good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL)
So start walking and do some simple strength training a few times a week. This is one pill we can all swallow!