Thursday, November 18, 2010

Regular Exercisers Cut Dementia, Cancer Risk

Exercising regularly may just be the much-sought-after key to a long life. A new review of findings of 40 studies published in the last four years concluded that exercising regularly can cut the risk of about two dozen physical and mental health conditions, from cancer to dementia. "What is clear from the research is that men and women of all ages should be encouraged to be more physically active for the sake of their long-term health," lead author Leslie Alford, a physiotherapist and lecturer at the University of East Anglia in the U.K., said in a statement.

Alford studied 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010 and looked at the impact of exercise on cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, depression, type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, among other ailments. He found that other than abstaining from smoking, physical activity is the best medicine a person can take to improve health and longevity.

"Physical inactivity results in widespread pathophysiological changes to our bodies," said Alford. "It appears that our bodies have evolved to function optimally on a certain level of physically activity that many of us simply do not achieve in our modern, sedentary lifestyles." Exercising can not only make us healthier and stronger, giving us protection against a variety of problems, but it also delays the body's age-related decline, the findings showed.

"It's the universal repair," longevity and wellness guru Dr. Walter M. Bortz, author of "Living Longer for Dummies," told AOL Health. "When you're fit, your immune system is better. Everything is better." Bortz said exercise has been shown to be so beneficial in part because it triggers the release of a powerful protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. "It's a growth hormone for the brain," Bortz said. "It's hot -- it influences everything. Here is this marvelous chemical that gets triggered by exercise."

But for some, it seems, good health and a long life are simply a matter of good fortune. "The literature reviewed shows that how long people live and how healthy they are depends on a complex mix of factors, including their lifestyle, where they live and even luck," Alford said.

Still, the research found a strong link between health and factors that people can control like exercise, diet, smoking and obesity.

Among the findings Alford arrived at in his analysis, which will be published in the December issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice, are the following:
- Moderate to intense physical activity on a regular basis is linked to a lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
- Exercise seems to reduce the chance of developing certain cancers including colon and prostate cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity, hypertension and osteoporosis.
- Physical activity is associated with lower cancer death rates.
- Walking or cycling for at least a half an hour a day reduces the risk of cancer; up to an hour can lower the chance of getting cancer by 16 percent.
- Sexual dysfunction problems in men happen less often in those who exercise frequently.
- Physical activity seems to decrease the risk of dementia in the elderly.

As much of an advocate as he is for exercise, Bortz doesn't think there is enough evidence to support the theory that it can help prevent cancer. "That's pushing it," he said.

Alford suggests that health adults aged 18 to 65 should try 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, like 30-minute brisk walks each day. Those who exercise more vigorously should try 20 minutes three days a week. He also recommends two weekly strength-training sessions. For the elderly, balance and flexibility exercises are also a good idea. "Ideally, to gain maximum health benefits people should exercise, not smoke, eat a healthy diet and have a body mass index of less than 25" Alford said. "The more of these healthy traits an individual has, the less likely they are to develop a range of chronic disorders."


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