Can Exercise Prevent Disease?

Can Exercise Prevent Disease?

Can Exercise Prevent Disease?

We’ve all heard the anecdote about great uncle Bob, who smoked every day and drank whiskey for breakfast – yet lived to the grand old age of 94.  This is sometimes contrasted with someone at the other end of the scale who, at the peak of their physical fitness, developed some debilitating condition, or maybe even died unexpectedly.  The unfortunate thing is, I’ve heard this being used as an excuse not to exercise…

It is a sad truth that many illnesses and diseases attack the body regardless of how fit and healthy we are.  But comparing great uncle Bob to our poor young athlete is not only unfair; it’s downright silly.  Imagine someone suggesting to you that because they know two people – one who once swum the channel successfully, and the other who drowned whilst crossing the channel on a ferry – that swimming the channel must therefore be the safer option.  It doesn’t exactly look at the bigger picture does it?

Every individual is different – so comparing one to another just doesn’t prove anything.  The question we really need to be asking is this:  How much happier would great uncle Bob have been had he eaten well, slept well and exercised regularly?  To dig a little deeper we need to explore the two concepts of disease and exercise –  and how they work – in a bit more detail…

Disease, according to the Mirriam-Webster definition, is defined as: “a condition of the body or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning…” etc.  In other words disease prevents the body from working in the way that it should to optimally carry out our daily tasks.  It is helpful to think of disease as one or more of the body’s “systems” not working properly.  For example, heart disease and high blood pressure indicate a faulty cardiovascular system.  Osteoarthritis and muscular dystrophy are both to do with reduced function in the musculoskeletal system.  Bronchitis and asthma suggest weaknesses in the respiratory system.  Disease, in essence, is when something isn’t working properly.

Many diseases are the direct result of not looking after ourselves.  Some, however, simply happen because of things like age, genetics, environment, and other factors outside of our control.  The key thing to remember, though, is that in the vast majority of cases it is a combination of both of these things.  We might be unlucky, but that isn’t to say that it’s all necessarily down to bad luck…

 

So what of exercise?  The good old trustworthy Oxford English Dictionary defines exercise as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness”.   So exercise is a physical challenge, that helps your body become (and remain) fit and strong.  But how?  Here comes the science…

Exercise is a stressor.  And I don’t mean that it stresses us out and we’d rather be at the pub.  What I mean is when we exercise we put ‘stress’ on, or challenge, the various systems of the body.  You could be swimming, dancing, doing weights, yoga, or spelunking (for the Batman fans among you), but you’ll typically use – in varying degrees – a combination of nearly all the systems.  A wise person once told me that our bodies are ‘master adaptors’. I love this phrase, because it makes the human body sound amazing, but it basically means that we respond and adapt to stress in order to cope with our environment.  It is therefore in response to this physical challenge that the body rebuilds all of these systems that were ‘stressed’ during the period of physical exertion, and ultimately makes them stronger.  Of course for all this to work we have to take into consideration the frequency, duration, intensity and type of our workouts, and also looking at our lifestyles in more detail.  It can be a minefield, and this is why our clients appreciate the professional supervision of our Personal Trainers!

 

So how do we bring it all together?

Well, we know that disease is essentially a condition where one or more of the human body’s “systems” has malfunctioned.  In contrast to that (and assuming we are good boys and girls between workouts) exercise challenges the systems that are vulnerable to malfunction, and makes them stronger.  Which means that if we exercise regularly (preferably under the supervision of a qualified Personal Trainer), our chances of developing conditions will be much lower.  Simples.  But not only does exercise reduce the risk of disease, but if on the off chance it does rear its ugly head, exercise can make us stronger at dealing with it too.  The systems of the body are like a good team, all communicating and working together inter-dependently – so if one thing fails it pays for the surrounding members to be as supportive as possible.  For example, in developed osteoporosis your bones become weaker and more brittle, so having a strong musculature helps support this weakness in a practical way.    Exercise ensures that when one member of the team starts to flag, the rest of them are strong enough to carry on.  And let’s face it, no-one wants a team full of lazy, pot-bellied blokes with a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other…

So how much happier would great uncle Bob have been had he eaten well, slept well and exercised regularly?  Well, I didn’t set out trying to answer this question, rather just to ask it… So let’s ask it of ourselves, and see what happens!

Author: Hyde Phillips

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