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EXERCISE VERSUS PHYSICAL ACTIVITY...’UP-ING THE ANTE’

When you hear the word ‘exercise’ do you envision running, sweating, being short of breath, and muscle soreness? Does the word ‘exercise’ incite feelings of anxiety and pressure?  Do you feel that you should be exercising for your health but just don’t have the time or energy to do it?

What if you heard the words ‘physical activity’ instead of exercise?  It means basically the same thing but perhaps one is less threatening or seems less work than the other.  Physical activity is any body movement that results in the use of energy measured in units of calories.  Physical activity is an important part of ‘energy balance’ or the complex relationship between weight, food intake, physical activity and their influence on overall health.

Researchers have proven that regular physical activity improves health by helping to control weight, maintaining healthy bones and muscles, reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, promoting self-confidence and a positive outlook on life, and reducing the risk of early death. 

Regular physical activity also controls hunger, helps the mind and body naturally crave fruits and vegetables (whole foods), and increases the body’s immunity or ability to fight disease.  Evidence shows that these effects of physical activity result in a body less likely to be overweight or obese and therefore has a lower risk for developing cancer, especially colon, prostate, lung, endometrial and breast cancers. 

The Centers for Disease Control recommend that adults spend at least 30 minutes doing physical activity at a moderate-intensity at least five days of the week, and vigorous activities for 30 minutes at least two days a week.  Everyone can afford to take 30 minutes out of 24 hours every day to be active.  It’s better to spend 30 minutes working out than four hours at the hospital hooked up to a dialysis machine, or spending countless days feeling lousy because your blood pressure is high or your sugar level is uncontrollable.

Moderate and vigorous intensity activities are those which increase the heartrate.  Moderately intense activities include walking 3 to 4.5 miles per hour on a level surface, hiking, bicycling 5 to 9 miles per hour, high impact aerobic dancing, using a rowing or elliptical machine at a rate of 4 to 6 METs, walking a golf course, washing a car, mopping, mowing the lawn, and other activities that you could do while still carrying on a conversation. 

While doing a vigorous activity the heart rate is elevated to a level at which you could not carry on a conversation and you experience more strain on the lungs and muscles. These activities include running at 6 miles per hour or faster, bicycling more than 10 miles per hour uphill, swimming laps, circuit weight training, sparring, and most competitive sports. 

The human body is built to eat only what it needs.  But our minds, influenced by effective marketing techniques from food makers, crave foods we don’t need in amounts we don’t need to survive.  All this extra food, unused energy from lack of sufficient physical activity, and chemicals in our food make us fat, unhealthy and increase our risk of developing cancer. How can you prevent cancer? Prevent overweight and obesity, it’s that simple.

Over 50 research studies have concluded that adults who increase their physical activity level can reduce their risk of developing colon cancer by 40% compared to inactive adults.  A 10-year study of 55,489 men and women between the ages of 50 and 64 concluded that 23% of colorectal cancers diagnosed in the study group were preventable if the individuals had followed physical activity guidelines (Conlink, 2010).   It is estimated that 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day will protect the body against colon cancer by regulating insulin and decreasing the time the colon is exposed tocancer causing agents by moving food through the digestive system more efficiently and using more food for energy. 

Evidence from over 60 studies worldwide concludes that physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer in pre and post-menopausal women, especially for those who maintain a healthy weight throughout their lifetime.  As the frequency and duration of physical increase, so do the benefits.    Thirty to 60 minutes of vigorous activity per day, every day appearedto be the most effective.  This rate of activity lowered hormone levels, insulin levels and insulin-like growth factor I ((IGF-I), and improved immunity against disease.

Research has also shown that the most physically active people experience an estimated 20% reduction in risk for developing lung cancer.  University of Minnesota researchers gave questionnaires to 36,929 cancer-free women from Iowa, and followed the participants for 16 years. They found that women with high exercise levels were less likely to develop lung cancer than those who reported low exercise levels (journal of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 2006).

A reduction in risk for prostate cancer is associated with an increase in physical activity but the more than 36 studies worldwide have not conclusively shown that physical activity directly reduces risk other than its positive effects on improving immunity and reducing body fat.

Overall research indicates that physical activity does improve one’s quality of life by reducing tiredness, improving immunity, and regulating energy balance. 

Doctors and researchers alike suggest that choosing an activity you enjoy and then focusing on intensity (how long and how vigorous you are active) is important.  Simply walking leisurely around a track will not produce the same health promoting results as a power-walk or run.  Your heart rate must be elevated, increased, to produce the positive effects you’re body craves.  Exercise trainers suggest beginning at a low intensity and gradually working up to a moderate level – if your heart isn’t pumping and you’re not sweating then it’s not moderate. Using a simple watch develop a baseline for your activity.  For example, if it takes you 15 minutes to walk four laps around OMV set that time as your ‘baseline’ and then set a goal to reduce the time to 10 minutes for four laps or increase the number of laps within 15 minutes.  Give yourself, depending on your health, a target date of two to three weeks to achieve your goal. Once you get there, develop another goal: Up the Ante!  Being consistent and motivated are key.  You should also talk with your doctor before starting any physical activity program to ensure your heart and lungs can handle the stress, and always drink lots of water!  You cannot sweat away pounds.  Sweating is the body’s way of cooling itself down, not burning fat.  Wear cool, comfortable clothing when exercising so your body can spend more energy to reach your physical activity goal and less on fighting the heat.

Check out this website for the ‘Couch-to-5K’ running plan:  www.coolrunning.com.  Several people have used this program locally and it’s helped them get started successfully. It even has a free running log and nutrition information.  Good luck!



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