by Rochelle Bohannon
the science or practice of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease
The word medicine is most synonymous with “pill” or “drug.” Far too often, when we walk into a doctor’s office with an ailment, we walk out with a prescription that promises to cure us, and we have grown dependent on these superficially instant resutls.But what if exercise was prescribed just as often as the latest pill? What if the default treatment didn’t rely solely on medications, but on a wholehearted approach to the blood pumping benefits of moving the body?
A sedentary lifestyle doesn’t offer much in the way of health benefits. We, as humans, were made to MOVE. Of course we all need rest and relaxation, but we have evolved as a society to rest too much, and to rely on technology for entertainment and daily satisfactions, rather than using exercise and movement to capture the essence of what it really means to live a vibrant life. In fact, inactivity can leave us prone to deadly ailments, such as heart disease and obesity. It can also negatively impact many vital organs, causing more varying illnesses to appear throughout a lifetime.
It’s interesting to see that the actual definition of medicine doesn’t include any reference to pills or drugs. Instead, it encompasses a more holistic view of a disease or illness, following an ailment from diagnosis to treatment and most importantly, through an awareness of potentially being able to prevent it. Exercise is most often linked to our outer appearance, the notion of being “fit and fabulous,” and while that external association is certainly a viable benefit, to consider exercise as your strongest internal ally can encourage a life changing way of looking at your health.
The following health benefits of exercise offer precious insight into what it truly means to use body movement as your primary form of medication and further, the importance of utilizing it to prevent the need for additional interventions.
- Brain Benefits
Ever heard someone mention a runner’s high? Exercise releases endorphins, which are brain chemicals that induce positive feelings and an almost euphoric state. They can greatly improve your overall mood and brain health. Exercise also helps to increase levels of “soothing” brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. The release of these two types of brain chemicals greatly advocates for the treatment of depression via exercise, and many studies have shown exercise to be significantly effective in the treatment of clinical depression, with results that are very comparable to the frequently used anti-depressants.
- Heart Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes physical inactivity as the top heart disease risk factor, which over half of U.S. adults report. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, five times a week. With regular aerobic exercise, your heart will eventually be able to pump more blood and thus deliver more oxygen with greater efficiency and less strain. Exercise has also been proven to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation in the arteries, helping with weight loss, and helping to keep blood vessels flexible and open. Oftentimes, patients with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels will see great results in even small changes to diet and exercise regimens.
- Immune Response
Research is uncovering a link between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system. Early studies in this area have found that runners reported fewer colds once they began running regularly. Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response due to a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. It is believed that regular, consistent exercise can lead to substantial benefits in long-term immune system health.
- Bone Strength
Regular exercise has been shown to greatly improve overall bone density and strength, as well as maintaining adequate bone health throughout a lifetime. Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young people who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass than those who do not. For most people, maximum bone density and strength peak during the third decade of life and after this time, we can begin to lose bone mass.
- Less Pain
For many people with back and joint pain, lying in bed may sound most appealing. It used to be common practice for doctors to prescribe bed rest for back pain and other chronic pain conditions, but recent studies have found that people who exercise and stay flexible manage their pain much better than those who don’t. How is this possible? Exercise is said to improve your pain threshold, as well as joint and muscle circulation. Increased circulation can lead to better oxygenation and further, quicker healing time.
Your Strongest Medicine
Of course, medical interventions are not obsolete, and before beginning any exercise regimen, you should first consult with your doctor. Even small changes in body movement can yield motivating results. So from now on, think of exercise as your strongest medicine. Use it to strengthen and heal your body, and to maintain an overall sense of vitality and well-being. Ultimately, use it to feel your very best.
Rochelle Bohannon is an avid wellness warrior and a firm believer in a holistic approach to living a vibrant life. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her hiking with her husband, getting creative in the kitchen, flexing her Yogi toes, or most likely, goofing around with their furbaby, Millie.