As the world is faced with issues of an ageing population, chronic diseases are major killers in the modern era. Physical inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases. It is a common prayer for people to live long, look young, physically fit and in good shape, healthy and never to be a customer of any hospital due to any form of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders and so on.
Regular exercise can reduce the risk and symptoms of more than 20 physical and mental health conditions and can also slow down how quickly our body ages.
According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured and repetitive in order to enhance health. That is, an activity that when added to baseline activity produces health benefits including: brisk walking, jumping rope, dancing, playing tennis or soccer, lifting weights and climbing on playground equipment.
Active individuals, both men and women, aged 65 years and older have approximately a 30 per cent lower risk of dying during follow-up when compared to inactive individuals (US Department of Health and Human Services). A review found that exercise affects conditions such as cancer, heart diseases, dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure.
A separate study found that women who exercise for 150 minutes a week or more could be reducing their risk of endometrial cancer by 34 per cent whether or not they are overweight. This association was more pronounced among active women with a Body Mass Index of less than 25 or underweight women where the reduction in risk was 73 per cent compared with inactive women with a BMI of more than 25, according to a report. Exercise is without a doubt one of the powerful ways to improve our health.
Research also indicates physically active people have significantly less erosion of telomeres than even healthy non- smoking but sedentary ones. Exercise activates the enzyme telomerase which stabilises telomeres producing an anti-aging effect at the cellular level. Telomeres are strands of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage. The progressive and gradual erosion of telomeres leads to aging at the cellular level.
As telomere shortens more, cell death occurs. These cell deaths are associated with serious diseases and premature aging. The leading anti-aging research is on how to prevent telomere shortening and develop therapies to lengthen telomeres as many experts believe that lengthening telomeres could actually turn the biological clock backwards.
Exercise normalises insulin and leptin levels with secondary benefits of weight loss and normalisation of blood sugar. This basic factors in turn cascade outwards, creating a ripple effect of positive health benefits which include: improving brain power and boosting IQs; lowering the risk of heart diseases and cancer; balancing mood and fighting depression; lowering the risk of diabetes and reversing pre-diabetes.
Exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in the body. The job of these cells is to neutralise pathogens throughout the body by preventing diseases. Furthermore, when researchers measured the biochemical changes that occur during exercise, they found alterations in more than 20 different metabolites. Some of these compounds help in burning calories and fats while others help in stabilising blood sugar among other benefits as well.
A study from 2008 concluded that physical fitness is a better indicator of overall health and longevity than even BMI, meaning that even if one is overweight or obese, exercise will provide measurable benefits.
Although regular exercise even when initiated late in life offers a great benefit, a lot of people are faced with a great challenge. The majority of people often say, “I am aware of the benefits of exercise, I want to engage in regular exercise but pain wouldn’t allow me. I have taken several pain relievers but they seem not to work. I wish this pain could be alleviated someday.”
Some people have left their careers and hobbies such as soccer, and other athletic activities with frustration due to pain. Medical doctors and other health care practitioners are sometimes overwhelmed with the challenges of getting their patients off bed due to difficulties in alleviating pain associated with it even though exercise could be the best form of treatment for such patients.