Inactivity: The Real Silent Killer

I’m sure you have all heard of high blood pressure referred to as the silent killer.  Well, there is another one lurking out there–slowly victimizing an incredible 78% of the American population.
This silent killer is inactivity.  Are you surprised?  
It may be hard to believe that an estimated 250,000 people die in our country every year because of inactivity, but the evidence is continually becoming more convincing.  Inactivity is second only to smoking, which causes 400,000 preventable deaths in the United States annually–more than auto accidents, breast cancer, colon cancer and alcohol combined.
We must change the way we think about exercise and what we do about it.  Regular exercise is just as important as not smoking or treating high blood pressure.

Mind- and Body-Boggling Facts

Over the years, I have reviewed numerous articles related to exercise and health.  As an avid exercise enthusiast, even I was amazed at the proven benefits of regular exercise.
One benefit is almost immediate: a noticeable increase in overall energy.  I see this every day in my practice.  People who don’t exercise almost invariably say that their energy is not what they would like.  If they start an exercise program, their energy not only improves dramatically, but they volunteer that they just feel better overall.
Exercise significantly improves self-esteem and helps prevent depression.  When you come home from work and feel “stressed out,” try walking vigorously for 30 minutes.  It is amazing how much better you will feel.
You’ll also think and work better.  When people claim they don’t have time to exercise, I suggest they will get more done more quickly.  Exercise improves concentration, creative thinking, and sleep.  An electroencephalogram (brain wave test) records deeper and more beneficial sleep after exercise.  This may partially explain why the energy level improves so dramatically.

Pump Up That Immune System

Exercise also improves the function of the immune system which can reap rewards from getting fewer colds to preventing cancer.  Studies demonstrate that exercise reduces the incidence of a long list of diseases including specific cancers, heart attack, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis.  For example:

  • The risk of developing colon cancer is decreased by half in people who exercise regularly.
  • Estrogen-dependent cancers (breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers) and prostate cancer are decreased with regular exercise.
  • The risk of dying from cancer declines sharply as exercise increases.
  • Heart attacks are reduced by over 50% in the most active individuals who exercise regularly.
  •  Regular weight-bearing exercise can reduce the incidence of osteoporosis, a reduction of bone strength (and susceptibility to fractures) responsible for thousands of deaths yearly in the U.S.

The Active Age?  Yours!

The common comment “You’re too old to be doing that” is really just plain bad advice.  On the contrary, elderly people should try to stay active both mentally and physically. More appropriate advice is “Use it or lose it.” Seniors who exercise regularly are much more likely to maintain their independence as they age. Balancing exercises and muscle strengthening exercises become even most important as we age.
In a recent study, an exercise program improved memory and mental function in the elderly after just six weeks.  In addition to the immune benefits above, seniors’ regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
Whatever your age, I hope I have convinced you to think of exercise as integral to your health.  Besides, it simply feels good.  Get energized–and don’t fall victim to the real silent killer.

Some Exercise Recommendations

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently convened experts on preventive medicine to establish new exercise guidelines based on current research.  Previously, the recommendation was 20 to 60 minutes of exercise at least three days a week.
How much exercise?  In a rather dramatic move, the CDC recommends that an adult accumulate 30-90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.  A brisk walk at three to four mph is an example.
How to get started.  Whatever exercise you choose, you can begin slowly and work up to 30 or more minutes, preferably daily.  Don’t worry about how long it takes.
Walking is probably one of the easiest ways to begin. It also helps to have a friend to exercise with. You should attempt to maintain a heart rate of about 70% of your “maximal predicted heart rate” calculated by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying by 0.7.  For example, if you are 40, then (220-40) x 0.7 = 126 beats per minute.
Risk: Be Sensible and Sensitive.  Most adults do not need to see their physician before starting an exercise program. However, men over 40, and women over 50, with one or more risk factors for heart disease, should consult their physician.  Also, always listen to your body and report any exercise related chest, throat, jaw or arm discomfort. Report any dizziness or unusual sensations to your physician.
The information provided above is offered as a community service about health-care issues and is not a substitute for individual consultation. Advice on individual problems should be obtained from your personal physician. This information is based on research by the author and represents his interpretation of the literature.

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