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A recent editorial in the journal Cardiology calls exercise the "magic bullet" in preventing all sorts of diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. From Science Daily:

Regular physical activity is 'magic bullet' for pandemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease

In an editorial published in the current issue of Cardiology, professors from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University have evaluated the totality of evidence and conclude that regular physical activity bears the closest resemblance to a "magic bullet" to combat the worldwide epidemic of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The statistics on regular physical activity in the United States are bleak; only about 20 percent of Americans (23 percent of men and 18 percent of women) engage in recommended levels of regular physical activity and about 64 percent never do any physical activity. In Europe, the statistics are not much better with only 33 percent who engage in physical activity with some regularity, while 42 percent never do any physical activity.

The authors also point out that physical activity confers important beneficial effects beyond body weight and include blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, colon cancer and possibly even breast and prostate cancers as well as arthritis, mood, energy, sleep and sex life.

Starting in their 30s, Americans and many Europeans tend to gain between 1 and 3 pounds of body weight per year, and by 55, many are between 30 and 50 pounds overweight....The authors note that brisk walking for only 20 minutes a day burns about 700 calories a week, results in a 30 to 40 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and can be performed even by the elderly. They stress that regular physical activity also should include resistance exercise such as lifting weights, which can even be safely performed in the elderly and in patients with heart failure.

Exercise has health benefits at all ages! From Medical Xpress:

Study indicates exercise sharpens the young adult brain

Regular physical activity improves brain function even in young adults considered in their prime and at the height of cognitive ability, according to a new University of Otago study.

They took 52 tertiary students, aged from 18 to 30, and put them through a series of cognitive tests on a computer while measuring oxygen availability in the frontal lobe of their brains, as well as their self-reported exercise frequency. Dr Machado says their "surprising" findings, just published online in the journal Psychophysiology, show that both blood supply to the brain and cognitive functioning appear to benefit from regular exercise in young adults.

"This provides compelling evidence that regular exercise, at least 5 days per week, is a way to sharpen our cognitive ability as young adults – challenging the assumption that living a sedentary lifestyle leads to problems only later in life," she says... "The exercise could involve brisk walking or more vigorous activity, and could be made up of a few 10 minute bouts of exercise, rather than one single block of exercise," she says.

The researchers also found that body mass index was not a key factor in how well the brain functioned, indicating that regular engagement in physical activity may be more important than body weight.

Excellent way to lower breast cancer risk. From Science Daily:

Postmenopausal breast cancer risk decreases rapidly after starting regular physical activity

Postmenopausal women who in the past four years had undertaken regular physical activity equivalent to at least four hours of walking per week had a lower risk for invasive breast cancer compared with women who exercised less during those four years, according to new data.

"Twelve MET-h [metabolic equivalent task-hours] per week corresponds to walking four hours per week or cycling or engaging in other sports two hours per week and it is consistent with the World Cancer Research Fund recommendations of walking at least 30 minutes daily," said Agnès Fournier, PhD, a researcher in the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France. "So, our study shows that it is not necessary to engage in vigorous or very frequent activities; even walking 30 minutes per day is beneficial."

Postmenopausal women who in the previous four years had undertaken 12 or more MET-h of physical activity each week had a 10 percent decreased risk of invasive breast cancer compared with women who were less active. Women who undertook this level of physical activity between five and nine years earlier but were less active in the four years prior to the final data collection did not have a decreased risk for invasive breast cancer

"We found that recreational physical activity, even of modest intensity, seemed to have a rapid impact on breast cancer risk. However, the decreased breast cancer risk we found associated with physical activity was attenuated when activity stopped. As a result, postmenopausal women who exercise should be encouraged to continue and those who do not exercise should consider starting because their risk of breast cancer may decrease rapidly."

Fournier and colleagues analyzed data obtained from biennial questionnaires completed by 59,308 postmenopausal women who were enrolled in E3N, the French component of the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. The mean duration of follow-up was 8.5 years, during which time, 2,155 of the women were diagnosed with a first primary invasive breast cancer.

Sounds like exercising in moderation has health benefits for all people, while "to excess" can be problematic. From Science Daily:

Contrary to popular belief, more exercise is not always better

There is strong epidemiological evidence of the importance of regular physical activity, such as brisk walking and jogging, in the management and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease and in lowering the risk of death from other diseases such as hypertension, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends about 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or about 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise. But there is clear evidence of an increase in cardiovascular deaths in heart attack survivors who exercise to excess.

Paul T. Williams, PhD, of the Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, and Paul D. Thompson, MD, of the Department of Cardiology, Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT, studied the relationship between exercise and cardiovascular disease-related deaths in about 2,400 physically active heart attack survivors. This study confirmed previous reports indicating that the cardiovascular benefits for walking and running were equivalent, as long as the energy expenditures were the same (although when walking, as compared to running, it will take about twice as long to burn the same number of calories).

Remarkable dose-dependent reductions in deaths from cardiovascular events of up to 65% were seen among patients who were running less than 30 miles or walking less than 46 miles per week. Beyond this point however much of the benefit of exercise was lost, in what is described as a reverse J-curve pattern.

In the same issue, investigators in Spain report on a meta-analysis of ten cohort studies aimed at providing an accurate overview of mortality in elite athletes. The studies included over 42,000 top athletes (707 women) who had participated in a range of sports including football, baseball, track and field, and cycling, including Olympic level athletes and participants in the Tour de France.

"What we found on the evidence available was that elite athletes (mostly men) live longer than the general population, which suggests that the beneficial health effects of exercise, particularly in decreasing cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, are not necessarily confined to moderate doses," comments senior investigator Alejandro Lucia, MD, PhD, of the European University Madrid, Spain. 

"Extrapolation of the data from the current Williams and Thompson study to the general population would suggest that approximately one out of twenty people is overdoing exercise," comments James H. O'Keefe, MD, from the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO... Along with co-authors Carl "Chip" Lavie, MD, and Barry Franklin, PhD, he explains that "we have suggested the term 'cardiac overuse injury' for this increasingly common consequence of the 'more exercise is better' strategy." 

O'Keefe, Franklin and Lavie point out that a weekly cumulative dose of vigorous exercise of not more than about five hours has been identified in several studies to be the safe upper range for long-term cardiovascular health and life expectancy, and that it may also be beneficial to take one or two days a week off from vigorous exercise, and to refrain from high-intensity exercise on an everyday basis. They propose that individuals from either end of the exercise spectrum (sedentary people and over-exercisers) would probably reap long-term health benefits by changing their physical activity levels to be in the moderate range.

"For patients with heart disease, almost all should be exercising, and generally most should be exercising 30-40 minutes most days, but from a health stand-point, there is no reason to exercise much longer than that and especially not more than 60 minutes on most days," says Lavie, who is a cardiologist at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, New Orleans, LA.