Worth every drop of sweat

By JILL BARKER, The Gazette
Tuesday July 08, 2008

Moderate exercise is the true 'wonder drug,' with side effects ranging from improved memory to stronger bones

There's more to exercise than trying to achieve that ever-elusive six-pack. In fact, some of exercise's biggest benefits can't be shown off on the cover of a magazine. So for all of you frustrated with trying to create a set of Matthew McConaughey-like abs, console yourself with the following facts that prove exercise is worthy of every drop of hard-earned sweat that gathers on your brow.

It makes your ticker tick better
Fit hearts pump more blood with less effort. They also benefit from a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Men who exercise regularly are 50-per-cent less likely to get cardiovascular disease. As for women, non-exercisers double their risk of heart-related death when compared with those who work out on a regular basis.

It's good for your sight
A 15-year study of 4,000 Americans between the ages of 43 and 86 determined that exercisers are 70-per-cent less likely to be afflicted with age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss among the 65-and-older crowd). By doing something as easy as walking around your neighbourhood three or more times a week, you'll increase your chances of reading a story to your grandchildren as you tuck them into bed.

It helps kids do better in school
Want to improve your kids' grades? Encourage them to run around. A 12-week study of third and fourth graders, as reported in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that children were more attentive and stayed on task better after being physically active.

It shrinks fat cells
Researchers compared the ability of dieting alone to diet and exercise, in its potential to shrink abdominal fat cells. Subjects maintained a caloric deficit of 2,800 calories a week through eating less and exercising more or by dieting alone. Everyone lost fat mass and reduced their waistline and hips, but only the diet-and-exercise group realized an 18-per-cent decrease in fat cell size.

It helps kick the habit
According to a review of several studies, as published in Addiction Journal, walking and weight lifting helped reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking. Researchers reported withdrawal symptoms decreased for up to 50 minutes after a bout of moderate intensity exercise.

It beats the blues
Don't dig into a pint of ice cream when you're feeling down. Go to the gym instead. Study after study demonstrates that mood improves after exercise. So convinced is the medical community of exercise's mental health benefits, they now routinely recommend physical activity as treatment for depression and anxiety.

It reduces the risk of cancer
Men who participated in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day most days of the week benefited from a 30- to 40-per-cent decrease in the risk of developing colon cancer.
Women need only five or more hours of exercise per week to realize a decreased risk of developing invasive breast cancer, says a University of Southern California study. And for women who already have breast cancer, a Harvard study states that moderate exercise performed three to five times a week will result in a 50-per-cent reduced likelihood of dying from the disease compared with sedentary breast cancer patients.

Moderate exercise is the true 'wonder drug,' with side effects ranging from improved memory to stronger bones

It strengthens your bones
Bone, like muscle, gets stronger with exercise. Young men and women who exercise regularly build strong bones, which reduces the impact of age-related bone loss. Older exercisers also benefit by losing less bone mass than those who don't exercise. Weight-bearing workouts like walking, running, hiking, dancing and weight training three to five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes offer the best results.

It gives you more get up and go (in bed)
According to results of a study published in the 2003 Annals of Internal Medicine, exercise equivalent to running at least three hours a week or playing singles tennis five hours a week resulted in a 30-per-cent reduction in risk for erectile dysfunction when compared with men who didn't exercise.

It improves memory
Regular exercise enhances the brain's ability to bolster itself against age-related memory loss, suggests news from the 2007 proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Aerobic exercise has the potential to actually regenerate parts of the brain that can deteriorate as we age.

It gets rid of your sore back
Bed rest used to be prescribed for anyone with back pain. Nowdays, physicians recommend light to moderate exercise as a way to improve back health. The most recent research suggests that the best results are realized when exercises are specific to the type of back pain or immobility that you have, vs. following a generic set of back exercises.

It boosts your immune system
Moderate-intensity exercise boosts your immune system, making you less susceptible to colds, the flu and other upper respiratory tract infections. Be careful however: Too much exercise has the opposite effect. Chronic exercisers get the sniffles more often, so keep your exercise in check for best results.

It improves sleep
Fewer fit individuals complain of sleep problems. Studies suggest that it takes at least 60 minutes of exercise a day to improve sleep, which may be why regular exercisers are more likely to be better sleepers than those who don't work out.

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© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008