Exercise is Medicine (even in the age of COVID-19)

man running on the beach daytimeThe evidence is compelling: Exercise is the prescription for a healthy life – it aids in the prevention of chronic disease, enhances brain and nervous system function, and helps us manage stress at every age. Exercise is so potent for our well-being that many medical organizations are educating physicians about the proper type and frequency of exercise for people who are in good health, as well as those managing chronic health conditions. Here’s what the latest research tells us about exercise as medicine.

COVID-19  & EXERCISE Update 4/2/2020 — Yes, exercise is still essential to your wellbeing during the quarantine. It is very important that anyone who is exercising outdoors adhere to a minimum 6 FOOT Social Distancing mandate. Experts are now recommending exercisers, especially runners and cyclists, to double that distance. WHY? We all have a respiratory signature that we produce with each exhale. That exhalation includes everything the body wants to expel (bacteria, nose hairs, virus, microbes, respiratory signature and coronavirus spread for a person riding a bikesnot, etc.) Runners and cyclists actually leave a “comet trail” of respiratory debris in the wake of their movement (see graphic). If that gets picked up by the wind, it spreads even further. Also, do not sit on outdoor benches or use water fountains as these can be home to the virus. Even if you wear gloves when you exercise, the surfaces you touch, if contaminated, will contaminate your gloves. For more information, please check with the CDC and other reliable news and science sources in your area. (graphic provided by Pedal Power Newsletter)

The data on the benefits of exercise is drawn from a variety of short and long-term studies, both with mice and human participants. Human studies included athletes, healthy adults and those with genetic, chronic, or acute health problems. Two things are clear: First, people with low levels of physical activity are at higher risk for disease, including different types of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and early death by any cause. Second, throughout life, inactivity can worsen arthritis symptoms, increase lower-back pain, trigger depression and anxiety, and contribute to stress-related illness.

Research shows that many positive changes occur throughout the body during and immediately after exercise. These changes often have a cumulative effect – the more consistently you exercise, the more efficient, healthy, stronger, and resilient the body becomes. The same goes for the brain. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, helps build new blood vessels and neural connections, and has been shown to enhance memory and learning.

How much exercise? The current general recommendation is for a total of 150 minutes per week of physical activity to include two days of strength training (about 30 minutes per session) and cardiovascular exercise on the other days. Strength training can include weight training, of course, but also yoga, Pilates, exercise with bands, and some aquatic classes. Cardiovascular, or aerobic exercise is continuous movement that gets your breathing rate up and causes you to break a sweat.

How long to exercise? Typically, people exercise for 30-50 minutes per session. New research shows that even a 10-minute bout of high intensity interval training (HIIT) done consistently can bring about health benefits. The intervals consist of 20-seconds of all-out, hard-as-you-can-go bouts of movement followed by brief recoveries. If you are willing and able to push really hard in those short bouts, and do these sessions one to three times per day, a few days a week (depending on your goals), you can reap the benefits that often come with longer bouts of exercise.

What if I have a health condition? Many people with health conditions can partake in bouts of supervised intense exercise – at the level of intensity appropriate for them. Even after heart surgery, patients are encouraged to get out of bed and walk. Speak with your health practitioner about what is appropriate for your medical and wellness needs.

As you can see, the benefits of exercise go far beyond managing a healthy weight. Your health practitioner can guide you on starting the right type of exercise program for your health goals. Your doctor may even partner with a physical therapist, exercise specialist, or fitness trainer to help patients get started.


Article Resources provided by Medicine Talk Newsletter Service.