By Eddie Phillips, MD

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

My patients know that I will always ask them, “How much exercise did you get this week?”

Do you know that only three out of ten American adults are active enough to stay healthy and fit? That’s despite reams of research proving that exercise prevents disability and illness.

We all know that exercise will help us achieve a healthier looking body. But over time, regular exercise will reward us with robust health, a better quality of life and even a longer life.

Want more reasons to exercise?

For starters, what if I told you that exercise actually adds years to your life. That’s right… years.

The evidence has been around for over half a century. For example, the Framingham Heart Study has been following the same group of people and now their families since 1948 to determine the major risk factors for heart disease. Those are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity.

Want another reason? How about the fact that exercise reduces your risk of heart disease.
In other words, those hikes in the park, workouts in the gym and bicycle rides in the neighborhood help to prevent artery clogging plaque build-up. Plaque is the bad stuff that reduces blood flow to your heart and other vital organs in your body. Increased blood flow from exercise also helps retain the resilience of your arteries—or the health of artery walls—and lowers your chances of dying from heart disease even if you already have this condition.

Exercise also lowers blood pressure. Hypertension is a very serious threat to our health. It increases our risk of heart disease and other body system failures like strokes and heart attack.
So exercise, at moderate to vigorous levels, can get those blood pressure numbers down to generally normal readings of around 120 over 80 or lower.

Here’s a benefit of exercise that you might not be aware of. Exercise can prevent diabetes. And with diabetes increasing at an alarming rate, daily exercise is one of the simplest and bet prevention strategies.
You see, there’s a connection between diabetes and factors like weight, blood sugar levels and sensitivity to insulin. Exercise helps moderate all of these so your insulin—the hormone that allows your body to use sugar for energy—does its job properly.
Even if you have diabetes, exercise can be a big help in controlling blood sugar to avoid dangerous highs and lows.

One of the greatest benefits of exercise is that it reduces your risk of developing certain cancers. Yes, there’s a connection between our physical activity level and cancers of the colon, breast, uterine lining and prostate.

As we get older, osteoporosis or loss of bone density can be a concern. Weight-bearing exercise combined with supplements or medications can keep our bones strong.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises are jogging, strength training, walking, yoga, climbing stairs, golf, tennis and even dancing. Just so you know, activities that don’t have weight-bearing characteristics include swimming and bicycling even though they benefit your cardiovascular system.

Other benefits of exercise include reduction of joint pain, lifted spirits, improved sleep and resistance to infections. This is because increased blood flow, burning of calories, and muscle use releases certain hormones that support our overall body functions and keep our systems in tune.

So why should you exercise? Well, you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you’re doing something really important to maintain good health, prevent disease and live well.

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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