Physicians are increasingly sending their patients to the gym, rather than writing out a prescription.
Exercise is best prescription for good health and a long life
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes. But it appears that if we try to be more scientific about it, exercise is what can help keep your health in tip-top condition. As more research is conducted into the link between exercise and the prevention of various diseases, doctors are increasingly recognising the importance of prescribing physical activity to their patients as a way of both treating and averting illness.
“I recommend exercise to my patients all the time,” says Jennifer Kasirsky, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at Welcare Hospital in Dubai. “It is extremely important and can make a world of difference to your mental and physical health.”
More and more studies are revealing the benefits of frequent exercise on your health. For example, it was found that active individuals in their 80s have a lower risk of death than inactive individuals in their 60s. Regular physical activity can also reduce mortality and the risk of recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50 per cent, lower the risk of stroke by 27 per cent and reduce the incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure by 40 per cent.
Exercise is Medicine, a multi-organisational initiative coordinated by the American College of Sports Medicine, is focused on promoting the importance of prescribing exercise when designing treatment plans for patients. Its vision is to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of disease prevention and treatment. It states that research has proven that exercise improves the quality of life and reduces the incidence of disease, chronic health conditions and obesity.
A recent report found that one in three women received an exercise prescription to treat or prevent conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer. But what is it that makes exercise a potential cure for these ailments? According to Safeek Ali, a dietician at the Welcare Hospital in Dubai, regular exercise – especially aerobic exercise – can strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system, improve your circulation, increase your energy levels so that you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath, lower blood pressure, help reduce body fat, stress and depression and improve sleep.
Ali explains how exercise lowers the risk of heart disease. “Health research scientists say when a person exercises, the heart muscle contracts forcefully and frequently, increasing blood flow through the arteries. This leads to subtle changes in the autonomic nervous system, which controls the contraction and relaxation of these vessels. This fine-tuning leads to a lower resting heart rate [fewer beats to pump blood through the body] and lower blood pressure – all factors that lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” explains Ali.
Ali also says that several studies show that regular exercise and a healthy diet lowers the risk of certain cancers. “Researchers say exercise may ward off cancer and other diseases because it appears to beef up the body’s immune system. Exercise may also help reduce levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone in the blood, potentially also lowering the risk of developing breast and uterine cancers linked to high levels of those hormones,” says Ali.
Other research suggests that mild depression and anxiety can be treated with a combination of exercise and Omega-3 supplements. Kasirsky says that while the link between anxiety, depression and exercise isn’t entirely clear, working out can definitely help you to relax and feel better.
“Exercise is believed to help ease depression by releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins that make you feel good, reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen the condition, and by increasing the body’s temperature, which may have calming effects,” says Kasirsky.
“Exercise can also help you gain confidence through meeting goals and challenges. Getting into shape can make you feel better about your appearance, take your mind off worries and give you the opportunity for more social interaction,” she says.
If you’re lucky enough to have good health and are looking to maintain it, the experts advise that you should definitely exercise regularly. Hanan Wehbi, a Dubai-based personal trainer and nutritionist, says that while exercising every day is harmless, it is inconvenient for a lot of people.
“Three to four times a week is perfect,” says Wehbi. “The type of exercise, however, varies with age and health condition. If a person is young and healthy then high intensity interval training is recommended regularly. However, if a person is suffering from an illness or is of an old age, the exercise should be under the supervision of a certified trainer who knows the condition of the person very well to avoid any injuries and prevent the illness from causing diverse effects,” says Wehbi.
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