Experts agree that exercise is crucial for good health, especially when it comes to preventing chronic diseases. Movement helps every bodily system function better. So why do so many people find it difficult to make the time to exercise? Our technology has lured many of us into a sedentary lifestyle sitting at a computer.
Dr. Jordan Metzl says it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to get enough exercise to benefit both your body and your mind. Short bursts of intense activity could be just as good as longer, sustained periods of moderate activity. In some case, the high intensity intervals may be even better. He also recommends working non-exercise activity into your day, like taking the stairs or walking the dog.
Dr. Metzl prefers to write personalized exercise prescriptions for his patients. Unquestionably, the best exercise is the one you will do on a regular basis. Consequently, it has to be something that is fun. There’s an added bonus if the activity is social, like a tennis match or a dance class. Knowing that others rely on you to participate can often be the extra nudge needed to help you find the time to exercise.
In addition to fun, many people respond well to simple incentives. One corporation has established a program to reward each employee $1 for every day in which the person walks at least 10,000 steps. Figuring out rewards for good behavior can help all of us work more movement into our lives. It may be best to exercise in the morning before the day begins and other obligations can interfere.
Exercise is not about weight loss, though people who make time to exercise regularly may lose weight. Most importantly, it is about controlling inflammation. Moreover, physical activity, with all its benefits, doesn’t have bad side effects as drugs do.
A few studies suggest that dancing is a physical activity with special cognitive benefits. Cohort studies of older people have found that those who regularly participate in ballroom dancing are less likely to develop dementia. Whether this is due to the cognitive challenge or the social aspect of dancing is not clear, but it appears to help the brain in ways that ordinary exercise such as running or swimming do not.
Jordan Metzl, MD, is a nationally recognized sports medicine physician who practices at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, the top orthopedic hospital in the US according to US News and World Reports. Dr. Metzl has created the IronStrength community fitness program that provides free fitness classes to thousands of New Yorkers. He has written a number of books, including his most recent: Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Exercise Prescription: 10, 20 & 30-Minute High-Intensity Interval Training Workouts for Every Fitness Level. The photo is of Dr. Metzl.
Joe Verghese, MBBS, is a professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and division chief of geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the Murray D. Gross Memorial Faculty Scholar in Gerontology and the director of the Jack and Pearl Resnick Gerontology Center. Dr. Verghese is also director of the Center for the Aging Brain at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. His research on dancing preventing dementia was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, June 19, 2003. A recent German study suggests that dancing can improve balance as well as fitness (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, June 15, 2017).