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Healthier You Series: Move More to be Healthier and Live Longer

Virtually all physical movement is beneficial and for the most part, more is better: you reap tremendous health benefits if you exercise regularly. However, if you spend long stretches sitting without breaks for activity, you are at risk to shorten your life and be more prone to illness. Exercise can compensate for inactivity but inactivity can also erase some of the benefits of exercise.

Befitting its status as a pillar of health, regular exercise’s health benefits extend far and wide, it: helps control weight, reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, promotes good sleep, strengthens bones and muscles, builds muscle and reduces body fat, improves mood, increases longevity, improves sex life, boosts memory and thinking skills, decreases risk of cardiovascular disease, boosts energy, prevents or manages conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, can help prevent falls…

Whew, that’s 21 and counting! But to gain these benefits, you may wonder if all exercise counts and how much you need to do to make a difference.

Exercise is the best-kept secret in preventive medicine. 
       Harvard Health Website 1

How much exercise is enough?

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 – 300 minutes of moderate or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week, or an equivalent combination of the two. [That translates to 2 ½ – 5 hours of moderate or 1 ¼ – 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity]. More is better. Spread the activity out over the week.2 The guidelines also recommend strength training for all muscle groups two times a week for even more benefits. 

What is meant by moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise?

Exercises are classified by their metabolic equivalent for task (MET) value. The MET estimates the energy a physical activity uses as compared to the energy used to sit quietly.  Sitting quietly has the baseline MET of one. So, an activity that expends four times more energy than sitting has an MET of four.3 Various websites show the corresponding MET values of different activities; one lists over 800 of them.4  You can use MET values to determine how many calories you burn for the length of time you exercise, so it can be a useful tool if one of your goals is weight loss*.5

Some examples of the three levels of exercise are:

Light exercise (less than 3 MET)  — sitting at your computer or housework such as cooking or washing dishes, walking slowly, sitting, and fishing, 

Moderate exercise (3 — 6 MET) — housework such as mopping and vacuuming, walking briskly (at about 4 mph), playing tennis doubles. 

Vigorous exercise (more than 6 MET) — jogging (at about 6 mph), hiking, playing tennis singles, playing basketball.

Exercise and your immune system

COVID-19 has focused attention on the immune system and exercise is one way to help make it stronger. Regular exercise during any periods of isolation and lack of access to gyms is important to maintain immune health.6   

…30 to 60 minutes of near-daily brisk walking (at least 3.5 miles per hour, or a 17-minute mile) can improve your body’s defense against germs.”7

(Brisk walking has an MET value of 4)

The more moderate exercise you get, the less the risk of illness, maybe in part by promoting circulation, allowing the immune cells to move through the blood, surveilling for infections.8,9 Regular exercise also has a cumulative benefit. Over time, it slows down aging within the immune system, reducing the risks of infections. At one time it was thought that rigorous physical exercise, such as long-distance running, might leave athletes open to infection, but that is a discarded notion. The opposite is now thought to be true.10 One study found that older amateur cyclists who had regularly engaged in vigorous training throughout their lives had the immune systems of someone much younger.11 

Exercise to manage and prevent type 2 diabetes 

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which in turn is a major risk factor for hospitalization from COVID-19. Exercise not only helps to manage type 2 diabetes but is also important for its prevention. Exercise makes your insulin more effective (increases insulin sensitivity), and helps to maintain a good weight and prevent cardiovascular disease, one of the major complications of type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) not only recommends moderate exercise but also spending a certain amount of the day being physically active, interrupting stretches of inactivity or sitting with movement every 30 minutes.12

Exercise aids detoxification 

Toxic chemicals such as PCBs and PCDDs/PCDF from plastics are stored in fat tissue and increase the body’s toxic burden.12 When you burn fat, as through exercise, the toxins stored within that tissue are released into the bloodstream. Research also validates that the body does sweat out heavy metals and BPA (a chemical also found in plastics). The IonCleanse by AMD detox foot bath helps increase the body’s ability to detoxify itself. The body builds up lactic acid during exercise and we recommend doing a detox foot bath afterwards. Some of our users report feeling less sore when they use an IonCleanse right after vigorous exercise.

Don’t forget flexibility and balance

Preserving and increasing your flexibility has many health benefits such as improved posture and balance, improved mood, more range of motion, among others. It also can help prevent pain and injury during exercise. Crossfit co-creator and author Kelly Starrett recommends that athletes training for elite performance dedicate 15 minutes of each hour of training to improving their flexibility and balance.13 The 2018 guidelines cited above mention flexibility and balance exercises for older adults; however, It is never too soon to spend time to preserve the flexibility and balance that you have when you are young. 

Beyond exercise — being physically active throughout the day improves health and increases longevity…

Physical activity is any movement that causes your muscles to move and you to burn calories. A definition that covers the broad expanse of a Tarahumara Indian running 200 miles in a day (not a typo — read further) to retrieve mail, a 60-minute intense aerobic workout in the gym, a 20-minute walk in a park, and a 5-minute trip to the refrigerator to retrieve ice cream. 

If you want to live longer, stop sitting… so much.”

The 2018 Physical Guidance for Americans recommends that Americans also increase their physical activity in general. It states, “Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.” Recent findings underline how important this might be: 

…and sitting too much may be deadly

The American Cancer Society surveyed the physical activities of 125,000 adults who at the start of the observations were free from chronic disease. Those who sat the most were 19 % more likely to die from 14 different diseases over the course of 21 years. Sitting 6 or more hours a day during their leisure time played a significantly high role.14,15 The risk of death was higher for cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, COPD, pneumonitis due to solids and liquids, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders. 

…[exercise] lowers the risk of death from all causes.” 
       Mayo Clinic15

The link existed even if people engaged in moderate to physical exercise. Studies have shown that too much sitting can negate a lot of exercise’s benefits. People are more at risk for some diseases and a shortened life span if they sit too much, even if they exercise.16 

Making everyday life more aerobic, every little bit helps

Here are some suggestions for incorporating more physical activity into your home and office daily routines.

  • Walk more — find more opportunities to take a walk or park farther from a store when you shop. 
  • Use stairs when you have the opportunity — you can even go up and down stairs at home as a physical exercise. A good workout would be to use the bottom steps for a step exercise. You can find some fun-filled videos online.  
  • Stand up at work whenever you have the chance 
  • Get a dog — he or she will love you forever. Morning walks in the sun can also benefit sleep.
  • Cook fresh food at home — this will also be good for your gut health. 
  • Exercise or stretch while watching TV 
  • Do posture exercises at your desk — forward head is a common postural deterioration from sitting and working at a computer. You can find some very good exercises to correct forward head online. 
  • Do stretching or range-of-motion exercises at your desk — stay flexible as you age.
  • Make exercising in the office a social event — Cassie, AMD’s office manager, is our self-appointed exercise maven. She gathers all willing participants each day for a few fun-filled minutes of stretching and strengthening exercises. 
  • Be creative, make more movement a habit.

At AMD we each also have an opportunity for a few minutes of exercise when we fill up our IonCleanse by AMD ionic foot bath tubs for our twice weekly sessions. 

Can we shift from a sedentary to a more physically active technological society?

The Tarahumara Indian mentioned earlier is from a culture high in Copper Canyon, Mexico, that is a stark contrast to the modern sedentary society we live in today. Running is something they do all the time: they run everywhere. They are capable of running about 400 miles in two days. And their physical stamina is remarkable, even as they age. A 55-year-old won a grueling 1993 ultra marathon in Leadville, CO.

Changing to a more exercise-movement-friendly lifestyle may be a bit hard at first. You know the first law of physics — a body at rest tends to stay at rest. But as time goes on, it can become the norm — a real paradigm shift, and maybe a much-needed one. 

I hope you enjoyed this installment of our Healthier You Series. The research into this topic has inspired me to take more activity breaks from my time on the computer. As before, I would love to hear from you. Address any thoughts or comments to barbara@amajordifference.com. The next installment will cover Relaxation — another pillar of health.

*The formula for calculating how many calories you use during a physical exercise is to multiply your weight in kilograms by 3.5 and divide by 200 to get calories expended per minute. Your weight in kilograms is your weight in pounds divided by 2.2 (roughly ½).

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