What if I told your there was a medicine available that treats and prevents over 30 chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only that, but this medicine could also make you smarter, happier, thinner, younger and generally feel better about your ability to handle all the physical and psychological pressures life throws at you. This medicine does have some limited side effects, but strangely, most people start liking the feeling of the side effects as they use the medication more and more. And to top it all off, this medicine was free.
If this medicine actually existed, you would beg me to tell you where you could get it. You would line up for miles to get your hands on it. It sounds like the medicine to cure all ills and you would want it, not just for you, but for your friends and family as well. If only this medicine existed…
But it does…Exercise IS this medicine!
The scientific literature is quite clear; exercise is effective in treating at least 30 common chronic diseases. In fact, an adequate amount of exercise can reduce the risk of most major chronic diseases by 25-50% and the risk of death from any cause by 15-60% depending on the amount of physical activity.
This list does not even include the myriad of other conditions that likely respond to exercise as well, but just haven’t had the chance to be studied. In addition, there is evidence that exercise in some form or another is effective for treating hundreds of acute medical illnesses/injuries, in fact, there are entire medical specialties devoted to rehabilitating patients from such situations.
So how much should you exercise?
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week. At first this may seem daunting, but don’t despair, the biggest bang for your buck is going from inactive to active (75-90 min/wk), which results in a 15% reduction in all causes of death, right from the get go!
So what exactly should you do?
There are many ways you can do MVPA. Basically any activity that involves repetitive motions with large muscle groups that can be sustained for long periods of time (aerobic activity) will suffice. This may include, walking, hiking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, cross country skiing, elliptical machine or walking on stairs. You could even do these things without even realizing it by playing a sport like hockey, basketball or soccer!
Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can be defined in many fancy scientific ways, but from a practical perspective, you will know you are exercising at the right intensity if you are breathing a little heavy, starting to sweat and only able to speak in single sentences. You should also only be able to sustain this level of activity for 30-60min.
How should you start?
There’s really no right way, but it is generally more effective if approach it in a slow and steady fashion, within the context of other lifestyle changes (eg. healthy diet and smoking cessation) while receiving a great deal of social support. I recommend to people who are a little overwhelmed be with the task to start by making small lifestyle changes, such as walking the dog an extra block, parking a little further from work, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator. I also recommend that these individual tell a loved one or friend about their goals and join an exercise group or team for accountability.
Most importantly I must stress the importance of having fun while exercising. There are so many different types of activity that can be done, everyone can find something enjoyable. Just because exercise is medicine doesn’t mean it needs to taste like it!
Dr. Raugust is part of Liv Activ's team. He graduated from medical school at the University of Alberta and completed his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Calgary. He received extra training during his residency in sports medicine, orthopedics and rheumatology with a special focus on pediatric patients in each specialty. Dr. Raugust is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and has received numerous awards for research and publications regarding pediatric and adult sports-related injuries.