The World’s Best Medicine
By: Charles A Lascano, MD, CAQSM, DABFM.
Sports Medicine Specialist. Sanitas Medical Centers
If you could take a medication that, in small doses, reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, reduced disability, reduced blood pressure, improved bone health, reduced type 2 diabetes, reduced mortality from several site-specific cancers, improved cholesterol, improved mental health in the elderly, and helped prevent cognitive decline, would you take it? This medication is called Exercise. However, like any medicine, in order to obtain the desired benefits, it is important to use the recommended dose.
The recommended dose of exercise consists of 150-300 minutes/week of moderate-intensity activity or 75-150 minutes/week of vigorous activity or a combination of both; plus, muscle strength training 2 or more times a week.
Moderate activity is at a pace where you can talk but cannot “sing.” Examples: brisk walking, light biking, water exercise, and dancing. Vigorous activity is done at a pace where you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Examples: jogging, swimming, tennis, and fast bicycling. You can exercise for any length of time. For example, you might walk: 30 minutes 5 days/week or 20 to 25 minutes daily, or 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Just work your way up to minimum 150 total minutes/week. Your goal is to gradually build up to 7,000-9,000 steps/day.
Regarding strength training, you don’t necessarily have to go to a gym. Try elastic bands, do body weight exercises (chair sit-to stands; floor, wall or kitchen counter push-ups; planks or bridges) or lift dumbbells or something with weight. Heavy work around your home or yard also builds strength. Strengthen your legs, back, chest and arms. To start, try 10-15 repetitions using light effort. Build up to medium or hard effort for 8-12 repetitions. Repeat 2-4 times, 2-3 days/week. Give yourself a rest day between each strength training session.
For patients who do not feel comfortable following the proper dosage of exercise perhaps because of presence of medical conditions, physical impairments, or just due to poor conditioning, among other reasons, it is advisable to ask their primary care provider for an “exercise prescription”, where the provider can recommend the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise, based on patient’s level of conditioning, medical conditions or impairments, and exercise preference. The annual check visit with the primary care provider is the best opportunity to discuss about this type of prescription.