Encouraging exercise: Bettering your body to fight disease

Mar 18, 2017

We all know exercise benefits us physically, but could going for a morning jog help prevent most diseases and boost brain function as well?

This week on Take Care, nationally recognized sports medicine physician, bestselling author and fitness instructor Dr. Jordan Metzl discusses the physical and mental benefits exercise has on our bodies.

Metzl poses that if exercise were a drug—one that benefits every system of the body and prevents heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and 13 types of cancer—then every doctor who didn’t prescribe it would be committing malpractice. But exercise isn’t a drug. There are no pills involved, no dodgy side effects, and no cost. So who do so many people not do it? Metzl says it’s largely due the way medical institutions address health problems.

“Medicine has largely been focused on the treatment of disease. So after something happens—after you get arthritis in your knee, after you get high blood pressure, after you get diabetes, after you get cancer, after you get depression—we treat the problem,” Metzl said. “But we don’t do a very good job, outside of maybe lip service, of teaching people how to prevent those problems from happening.”

One of the biggest roadblocks in convincing people to exercise is the perception that exercises functions only to enhance physical health or appearance. But Metzl says that exercise does more than enhance our cardiovascular health; it also enhances our minds. For example, people who exercise frequently are less likely to experience memory loss.

“Increasing blood flow to your brain promotes not only the use of the cells in your brain, because every organ has cells, but also how effectively those cells work and how long they stay alive for,” Metzl said. “Much like your muscle, when you use your brain, and you vascularize your brain, and you oxidate your brain with exercise and oxygen, it works better.”

For those with conditions like Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, exercise can also be a cost effective treatment. Americans spend about $100 billion and $90 billion respectively on the two diseases each year, but both can be treated and even prevented outright by regular exercise and good nutrition.

“We’re all talking about medical costs, care, and figuring out ways to reign in medical costs…We do so little with prevention,” Metzl said.

But what about people who aren’t tackling diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, who just want to exercise to maintain their bodily and mental health? Metzl advises 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise a day for five days a week, or 150 total minutes per week. But if you’re struggling to make that time commitment, Metzl recommends stepping up the intensity.

“What we are now saying is either 150 hours a week of moderate intensity exercise, or approximately 100 minutes per week of intense exercise, 75 to 100 minutes,” Metzl said. “I have people doing 10 and 20 minute intense workouts in their living rooms before they leave their house in the morning.”

The bottom line? Any amount of exercise is better than none at all. With all the benefits of exercise weighed against the price of stagnation, we can’t afford not to do it.

“This is not just something that makes you feel good”, Metzl said. “This is a very powerful and potent medicine, and I want people to get off their every single day and move.”