It’s Time to Treat Exercise as Medicine

10.10.2016 • Fitness

In an appearance-obsessed culture, exercise has become the chisel we use to carve ourselves a body we can be proud of. Unfortunately, the reality is that exercise alone isn’t an ideal way to lose weight. But before you toss out your new yoga pants, understand that while exercise may not be the key to weight loss, it is a miracle cure for dozens of health problems.

In TIME Magazine’s September cover story, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky reveals his mission to show people why they should value exercise as a mechanism that almost instantly leads to slower aging, improved mood, less chronic pain, stronger vision, and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies by Tarnopolsky and other researchers have shown that exercise affects our bodies on both genetic and cellular levels. In 2011, Tarnopolsky’s team studied two groups of mice with a genetic condition that made them age prematurely. For five months, one group was sedentary and the other ran three times a week on a treadmill. At the study’s conclusion, the sedentary mice were worn and near death, but the active mice were almost identical to healthy mice without a genetic condition.

Currently, 80.2 million Americans over age six are completely inactive and childhood-obesity rates have consistently increased since 1999. Exercise physiologist Marcas Bamman claims that if people view exercise as a disease cure, then the medical field could change dramatically. Doctor visits could end with exercise being prescribed the same way that drugs are. Chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease are the ideal candidates for vigorous exercise to cure. Even people who suffered from strokes rehabilitated much faster when they exercised in recovery.

Exercise can add five years to your lifespan, help you grow new brain cells, and improve bone density, but many refrain from physical activity, claiming they don’t have the time to invest. But research has found that exercising in short, rigorous bursts for 10 minutes can have the same benefits as a 50-minute workout. These high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts will improve your heart function and blood-sugar management despite their short duration.

If you want to maximize your body’s profit from working out, you have to do aerobic and strength training exercises. While almost half of Americans meet the aerobic physical activity recommendations, only 20% meet the strength training requirements.

Using exercise as a cure and health boost can look like consistently running and adding some yoga or Pilates for anaerobic exercise. However, even everyday things like climbing stairs, doing yard work, and going bowling can be the first steps toward using exercise as medicine.