Every time you exercise, you’re “medicating” your body.
Published on: 05-30-2022
Many say they don’t have time to exercise. In Ecclesiastes 3 we’re told that there’s a time for everything, which, of course, would also include a time for work and a time for rest.
Sedentary behavior and a lack of exercise are often associated with laziness; yet we need to remember that “true rest”—both physical and emotional—is just as important as the amount of physical activity.
In His infinite wisdom God created movement and rest as counterparts to protect our bodies. Muscles need stored energy to create more and new muscle tissue. Sleep and rest are not only sweet after hard physical labor; both are also necessary for energy storage and repair. Adequate sleep, water, and nutrition ensure adequate energy production and storage; and then appropriate movement and muscle load produce and maintain strength and endurance.
Scientific reports of escalating rates of diseases linked to sedentary lifestyles and behaviors abound. Sadly, today’s accelerated way of life leaves little room for scheduled movement. Ironically, we may be so busy at “work” that we don’t “work out” enough! Motorized transport means not enough walking; escalators and elevators mean less stair climbing. Urban environments were designed for vehicular traffic and not for pedestrian access. People typically don’t get enough daily manual work because most of us don’t grow our own food anymore. And yet, we don’t have enough time for leisure activity because our career jobs are so demanding. Then when many engage in leisure activity, they often do so as spectators rather than active participants. This has led to a global explosion of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
According to Edward Stanley: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” Sedentary lives have a real cost. Physical inactivity costs enormous sums of health-care-related expenses and puts more than 1 billion people at risk of developing chronic diseases. Worldwide estimates associated with physical inactivity indicate that as many as 3 to 5 million lives are lost per year (about as many as those killed by tobacco).1
In the 1950s the increasing rates of heart disease in the United Kingdom ignited a concern among the scientific/medical community. Was life becoming so sedentary that it was affecting heart health? Jeremy Morris, a British epidemiologist, proposed a study called the “exercise hypothesis,”2 which focused on studying the relationship between physical activity at work and heart attacks. He collected data from bus drivers and bus conductors—those who climbed to the upper-level of Britain’s famous double-decker buses—and noticed that conductors climbed about 600 steps per shift while their coworkers, bus drivers, sat about 90 percent of the time. The findings were startling: conductors had half the number of heart attacks and deaths compared to their sedentary colleagues who drove the buses. Subsequent studies focusing on postal workers and office employees showed similar results. Almost 75 years have passed since these findings were published, but heart disease still causes about 18 million deaths worldwide per year.3 So will you take this information sitting down?
In the Heavens and on Earth
Zero-gravity environments in space and sedentary living here on earth both result in weakened bodies. Astronauts use impressive exercise equipment called advanced resistance exercise devices (ARED) on the International Space Station. They’re required to exercise at least 2.5 hours per day, six days per week, to prevent loss of muscle strength.4
On earth, gravity loads our bodies with weight, requiring strength to lift objects. Our muscles normally adapt to the circumstances. Many people struggle to lift objects or even their own body weight to get up from a chair or the floor. We all need focused muscle-strengthening activity as part of our daily routine.
Test yourself with this simple fitness test: sit and stand as many times as possible for more than 30 seconds. Managing fewer than 15 repetitions suggests an elevated risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting), a dangerous, sometimes deadly, condition among older adults. The accelerated loss of muscle mass decreases functional capacity and the ability to perform basic independent activities of daily living such as walking. Higher walking speed and greater distance have been linked to longevity and risk reduction of all-cause mortality. Men who walk less than 0.8 meters (2.6 feet) per second, or 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) an hour, are at a higher risk of death (lower life expectancy) compared to those who walk more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) an hour.
In a recent study,5 it was found that excessive time spent sitting or lying in bed was associated with a faster “natural” deterioration of muscle strength and accelerated aging, when compared to living in a zero-gravity environment, as experienced by astronauts. This means that individuals on earth age and weaken faster from bed rest and sitting than even astronauts during space flight. This is not “rocket science”!
Exercise Is Good Medicine
In 2019 Fiona Godlee, former editor of The British Medical Journal, described “the miracle cure.” “As miracle cures are hard to come by, any claims that a treatment is 100 percent safe and effective must always be viewed with intense skepticism. There is perhaps one exception. Physical activity has been called a miracle cure by no less a body than the Academy of Medical Sciences.”6
There’s evidence that up to 35 chronic diseases and conditions in their management and reversal process include exercise as a therapy. Imagine the concept of applying a daily dose of medication to protect us against diseases. Every time you exercise, you’re “medicating” your body with a dose against diabetes, several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, dementia, osteoporosis, and premature aging!
In the last 20 years we’ve seen prolific growth of published papers researching the effects of exercise on our brains. Physical exercise increases the production and release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes nerve cell (neurons) survival growth, maturation, and maintenance.7
BDNF appears to influence mental abilities, mood, and overall brain health, counteracting some of the effects of aging. With adequate exercise our brains stay younger and stronger, grow, and have a better cognitive function. Our memory is improved; our ability to read and remember, to solve math problems, and focus our attention are all better with exercise. Activity helps to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, lowers stress levels, helps normalize blood pressure, and improves immune responses to invading microbes and cancer. Exercise helps control blood sugar and makes our bodies more sensitive to insulin. It even improves sleep quality and sexual health while slowing down the aging process.
Recently Robert Sallis, a family and sports medicine physician with the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, encouraged that exercise be a clinical vital sign for every doctor-patient visit, stating, “It doesn’t matter whether you study men or women, various ethnic groups, diverse nations, children or the aged, the results are always the same: people who are active and fit live longer, healthier lives. This is no longer news.”8
You’ve now heard the exciting “news” about daily movement. “God designed that the living machinery should be in daily activity; for in this activity or motion is its preserving power.”9
So how do you put this knowledge to work? Follow this easy, general prescription:
Start where you’re comfortable, and with your doctor’s consent if you’re more than 40 years old or have special needs.
Stand and stretch, high-step in place, walk, or do a few squats every hour you’re sitting.
Strive for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
Walk 5 to 10 minutes a day and increase by 5 to 10 minutes every week (be conscious of safety issues in your environment).
Consider moderate-intensity sports, such as swimming, stair climbing, or tennis.
Do household chores and gardening, such as floor mopping and yardwork.
Join a class or get an accountability partner at church, work, school, or at home; or use an app.
Unable to perform moderate-intensity exercise? Even light activity can make a difference in your health.
Fitness—to freely move with flexibility and strength—is satisfying and enjoyable. A well-rested, wisely exercised body and mind make each day more pleasant and enjoyable. Who would argue with this?
1 See https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61031-9/fulltext; also see https://tinyurl.com/2p8mjjx7.
2 J. N. Morris et al., “Coronary Heart Disease and Physical Activity of Work,” The Lancet 265, no. 6795 (Nov. 21, 1953): 1053-1057.