Physical Activity to Help Prevent Diseases and Dementia

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    Three recent studies show that being active and moving about helps to prolong life and to prevent disease, hospitalization, and dementia.

    • A study of 81,717 men and women, 42-78 years of age, measured their physical activity by having them wear an accelerometer for a week at a time over an average of 6.8 years. Those who increased their moderate to vigorous physical activity by 20 minutes per day were at reduced incidence of hospitalization for nine of the 25 most common reasons for hospitalization: gallbladder disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections, venous thromboembolism, pneumonia, ischemic stroke, iron deficiency anemia, diverticular disease, and colon polyps (JAMA Netw Open, Feb 16, 2023;6(2):e2256186).
    • Physical activity guidelines for North Americans recommend a minimum of 150-300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, such as walking, weightlifting and lower-intensity exercise; 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, such running, bicycling or swimming; or an equivalent combination of both. The Nurses’ Health Study and The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (116,221 men and women followed for 30 years) found that men and women who exercise more than these recommended amounts live longer (Circulation, July 25, 2022;146(7):523-534). Those who exercised for the recommended 150–299 minutes per week or more gained a 19-25 percent lower risk of death from all causes. Those who doubled these guidelines for moderate exercise were 2-4 percent less likely to die during the study period, and those who quadrupled the time spent exercising were up to 13 percent less likely to die.
    • Being physically active in adulthood, even as seldom as once a month, is associated with higher memory and brain function, and the more active you are as an adult, the less likely you are to lose memory (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, Feb 21, 2023;1-8). The 1946 British Birth Cohort study checked 1,417 people (who were born the same week in 1946) five times at ages 36, 43, 53, 60 and 69. Subjects were classified as inactive (No participation in physical activity), moderately active (participating 1-4 times/month), or most active (participating five or more times/month). In the study group, 11 percent of participants were physically inactive at all five time check points, 17 percent were active at one checkpoint, 20 percent were active at two, 20 percent were active at three, 17 percent were active at four, and 15 percent were active at all five checkpoints. Those with one or more activities per month during one or more time periods had higher cognitive scores than those who were inactive. Those who were physically active in more time periods had even higher learning and memory scores, and those who were active in all five testing periods had the highest scores of all.

    My Recommendations
    I believe that everyone should start an exercise program at a young age and continue it as long as you are able. As these three new studies show, a key to prolonging your life and helping to prevent disease is to keep on moving.
    • Exercise will help to prolong your life, but you do not have to have a specific exercise program. You just need to keep on moving for a large part of each day. It is harmful just to sit or lie down all day long. It is healthful to mow your lawn, wash your dishes, make your bed, vacuum your house, go for a walk, and participate with your friends in activities in which you are moving your arms and legs — dancing, cycling, swimming, running, nature walks and so forth.
    • To gain maximum health benefits from exercising and moving your skeletal muscles, you should include some sort of resistance exercise. If you are not already doing some type of strength-training exercise, first check with your doctor to make sure you do not have any condition that may be harmed by exercise. See Your Muscles Make Your Heart Stronger
    Resistance Exercise You Can Do at Home

    Caution: Exercise could cause a heart attack in a person who has blocked arteries or heart damage. Check with your doctor.