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The role of physical exercise

It has been said that "if physical exercise could be prescribed in pill form, it would be the most prescribed drug". Indeed, it is one of the most important aspects of health; and it has a clear effect on the prevention of certain diseases. 

Pilar Riobó-January 9, 2017-Reading time: 3 minutes

We use the term "physical exercise" to include both sports and leisure-time physical activity, as well as other forms of exercise performed in the context of daily, family and community activities. Recommending physical exercise does not imply that we are all expected to become elite athletes. 

Life in Western cities is not usually conducive to exercise: we use the car to go to work (and even use a button instead of a crank to roll down the window), we take the elevator to the upper floors, we sit for several hours in front of the television, we work at the office on the computer, and we carry out other occupations while sitting down.

Lack of activity is directly related to the appearance of certain diseases. In the first place, it favors obesity, whereas, on the contrary, exercise helps to lose weight. But if the effort to lose weight were based solely on exercise, its effectiveness would be very small. It helps to lose fat and hypertrophies muscle tissue; we could say that it exchanges fat tissue for lean tissue and, as the volume of the latter is smaller, it causes the obese to lose volume; those who observe a long-term diet manage to maintain their lost weight if they change their behavioral habits and become accustomed to exercise. Likewise, in the presence of obesity, physical exercise reduces the possibility of diabetes or improves insulin sensitivity; and it is beneficial for obese people with high cholesterol.

Physical exercise produces an increase in HDL cholesterol or "good" cholesterol. It has been shown that people who do some physical exercise have a lower incidence of diabetes; they maintain better bone health and prevent osteoporosis; they improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness. In addition, activity has positive psychological effects: it produces a sense of well-being, improves self-esteem and mood, helps to relax, controls anxiety and prevents depression.

Some behavioral habits that favor physical activity can be advised, taking into account the current circumstances of life.

Some behavioral habits that favor physical activity can be advised, taking into account the current circumstances of life. Let us first say that, whatever form of activity is chosen, it is advisable to start with the easiest and gradually increase it. Especially in obese people, excess weight itself is an obstacle which, together with the low level of training and possible associated osteo-articular problems, leads patients to abandon exercise, so that consistency and regularity are particularly important for them.

One idea is to make your commute on foot, avoiding the car whenever possible; you can walk the entire route or leave your car parked far from your destination. If your work is only a few minutes away from your home, or if you live in a small town, you can schedule a one-hour walk every day. It can be very useful to download a mobile application (some are free) that counts the steps and kilometers walked per day; many will be surprised at how little they move.

Walking down (and up) the stairs is helpful. It also helps to do household chores, family games, gardening, and even dancing. It is currently recommended to break the sedentary lifestyle during the working day every 30 minutes, with one minute of joint mobilization, and avoid accumulating many hours sitting.

Any moderate sport is good, with care not to get injured and caution not to want to achieve everything from the beginning; some uncomplicated ones are swimming, cycling or hiking. Many of these activities are, on the other hand, an opportunity for social interaction. Doing them with friends, enjoying them, favors continuity over time.

If we decide to join a gym, but we must be cautious and take advice about the exercises and equipment that suit us, some people also choose to have a gym equipment at home, such as an exercise bike. 

An elderly person, or one who has not had the possibility to take care of himself and be in shape, should not worry. There is always some possibility, and the most suitable is a good walk, about 1 hour a day, which can be done in 2 smaller walks of about 30 minutes.

The authorPilar Riobó

Medical specialist in Endocrinology and Nutrition.

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