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The “Wonder Drug” called Exercise

Exercise crucial to a well-functioning body

by DesiRae Dinius, PA-C

As parents, we are constantly worrying about our children’s health, as well as our own. This can seem never ending at times, and frequently there is conflicting advice on how to stay healthy. Medical researchers are spending millions of dollars and countless hours on researching new medications and treatments for medical conditions such as obesity, depression, anxiety, diabetes, hypertension and even cancer. Ironically enough, as we wait for new treatments there is an extremely underused, inexpensive treatment with minimal side effects that is readily available to all of us.

I am talking about exercise.

Exercise is crucial to a well-functioning, healthy body. Exercise differs from an active lifestyle. While walking, standing or lifting heavy things at work can be good for you as well, it should not be considered substitute for exercise. The intensity of your exercise will vary based on your individual health and conditioning.

Mild intensity exercise: At this intensity most people can carry on a conversation without difficulty. Examples of mild exercise would be walking or using a cross-trainer/elliptical machine or bike at a leisurely pace, beginner yoga or stretching. While mild intensity exercise is not as beneficial in weight loss, it will still have some improvement on cardiovascular and mental health. This benefit may increase if performed outdoors.

Moderate intensity exercise: At moderate intensity most people can carry on a conversation but would be unable to sing more than a few words without difficulty. Examples would be jogging, higher intensity yoga, weight lifting, cycling or swimming. This is what the average person thinks of when they think of a “workout”.

High intensity workout: At this level speaking more than a few words would be a struggle. Exercising at a high intensity could include circuit training, running, vigorous weight training; basically, physical activity with more exertional effort.

Regular cardiovascular and weight training exercise at moderate-high intensity (based on your individual physical capability), 30 minutes a day, five days a week will improve your overall health. The benefits of exercise are numerous; below is a short list of possible benefits:

  • Improved heart health
  • Improved lung function, even in people who have asthma
  • Increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol) and decrease in LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides
  • Weight loss and obesity treatment
  • Decreased joint pain and stiffness in arthritis
  • Reduction in chronic pain and decrease in frequency of flares in fibromyalgia
  • Decrease in chronic back pain, particularly with stretching and core strengthening
  • Increased bone density & prevention of osteoporosis
  • Boosting of the body’s natural immune system, decreased frequency of cold/flu
  • Improves quality of life in cancer patients and decreases chances of dying from colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.
  • Better mental cognition
  • Decreased risk of dementia
  • Increased energy
  • Improved sleep quality and decreased insomnia
  • Increased chance in success in those recovering from drug/alcohol addiction
  • Mood improvement: Recent studies now show that regular exercise can be more effective in treating depression and anxiety than any drug currently on the market.

Many of us can come up with a million excuses as to why we cannot exercise on a regular basis, lack of time being the most common. Typically, this is more of a lack of time management. Almost every single person can find the time. Do you watch television? Use your phone for games or social media? Step back and analyze your daily routine and schedule a regular appointment on your calendar to exercise. Age and fitness level are also commonly used excuses. Exercise regimens should be based on your own capabilities and fitness level. Exercise does not have to be expensive. You do not need new attire or a gym membership. It can be as simple as a walk outdoors or around your local mall. Excuses are numerous, but ultimately each one of us needs to take responsibility and make our own mental and physical health a priority.

In full disclosure, exercise will not cure all disease. However; it will cure some, treat many, and improve your overall health so your body can properly heal itself. If you have not been exercising on a regular basis, start slowly and build your way up. I recommend consulting with your medical provider for any guidance or limitations you may have in starting a regular exercise regimen if you have chronic medical conditions or specific concerns.

Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. (Dr Tom Frieden, CDC director)

Written by DesiRae Dinius, PA-C


National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
University of North Dakota – Grand Forks, ND
Masters of Physician Assistant Studies

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