Many of us have heard of, or even live by, the expression “food is medicine.” But have you ever considered that exercise could also be thought of as a type of medicine? Well, experts in the exercise industry have begun to popularize this idea! The American College of Sports Medicine has started a global health initiative that advocates for physical activity assessment to be a standard in clinical care, where this assessment is performed by highly qualified personal trainers as well as exercise physiologists as a way to monitor and evaluate patients and improve their health.
Exercise & Mental Health
Exercising regularly can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. What’s even more interesting, and less obvious, are the impacts of exercise on mental health and cognitive function. After bouts of aerobic activity, cognitive function is improved. This could be the reason so many of us have a great day after a morning workout—our brain is quite literally functioning better! Even further, in both healthy people and those with clinically significant anxiety and depressive symptoms, we see a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms with regular exercise. I personally like to go outside for a run or lift some heavy weights if I’m feeling unhappy, and it often helps almost instantly. Lastly, those who exercise often even report a higher quality of life, and improved sleep! When you feel better and sleep better, you’re more likely to continue the healthy cycle of exercising and eating well, only further improving your physical health. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
As an avid gym-goer, all of the clinical, science-based impacts I just mentioned play out in a motivating and natural way. There’s nothing like stepping foot in the gym after a long day of work, and leaving the gym feeling like a new woman. For me, my daily workout keeps me sane. While I know my frequent gym-going is great for my physical health, those long-term preventive benefits pale in comparison to the day-to-day flood of endorphins that puts a pep in my step after a good workout—and that’s what keeps me coming back each day.
Exercise & Chronic Pain
Not only does exercise reduce the incidence of chronic disease, improve your mindset, and give you a more restful sleep pattern, but it can also reduce chronic pain. A recent overview of Cochrane Reviews addressed the relationship between exercise and chronic pain — investigating different interventions ranging from strength and flexibility, to aerobic exercise, to tai-chi. In several reviews it was noted that participants saw significant decreases in pain severity after different exercise interventions. In 14 of the studies reviewed, physical function was improved after implementing exercise interventions. It is important to note that among all of these studies, none of the exercise interventions caused harm to those who experienced chronic pain in the first place.
Now we all know that exercise is good for us, and that we should do it often. However, I think it’s undeniably clear that the vast benefits exercise can introduce into our lives qualify it as more than just a healthy hobby. As a member of the healthcare community, and a budding dietitian, I wholeheartedly support the movement to incorporate exercise as medicine. If a medicine single handedly had the ability to prevent several chronic diseases, cancer, and all-cause mortality, while simultaneously improving our mental health, sleep quality, and comfort levels, it would be mass-prescribed, and exercise should be no different. A personal trainer or exercise physiologist’s services can and will have an impact on so many lives. Imagine a world where a primary care visit might include considerations of both diet and exercise! Hopefully someday this won’t just be a figment of our imaginations, but a reality. In turn, the world might function a little more efficiently, we might feel more level-headed, and healthcare costs would likely decrease dramatically.
I hope this motivates you to break out the weights in your basement, take a walk in the fresh air, or to try something new in your exercise routine. Be well, and be active!