Many of you are aware that I love to exercise. It makes me feel great, and I know that it helps to keep me healthy. Of course, everyone knows that regular exercise will help control weight, build endurance, make our muscles stronger and strengthen the heart. Most even know that it decreases the risks of stroke, hypertension, depression, broken bones, and falls. But let's look at a few more benefits that aren't yet as commonly discussed.Exercise can create new brain cells. It appears from animal studies that exercise increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the growth of new brain cells, new connections between cells, and new capillaries to distribute blood and nutrients to brain tissue. As a result, instead of seeing the typical decline in brain function associated with age, those who were active performed at about the same level as their younger counterparts. Aerobic exercise increases the supply of a protein known as brain-derived neurotophic factor, which protects brain neurons and promotes the growth of new nerve cells and synapses that are related to learning and memory. Exercise attacks diabetes in several ways. With advancing age and weight, the body becomes more resistant to the effects of insulin, the hormone that enables sugar to be used as energy. Aerobic as well as strength training increases the number of glucose transporters, the proteins that move glucose from the blood into cells, and boosts insulin sensitivity. Studies clearly show that regular exercise will also halt or reverse the accumulation of visceral fat. This type of fat accumulates with age, around the belly, and is also linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. Another interesting consequence of exercise is a potential decreased risk of cancer. First, by reducing weight, exercise indirectly reduces cancer risk. Studies have clearly shown that weight gain is associated with quite a few different cancers, including postmenopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, pancreatic cancer and adenocarcinoma of the lower esophagus. Exercise may have an even more direct affect on colon cancer. The most active people in a Washington University School of Medicine study were 21 percent less likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer than were their less active counterparts. The mechanism of this protection is unclear, but one theory is that exercise improves the movement of waste through the bowels. My recommendation is clear. With your doctor's permission, exercise for at least 30 minutes with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, at least three to five days per week. (45 minutes will show even more benefit!) Clearly, Americans are far too sedentary. At a minimum, let's all consider how we can increase the amount of any exercise that we are doing. I wish for you healthful, invigorating exercise! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: December 11, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 33