By Dr. Ron Eaker

I have long maintained that exercise is the fountain of youth (well, either exercise or Merlot). But, for purposes of this article, I’m going to stick to exercise.  While I acknowledge the constant harangue about the benefits of exercise is annoying, it doesn’t detract from the absolute truth that being engaged physically and mentally can slow aging. I make no apologies for being an exercise evangelist, especially when you consider its ability to lower your risks of everything from cancer to senile dementia.

While most people born after the 1800s understand exercise is beneficial, there are some surprising tidbits you may not already know.  So, today I share with you five little known facts about exercise that you can read while running on a treadmill or eating a handful of cheesy puffs… your choice.

First, exercise is not particularly useful in losing weight.  I didn’t say completely useless— just not essential.  The bottom line is that you can’t outrun a bad diet.  When it comes to weight loss, eating is king and exercise is more like a fit pawn.  However, the tables turn when it comes to keeping weight off.  In maintaining weight loss, being active is about as essential as sunscreen on Mercury.  You can even cheat with the Little Debbie cakes occasionally in the maintenance phase as long as you continue sweating with the pros. So make exercise a habit while losing weight to not forget how to maintain the loss after you arrive at your set goal.

Secondly, exercise in smaller “sprint” sessions can be incredibly beneficial.  The old school thought held that thirty minutes of continuous heart rate elevation was needed to get your sweat on.  Not true!  It seems that as few as seven minutes of intense movement can get you fitter and firmer.  Studies now show that breaking up a regimen into three ten minute segments can still get you benefits compared to one thirty-minute fatigue fest.  The one caveat is that it has to be pretty strenuous, not just playing darts or jumping to conclusions.  Some may know this by its anagram HIIT, High-Intensity Interval Training (or Help I’m Irreversibly Tired!).

Thirdly, if you think you are too old to exercise, think again.  A recent study looked at nonagenarians (90 year-olds) and found that even older folks built muscle and lost body fat when engaged in exercise training.  However, regardless of age, it is always advisable to get your doctor’s permission when starting a new exercise program.

Fourthly, distance running will not make your knees turn into crumbled Saltines. Science now is conclusive that regular activity doesn’t contribute to arthritis, but actually may prevent and/or improve it!  Sure there is the natural wear, tear and overuse, but as long as you’re not doing a marathon every weekend, you’re probably okay. 

Lastly, I bet you hadn’t heard of my little friend called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  Don’t feel bad, neither had I until a few months ago when I read a book on my favorite bedtime topic, neuroplasticity.  It seems that when you exercise you squeeze out a plethora of BDNF which in turn makes all your little neurons love each other and want to connect, sort of like Bumble for brain cells.  It turns out that the more of these connections, the less likely you will forget where you put your false teeth.  Both memory and concentration are improved by exercise and that becomes increasingly important to us old geezers. There’s even evidence that regular activity may reduce the incidence of senile dementia.  Now there’s reason alone to get on your bike!

So, in the spirit of revivalist George Whitfield, I say: “Verily, exercise thou bottom off and thou wilt have not only a smaller bottom, but ye wilt also remember thou’s address and what year ‘tis!”

This article appears in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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