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Exercise as Medicine


In a 2010 CNN interview, U.S. Air force retired Lt. Gen. Norman Seip said more than one in four U.S. military recruits were unfit to meet the physical requirements to join. He stated, “It’s not drug abuse, it’s not asthma, it’s not flat feet—by far, the leading medical reason is being overweight or obese.” More reports followed in 2012 that suggested the same for police departments around the nation.

Not only do fitness levels threaten the safety and health of our nation, they threaten many Americans with early disability, morbidity, and early mortality. Studies show physical activity each day reduces many risks for onset of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and even dementia. In addition, what is now known is that it may not take running a marathon to get those benefits. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans says health benefits come in at just 150 minutes of physical activity in a week. That is two-and-a-half hours! Further, those who get 300 minutes (five hours) in a week gain added health benefits. The guidelines also state that there may not be a limit to the benefits of physical activity in that those who get even more seem to add benefits and reduce risks of premature onset of disease.

In a society where more than one in three is overweight or obese, heading toward a future of prolonged health problems and enormous costs, how can sport and fitness professionals help American’s move forward-literally? First, we should promote regular exercise each day; even if only for a few minutes. Remember- it is an accumulation of minutes during the week that does some good. We do not have to run a marathon to get health benefits from exercise. We should help people set goals and maybe even invest in a cheap pedometer, which is a simple to-use device that can be purchased at any store that sells sporting goods these days for less than $8. A pedometer measures the steps we take each day. Set a goal of 10,000, but encourage clients or patients to get as many as they can. For those getting no leisure exercise in a day, anything is better than nothing.

Other things we can encourage include the following:

  • Walking a few minutes each day, even if just up and down the drive way
  • Moving around during TV commercials
  • Taking the stairs rather than the elevator
  • Parking further from the supermarket
  • Getting a buddy to exercise with us

It is critical for those with health problems to ask their doctor if it is safe to exercise, but for most people, exercise at a moderate level will not increase their health risks; it will lower them. Take into account the words of one exercise professional: Exercise has a half-life of 24 hours. That is, you must get some activity in every day. That should be a rule we can all live by.

Dr. Will Evans is Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy and can be reached via email at mevans@ussa.edu.


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