Many people think that the main health benefit of exercise is weight loss. Sure, exercise will help you to lose weight. However, the surprising truth is that weight loss is NOT the main reason why you should exercise. The main health benefit of exercise is that exercise will dramatically improve your health throughout your life, and protect you from most of the dread diseases. In fact, exercise has so many health benefits that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) has declared that exercise is a “miracle cure.”
Why Are So Many of Us Sick and/or Fat?
People are constantly speculating about the causes of the rise of obesity and related illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. But many of us suspect that THIS is one of the causes:
Sure, the ease of accessing unhealthy food laced with sugar must have contributed, but I still think the car is cause #1. Consider this: In 1949, 34% of miles traveled using a mechanical mode were by bicycle; today only 1 to 2% are (AMRC). In the century since mass production of cars began, the amount of walking and cycling that average human beings do has plummeted. Active transportation has been the norm for human beings for almost all of our evolution, but for most of us, it is now gone. That’s why increasing the amount of exercise you do should help you achieve weight loss.
Related Post: How Exercise Can Help You to Stay Young as You Age
Morbidly Obese Man Saves his Own Life with Cycling
On that note, here is a heart warming video about a morbidly obese man who saved his own life with cycling.
Let’s not forget that when we first evolved, we spent all day walking around collecting nuts, fruit and berries. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was incredibly physical, and it would have taken all day to gather or hunt enough food to survive. That’s walking, bending over, and carrying things (including babies) all day long.
Endurance Hunting vs. Endurance Sitting
One school of thought holds that many of our modern physical characteristics evolved to enable us to do endurance hunting, that is, walking and running all day long to eventually catch an animal that is much faster. (Which some people still do today, notably the San people in the Kalahari desert of southern Africa.)
Now, most of us sit all day in an office, and then sit in a car going home, and then sit and watch TV. Given such a dramatic change in human lifestyles, it’s not exactly astonishing that we have health problems. We simply did not evolve to sit in front of a screen all day. No wonder exercise is such a mood lifter.
Exercise is a MIRACLE CURE
The fact that most of us don’t exercise enough seems all the more alarming if you consider the overwhelmingly positive benefits of exercise. I’ve always known that exercise is good for you, but I was still astonished to see what the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has to say about it.
To justify their claim that exercise is a miracle cure, they collated a huge amount of international research, and averaged out the findings. So they are not basing their claims on isolated studies, but on a consensus derived from hundreds of international studies.
Related Post: Science Shows HIIT on a Bike is the Best Exercise to Fight Aging – And We Show You How to Do it!
Key Findings of the AMRC Study: Health Benefits of Exercise: The Miracle Cure
Finding #1: You Can Be Fat and Fit
First, the researchers noted that the benefits of exercise are independent from the benefits of weight change. Increasing fitness works in a different way to reducing fatness. So, even people who are overweight can improve their metabolic health by exercising, even if they don’t necessarily lose weight. So the next time you get depressed because you’ve cycled hundreds of miles without losing much weight, remember that you may be the same weight, but you have become much healthier!
Conversely, many people are skinny and unfit. Think of supermodels and actors smoking to keep their weight down. Without exercise, being thin does not guarantee good health.
Read our popular post called A Guide for Fat Cyclists!
Health Benefits of Exercise Finding #2: Exercise Reduces the Chance of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
Exercise has been proven to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by an astonishing 50 to 80%. Overall, 80 to 90% of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle changes (mainly good nutrition and exercise).
On a personal note, I staved off type 2 diabetes for years by exercising. I was in the prediabetes stage for over a decade. Every year, my endocrinologist told me that the only reason I had not progressed to diabetes was because of all the cycling I did. More recently, I have reversed the prediabetes and normalized my blood sugar with a simple technique. I simply slashed my carb intake. In retrospect, it was not rocket science. Too much sugar in your blood? STOP putting sugar in your body! I moved into normal blood sugar levels in less than a month.
Finding #3: Exercise Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
All studies have shown that exercise causes clear improvements in cardiovascular health and improves life for people with angina. Overall, exercise reduces your risk of death due to heart disease by 31%. It may reduce the risk of developing heart disease by up to 50%.
Finding #4: Exercise Combats High Blood Pressure
Regular exercise reduces the risk of ever developing high blood pressure by 52%. It can also improve blood pressure in those who already have high blood pressure. Bear in mind that high blood pressure is the cause of 50% of strokes and 50% of Ischemic heart disease.
Health Benefits of Exercise Finding #5: Exercise Protects You from Stroke
Exercise reduces the risk of stroke, or of death from a stroke, by 20 to 40%.
Finding #6: Exercise Reduces the Risk of Cancer
Nineteen international studies show that exercise reduces the risk of colon/bowel cancer by 30 to 50%. This seems to be related to the beneficial effect of exercise on growth factors and insulin resistance.
Exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer by 20 to 30%.
There is also increasing evidence that if you stay active after a cancer diagnosis, you will slow the progression of the disease and live longer. This has been shown most clearly in cases of prostate cancer (patients who exercised had a 57% lower rate of cancer progression).
Related Post: Science Shows How Cycling Fights Aging
Finding #7: Exercise Protects Against COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
In general, exercise will improve cardiovascular health and make this disease less likely to develop. For people who already have COPD, exercise will reduce their symptoms (reduce shortness of breath).
Finding #8: Exercise Combats Depression
Many studies indicate that exercise can be just as effective as medications for treating depression – but with positive side-effects, instead of negative.
Health Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Exercise also has dramatic benefits for seniors, and can extend the length of high-quality life.
Physical activity programs for seniors that emphasize balance training, coordination, and muscle strengthening, significantly reduce the risk of falls by 30 to 50%. Riding a bike does all of this, in a fun way.
Exercise maintains muscle strength and increases bone mineral density, so that fractures are far less likely if a senior falls. In fact, being physically active during your younger years reduces the risk of a later hip fracture by 35 to 68%. And note that major bone fractures are much more serious for seniors: they are usually followed by disability and then death within a year in seniors.
Related Post: 5 Great Strength Exercises for Cyclists
Case Study that Shows the Health Benefits of Exercise
This is a fascinating case study from the AMRC report.
The case study followed two similar patients, Angela and Tracy. The two women saw the same doctor in the same week with similar problems. Both were in their late forties; both worked indoors as office administrators; both were overweight with moderately high blood pressure; both had mild depression; and both had recent worsening of back pain.
The doctor prescribed the same plan for both of them: try to be more active, and avoid long periods of just sitting.
Angela followed the doctor’s suggestion. She started cycling to work, even in the cold, dark months. She had support from her employer and her colleagues to achieve this. Within a year her blood pressure was normal and she had lost some weight. Now she cycles on the weekends with her son and has minimal back pain.
Tracy did not increase her activity. Her back pain got worse and she was off work for several months. This caused her to be even less active, so her back pain got worse. Soon she was finding it too painful to get in and out of a car, so she got a mobility scooter. Then her weight and blood pressure increased, so she went on blood pressure medications. The medications made her feel tired, so she moved even less. Then she fell from the mobility scooter. This fractured her proximal humerus, as the bone had developed osteoporosis from disuse.
Tracy’s final outcome: She had surgery and then months of physiotherapy – and she was not able to work. Three years later she had developed type 2 diabetes.
Bottom Line: Exercise is a Miracle Cure – Better than Winning the Lottery!
All in all, there is overwhelming evidence that the best thing you can do for yourself is to exercise more. In the long term, this will do you more good than winning a lottery! After all, how are you going to enjoy those millions in a wheelchair, hooked up to an oxygen tank?
One of the easiest ways to get more exercise is to commit to commuting by bike (at least sometimes), or to set yourself a goal of doing a charity bike ride, and start a training program. So do yourself a favor – get out there and get on your bike!
Read more about how to get fit with cycling by choosing a post from the slide show below:
AMRC: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Exercise: The miracle cure and the role of the doctor in promoting it.
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