Most people know that exercise is good for us, but how good? In their book Younger Next Year, authors Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD explain that we are in a constant state of growth and decay (inflammation) i.e. we are constantly breaking down to build back up. This process is dictated by 2 special cells in our body, called Cytokine 6 (decay/inflammation), and Cytokine 10 (growth/repair). It turns out that aerobic exercise produces C6, which in turn, produces large amounts of the growth cytokine C10, circulating it throughout our bodies. You become stronger and faster as a result.
Sedentary behavior and the chronic stress of modern life, on the other hand, don’t turn on the C10 and inflammation and decay predominate. This only increases with age. Physical activity can stop our mind’s tendency to, at times, over react to everyday stresses. Further to this, Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry John Ratey, M.D., in his book, Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, writes that exercise “massively increases neurogenesis”; in other words, exercise is a brain builder.
The growth of new neurons has been shown to increase our ability to do complex tasks. Mental acuity and creative thinking are enhanced even after only 35 min on a treadmill at 60-70% of max heart rate (moderate intensity). Apart from walking or running, a skill-based activity such as Tai chi, yoga, dance, tennis, etc., strengthens the brain’s network. If you think of the brain as a tree, you are adding new branches , making the tree fuller.
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services recommends adults 18-64 get 150 min/week of moderate physical activity or 75 min/week of vigorous physical activity plus 2 sessions of strengthening exercises that target the major muscle groups. This could be accomplished with body weight exercises (e.g. pushups), with dumbbells, barbells and elastic band resistance such as Theraband. This level of activity has been shown to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes.
In his weekly blog, Dr. Michael Gregor summarized the results of a Center for Disease Control study involving 8000 adults. It showed that 1 hour/day of moderate physical activity 5-7 days/week is powerful medicine in preventing several chronic diseases even if there is a genetic predisposition to such diseases. In addition, not smoking, eating healthier (high intake of vegetables, legumes, less meat consumption), and keeping BMI 30 or less are 3 other factors that have a huge positive effect.
We can’t change the fact that we are getting older but we can have a significant impact on the quality of our life physically and mentally by adding moderate physical activity to our daily routine. The federal government’s activity recommendations are a bare minimum but a good starting point for many. Check with doctor to ensure there is nothing to prevent you from starting an regular exercise routine. Start slow but do something every day. Move it!
Author: Charlene Pilon, PTA, BPE, PT-ACE