Exercise as Medicine:
Absolutely Essential to Mental and Physical Health
Written by Bob Markin
For generations, our beloved Jewish mothers and ‘babas’ have affirmed the overall health benefits of ‘chicken soup’, that ubiquitous ‘Jewish penicillin’. With unquestionably noble intentions, our dear grandmothers, in their unique ‘haimeshe’ manner, were carrying on Judaism’s historic emphasis on maintaining good health, its origins stretching back to the wise teachings of Maimonides. Health experts affirm, unsurprisingly, that Baba was right, her delicious ‘chicken-soup’ is good for us in many ways…but we should view this advice as primarily being an adjunct to major healthy-living practices.
Please, right now – for both your benefit and those who love you dearly – take serious note that the world’s leading health authorities are strongly re-emphasizing what they have long determined to be ‘an absolute must’ for one’s overall health and well-being.
‘Exercise’ is what the World Health Organization, the 40-country-member Exercise is Medicine Organization and the Canada Health Guide are shouting to all as they affirm that study-after-study clearly indicates that, for those of any age – even for seniors in their 90s – “moving and being physically active are going to help cure so many of one’s ailments”.
The experts stress that exercise can eliminate the need to take medications, it can bring you more ‘quality-time’, and yes – could one ask for anything more – it could extend your life-span by a number of years. They’re saying that we should be glad that we don’t have a parking-spot in front of the theatre or the Jewish Community Centre entrance…walking a longer distance is what one should be doing. They are urging us to welcome any chance we have to exercise regularly, either alone, with friends, or in a personal-trainer/gym setting.
Ready to begin? Well, first, a caveat: before undertaking any new physical activity or program, we should initially consult with our doctor or health professional. Specific health challenges often call for varying exercise practices. What follows are recommendations from professional health organizations, based on their extensive research findings.
Exercise as Medicine
Exercise is ‘crucial’ for those with arthritis as it relieves pain, restores mobility, strengthens muscles around joints, helps maintain bone strength, controls weight, improves balance (Lily Moran, Newport Natural Health). Those starting out are advised to keep the impact low, apply heat, move gently, and put on ice as needed afterwards. “The more you move, the more you can move…any movement, no matter how small, can help”, Moran writes, adding, however, that “you should trust your instincts and not overdo it.”
Studies show that exercise substantially helps those suffering from various types of cancer, be it breast, prostate or colorectal cancer (The Province, Nov. 26, 2018). Withholding exercise could cause worsening cancer-related fatigue and psychological distress. Canada is being urged to follow Australia’s example of making exercise “an essential component of cancer treatment”, providing training, standards and credentials for fully-trained exercise experts. “Exercise should be on the agenda of cancer specialists – It would be malpractice if we had a drug like this and it wasn’t being used”, an Australian health report stresses.
Can it be contained? Well, according to the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institute on Aging, studies indicate that one-third of dementia cases are preventable when one exercises and follows a Mediterranean-style diet. Those authorities take a strong stance against vitamin B or E pills, fish-oil or multi-complex supplements because “research shows that they just don’t work and in high doses can be harmful.” And those persons who have Mild Cognitive Impairment can help restore their thinking ability and memory capacity by embarking on a regular exercise program.
Type Two Diabetes:
Studies find that the risk of getting this challenging condition can be reduced, as much as 70 percent, by engaging in a moderately heart-healthy lifestyle which includes physical activity.
If one is obese and has repeatedly lost and regained weight, engaging in more exercise is part of the solution. Recommendations include taking daily walks of 60 to 90 minutes, running for 30 to 45 minutes a day, taking bike-rides, daily fitness classes and using a treadmill or a stationary bike.
Heart Attack or Stroke:
The risks are greatly lowered through regular exercise of 150-minutes weekly moderate aerobic activity such as taking a brisk walk, an easy bike ride, mowing the lawn, doing a home cleaning session. (WebMD, Jan. 11, 2019). And, an American Heart Association study finds that those with High Blood Pressure could eliminate their need for medications if they embark on a regular exercise program and eat healthily.
The loss of bone calcium makes one more likely to have fractures and to fall. Bone density can be “substantially remedied through regular exercise, with benefits accruing to those who are even in their 90s” (everythingzoomer.com, May 19, 2000). Suggested exercises (Better Health Channel) include 45 minutes to one hour of aerobic activity two-to-three times per week, resistance training two to three times a week, balance exercises for a few minutes at least twice a week, and stretching exercises to promote flexibility.
The Big Picture: Get Moving
Taking ‘an overall look at what’s best health-wise for today’s senior of any age’, the article Health Really is Wealth, stresses that “the earlier of age we start to exercise, the better, and if possible, one should begin by middle-age… it’s like ‘having money in the bank’, with the benefits including chronic disease prevention, better cognitive function, and reduced risk of heart failure.”
Affirming this, studies of ‘life-long exercisers’ (NPR Radio, Dec. 10, 2018) find that those seniors who have been exercising regularly for decades, maintain the heart and muscle fitness of healthy people at least 30 years younger. “If you can swim, do yoga, cycle or walk, you can benefit.”
Emphatically – Walk! Walk! Walk! – does seem to be ‘the prime advice’ for seniors of any age, its physical benefits including a reduced risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. (Montreal Gazette, March 31, 2019) Mentally and emotionally, walking stirs our creative juices, reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and helps instill happiness. The faster you’re able to walk, the better, and you could change the pace according to how you feel.
Where should seniors walk? Well, virtually anywhere, one should never hesitate to walk wherever and whenever they safely can, be it at home, on a neighbourhood stroll with friends (which helps counter loneliness), by walking the family dog, etc. Studies find that those who live in nearby ‘walkable neighbourhoods’ (close to parks and trails) actually do exercise more and are generally healthier, having far fewer chronic illnesses.
For the more energetic, personal-trainers “expertly make you feel confident and comfortable”, guiding you at your home, in a recreation centre or in a gym with weights, treadmills and other equipment. (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 2019). ‘Live-Well Exercise Clinics’ six centres (including one in Kerrisdale) offer training guidance attuned to the specific needs of each client. President Sarah Johnston (Vancouver Sun, June 23, 2019) stresses that “exercise is the best medicine…it’s the number one predictor of your overall health.”
Are you ready to run a marathon? Well, says Dan Levitt, adjunct professor of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, “substantial physical and mental health benefits accrue to active runners…and, in general, you must keep moving – the higher your fitness level, the lower your risk of passing away.”
Certainly, seniors, with their life-long-gained-wisdom, can affirm that Life is a Gift – and that it should be ‘lived’ to the maximum…and prolonged. So, please, take the stairs instead of an elevator, walk, stretch, run, swim, golf, bowl, spend more time playing with your grandchildren rather than watching TV, participate in the Brier-Weinberg Senior Residence’s exercise programs or at an exercise program at the JCC. Be active, wherever and whenever you can. It can’t be stressed enough: Health-experts, world-wide, based on authentic study-after-study, affirm with gusto and with verve, for the benefit of both yourself and those who love you dearly – Move It…Begin Now!