Chang Lee

Chang Lee

You probably already know exercise is good for your health and well-being. But do you know exactly what it does or why it is good for your health?

Did you know exercise can literally prevent and treat chronic diseases just like many powerful medications do? Here is what exercise can do for your health.

First of all, physical activities of moderate to vigorous intensity can reduce the risk of death from all causes by more than 30%. It does not matter if you are overweight or obese. Your age, sex or race do not matter, either. As long as you are physically active, you can protect yourself from death of all causes.

Physical activities also lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, but regular physical activity lowers the risk of coronary heart disease by 1.5 to 2.4 times and reduces the death rate from cardiovascular disease by 23 to 73%.

Exercise also reduces chances of developing and progression of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, cancers, dementia and even depression. Exercise lowers blood pressure by 5 to 7 mmHg. Even a small decrease in blood pressure can lower the risk of coronary heart disease by 5 to 9%, stroke by 8 to 14%, and all causes of death by 4%.

Regular physical activity lowers blood sugar levels and increases insulin sensitivity, improving Type 2 diabetes. Aerobic training is shown to increase blood levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (so-called “good cholesterol”) and decrease triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol), improving the blood lipid profile. Moreover, regular physical activity improves sleep, cognitive ability, anxiety, physical function and overall quality of life.

Even more remarkable is the effect of exercise on the immune system. Research suggests that regular physical activity improves immune responses to vaccination, reduces chronic inflammation, boosts the immune system, mobilizes immune cells and enhances our ability to fight many infectious diseases such as herpes, influenza, the common cold and possibly COVID. Moreover, recent evidence shows exercise intervention is equally effective as or even better than pharmaceutical drugs in treating heart failure, preventing diabetes, stroke rehabilitation or prevention of coronary heart disease. Yet, unlike most common drugs, exercise generally does not have serious side effects, making it arguably better medicine. Also, in many cases, it is even free.

Exercise is really medicine. It is not just a leisure time activity, amusement, recreation, pastime or hobby. We should consider it a viable option for preventing and treating chronic diseases and health conditions just like other medications.

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Chang Woock Lee is an assistant professor of kinesiology in the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. He can be contacted at 361-570-4838 or leec3@uhv.edu.

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