News alert! Magic potion slashes risk of death by 30%!!!!

You are right to be suspicious that such a potion exists. If there was a pill or potion that could produce this magic, you would certainly be the first to know! The amazing thing is: THERE IS a way we can slash our risk of death by 30%, something that is free that we all have access to at this moment. This “something” is exercise.

You may say, I’m not so worried about dying…I’m more concerned with being happy right now.  Physical activity is consistently associated with greater happiness and lower rates of depression and anxiety, improving daily quality of life. 

Why is it that physical activity is so beneficial for us? From an evolutionary biology perspective, this likely is the result of our ancestors living in environments that demanded a high level of movement and labor. Imagine what life was like 800 or even 80,000 years ago without washing machines, cars, or grocery stores! To accomplish the activities of daily living required an immense amount of work. People who thrived, both from a mental health as well as physical ability perspective, would gain an advantage in survival. Our physical bodies and brains have essentially no difference as compared to the bodies and brains of our ancestors from the past 80,000 years!

What kind of exercise is best?

To gain the benefits of physical activity, it is not necessary to set your sights on the Olympic trials. In fact, most of the benefit of exercise comes from doing moderate levels of movement. I generally recommend a balance of aerobic and resistance exercise, with a focus on balance training sprinkled on top. The WHO recommends that we engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity and 2 days of resistance training (muscle building) per week. Aerobic exercise, resistance training, and working on improved balance each have unique benefits in helping us thrive–both as we age and in the present moment. 

Aerobic training

Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio”, is any type of physical activity that increases the heart rate and breathing for a sustained period of time. This can be achieved with running, biking, swimming, rowing, and many other activities. A good goal to achieve “moderate” level exercise is to aim for 70% of your maximum heart rate. See this calculator to calculate what 70% of your max heart rate is.  If you would prefer to not be measuring your heart rate, a simple method to estimate if you are getting enough aerobic exercise is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you breaking a sweat?
  • Are you mildly short of breath?
  • Would it be difficult to have a conversation?

As noted above, the WHO recommends aiming for 150 minutes at this level each week. It is your choice how to spread it out. My personal preference is 2 days of longer (40 minute) sessions with shorter sessions the other days of the week, but you get to choose what is best for you! 

Benefits of aerobic activity are numerous and include the following:

  1. Improved cardiovascular health: Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  2. Increased lung function: Aerobic exercise can improve the function of the lungs, making it easier to breathe and increasing the amount of oxygen that the body can use.
  3. Improved mood and mental health: Regular aerobic exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improve overall mood and mental well-being.
  4. Increased endurance and stamina: Aerobic exercise can improve endurance and stamina, making it easier to perform daily activities and handle physical challenges.
  5. Improved sleep: Aerobic exercise can help to improve the quality of sleep, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Resistance training

Resistance training is defined as pushing and pulling against a force. More simply—lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects. Resistance training is key to keeping our muscles and bones strong as we age. Humans achieve their peak muscle mass in their mid 20’s. After age 30 we start losing around 1-2% of muscle mass per year. This accelerates with time. Compounded year after year, by age 70, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass relative to their 30 year old younger self! It is a similar story for bone density. By maintaining a resistance training routine, we dramatically decrease this loss of muscle mass and bone density.

Why does this matter? Benefits to increased muscle mass after age 50 include the following:

  1. Improving bone density: Resistance training and weight-bearing exercises can help to strengthen bones and improve bone density.
  2. Increasing metabolism: Muscle mass plays a key role in metabolism. As we lose muscle mass with age, our metabolism slows down. This can lead to weight gain and blood sugar dysregulation—which can contribute to the formation of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Maintaining muscle mass can help to boost metabolism and keep weight under control.
  3. Reducing the risk of falls: Falls are a leading cause of death in people over age 70! Resistance training can help to improve muscle strength and balance, which can reduce the risk of falls as we age.
  4. Improving mental health: Regular exercise, including resistance training, has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  5. Improving overall health: Maintaining muscle mass as we age can help to improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Please remember to start low and go slow when attempting a new resistance training routine. It can be wise to work with a personal trainer when first getting started. I can personally vouch for Inspire Personal fitness, who have helped me out quite a bit in the past. Inspire has generously offered all of our active members a 10% discount off of personal training!

Balance and coordination

As mentioned above, falls are a leading cause of death as we age. One grim statistic is that if older than 65, the chance of death within 2 years of breaking a hip is as high as 40-50%. Put another way, as many as half of people in this age range will not be alive two years after falling and breaking their hip!

Although general resistance and aerobic exercise as described above will go a long way to reducing the chance of falling, we can take intentional, proactive measures to directly improve balance. Some of my favorite methods are Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. We are very lucky to have a wide variety of excellent options for each of these in the Asheville area. Two options that I have personally had a good experience with include:

Getting Started

When first implementing an exercise routine, please remember to start gently and build endurance slowly. There is no need to over reach or push yourself unnecessarily. If you are finding yourself hitting roadblocks to getting started, our health coach Ariana Figueroa is expert at helping patients overcome their personal barriers. 

Good luck on your exercise journey!

This blog post was written by Dr. Chad Krisel, co-founder of Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville. You can learn more about Dr. Krisel in his bio. 



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