LEXINGTON How many times have you heard that statement in some form or another? For some of you, you’ve heard it so many times that it doesn’t even resonate; it’s just a statement that floats by you with little recognition. That’s too bad, because it is an important and powerful statement—for everyone. It was important before COVID-19 and is even more important now, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Well before COVID-19 hit, we were a vastly under-exercised society. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that 80 percent of adults in the United States do not get the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle strengthening activity. This fact, combined with our poor nutritional habits, has led to our population rapidly developing more and more diseases of inactivity, including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
I believe that in some strange way, the COVID-19 pandemic may be a spark that helps many Americans see the value of improving and maintaining their physical and mental health. It is no secret that those who are at greatest risk from COVID-19 are those with underlying conditions—these would be the diseases mentioned above. The good news is that most of the previously-mentioned conditions are able to be reversed through proper diet and exercise.
One area that deserves some extra attention in our current climate is the fact that exercise has a positive effect on immune function. Thirty to sixty minute bouts of moderate physical activity stimulate the exchange of immune cells between lymphoid tissues and the circulation. This activity repeated on a near daily basis enhances pathogen surveillance activity and reduces acute respiratory illness morbidity and mortality. Wouldn’t you like to boost your immune system?
Besides helping reduce or reverse many chronic conditions and improving your immune health, exercise is associated with improved mental health. The American Psychological Association states that “exercise is an effective, cost-effective treatment for depression and may help in the treatment of other mental disorders.” The stress of the times we are in is unmatched for most of us. Engaging in regular physical activity is one way to feel in control of yourself and your actions.
Although I have given you some specific reasons to exercise, I don’t believe that anyone reading this article did not already know that exercising regularly is something you should be doing. So why do so few people do it?
As an exercise physiologist/personal trainer, I have been working with people on their fitness for over 30 years. I see the same reasons, over and over, as to why people do not engage in regular physical activity:
They don’t like it.
They don’t have time.
They are not exactly sure what they should be doing.
My job is to remove barriers between my clients and their healthy engagement in an exercise program. Here is how I tackle the three main excuses mentioned above.
I don’t like exercise. That doesn’t matter. Liking exercise has nothing to do with whether you should do it or not. Exercise is not a hobby, like gardening. Exercise is something that has to be done to maintain your physical being. It has to become a part of your value system, whether you like it or not. We all do many things in our life that we do not like, but we know we have to do them. Taxes for instance. Who likes that? Taking out the trash on a cold rainy day. Brushing our teeth at night when we are already exhausted. I could go on and on, but you get the point.Get over the fact that you were not a jock in high school. Exercising for health is not a sport. Even if you are the most un-athletic person in the world, you can and should exercise on a regular basis. If you can’t get yourself to do it, hire a trainer or get a friend to exercise with you.
I don’t have time. Really? I don’t buy that from anyone. We all make time for the things we think are important. If exercise makes it into your value system, you will find time. Committing to a consistent time and sticking to that schedule is the best way to succeed. Clients that workout at the same time each week have the most consistency and the best results. Those that wait and see if their schedule allows for some workout times are the least successful and miss the most sessions. Create a schedule and stick to it.
I’m not sure what I should be doing. First, get some help from a professional. Don’t watch an infomercial and think that whatever program they are selling is what you should be doing. Most people don’t realize that it is very moderate exercise, like walking and light weight training, that yields the most health benefits. A study by Dr. Steven Blair, out of the Cooper Institute (around the year 2000) showed that moderately fit people reduced their risk of early mortality at the same rate as those who exercised vigorously. It was only the “unfit” individuals that were shown to have a greatly increased risk of early mortality.
As an exercise physiologist, I do believe that exercise is science, but it’s not rocket science. It is much less complicated than people make it out to be. It benefits us all, healthy and sick, young and old, athletic and un-athletic. Exercise is recommended for almost every chronic health condition; there is hardly a condition that does not see some benefit from exercise. Mental benefits for many patients of chronic disease are a real game changer. Exercise gives you control over your body and your mind. It is powerful medicine that everyone should be getting on a regular basis. Just do it.
Walsh NP, Glee6son M, Pyne DB, et al. Position statement part two maintaining immune health. Exerc. Immunol. Rev 2011; 17:64-104
Nieman DC, Coronavirus Disease-2019; a tocsin to our ageing, unfit, corpulent, and immunodeficient society. J. Sport Health Sci. 2020; S2095-2546:30060.