Exercise: Scientifically Proven To Help You Live Longer!

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What if there were a supplement that was repeatedly proven to help you to live longer, no matter your age or physical condition?  You could be 60 years old and have not exercised in years, or have heart disease, or be recovering from cancer therapies…. none of that would matter – this supplement would still help you live longer!

Exercise is technically not a supplement, but if its benefits could be compressed into a capsule, everyone would be taking it!

There are hundreds of studies proving the benefits of exercise.  The one referenced above was from a 2019 cohort study from the UK.  It measured the physical activity of 15,000 men and women, ages 40-79, over the course of 20 years. It found that compared to inactive people, those with increased physical activity experienced lower rates of mortality from all causes. Which is a long-winded way of saying that those that were physically active lived longer, no matter their age or previous health conditions.

As a Naturopathic doctor I ask all of my patients if they exercise; I consider it a cornerstone of health.  Exercise is as important as sleep, eating a healthy diet and stress reduction.  It is an activity that tends to get neglected when people get busy.

Unlike nutritious food, or supplements, exercise is free!  It doesn’t cost anything to go outside and go for a walk.  If you have access to the internet, there are many exercise guides online that are free, and that feature exercises that you can do at home.

Dose and Frequency

How much and what kind of exercise is best?  Research has shown the “prescription” for exercise being a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity, involving both cardio and strength training. An easy way to remember this is 40:4 – aim for 40 minutes of exercise 4 days a week.  Moderately intense is a level that leaves you slightly sweaty and out of breath, but able to maintain a conversation. Some examples are brisk walking, biking under 10mph, circuit training, ballroom dancing and swimming leisurely.  Cardio alone is fantastic, but the research shows that adding strength-based exercise is equally important to maintain muscle mass.  This can be as simple as adding in body-weight exercises like air squats, wall pushups and sit-ups to your routine.

Exercise and Cancer

As one of the Naturopathic doctors in the office who works with cancer patients, I am excited by the research supporting exercise and cancer outcomes!  Since there are not many therapies that are helpful for all types of cancer, it is encouraging to know there is research supporting its benefit.

A recent trial compared different types and doses of exercise performed during breast cancer chemotherapy.  They followed up on patients at 6, 12 and 24 months post intervention. Primary outcomes were quality of life, cancer-related symptoms and psychosocial outcomes.  They found that patients that did combined strength and endurance exercise reported the best outcomes compared to those performing aerobic exercise alone.

Cancer patients who exercise during chemotherapy have less side effects and better quality of life than those that are sedentary.  When people have pain, chemo brain and feel fatigued, the last thing they want to do is go to the gym.  But this is often what will help them feel better.

Exercise is a practice, like healthy eating, going to bed early and flossing your teeth.  It will feel uncomfortable at first, but in time it will get easier.

I tell my patients undergoing cancer treatment that some exercise is better than none.  Find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it.  Despite its triteness, Nike got it right when they developed the catchphrase “Just Do It!”

References:

Physical activity trajectories and mortality: population-based cohort study. Mok A, Khaw KT, Luben R, Wareham N, Brage S. BMJ. 2019 Jun 26;365:l2323. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l2323.

Effects of exercise dose and type during breast cancer chemotherapy on longer-term patient-reported outcomes and health-related fitness: A randomized controlled trial. An KY, Morielli AR, Kang DW, Friedenreich CM, McKenzie DC, Gelmon K, Mackey JR, Reid RD, Courneya KS. Int J Cancer. 2019 Jun 7. doi: 10.1002/ijc.32493