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July 2019

The True Value of Exercise

July 2, 2019 by Washington Health Alliance

It’s officially summer and I am appreciating the opportunity to spend more time in the garden with these long warm days, but it got me thinking about some recent studies on exercise. Did you know that according to a recent study by the CDC, less than 25% of adults in the US get enough physical activity? Here in Washington state, the rate is a little better–28.9% said that they fulfilled the federal recommendation for weight-strengthening exercise at least twice a week and 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity like running or 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise such as brisk walking each week from 2010-2015. But may I ask, what about all those other folks? In some states, like Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina, the percentage of nonworking women who met the federal exercise guidelines was in the single digits–less than 10%.

Most of us know about the 10,000 steps a day goal, but a Journal of American Medicine Internal Medicine study shows that you don’t have to hit that magic number to make significant differences to your health. In fact, there are benefits to walking much less. In fact, for older women, even 4,400 steps a day helped lower mortality rates compared to those who walked 2,700 steps a day. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Across the board, men exercise more than women, and nonworking adults exercise less than working adults. One would think with more time, you’d have the ability to exercise more, but it’s simply not the case.

A Johns Hopkins study published in the Journal of American Medicine illustrates my point. Researchers asked, “What are the trends and health care expenditures associated with not meeting the recommended physical activity for women with cardiovascular disease?” We’re talking about the same requirement, 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise 5 or more days a week. Of the more than 18,000 women studied, more than half of them reported not meeting that activity level. In 2006, 58% didn’t meet it and by 2015, that percentage rose to 62%.

And when you take a closer look at the data (which I am wont to do) the results are even worse for specific groups. For women aged 40-64, 53% of them had insufficient physical activity in 2006 and that increased to 61% in 2015. For African-American women, the rate increased from 56% to 67%. For the college-educated, it rose from 45% to 58%. And for women with high incomes, it increased from 49% to 60%. The Johns Hopkins study estimates that $117 billion in annual health care costs are attributed to not meeting physical activity guidelines. We could all improve not only our health but our health care costs by ramping up on exercise.

As if that weren’t enough, the World Health Organization recently issued its first guidelines on preventing dementia and it included the same physical activity recommendation. In addition to not smoking and drinking, you should keep exercising to keep your brain healthy. And a pilot study in Canada explored a home-based exercise program to find out whether it would help older surgery patients recover better. In Canada, more than half of all major surgeries involve patients over 65 and about 40% of them are frail, which increases the risk of complications and disability. There are more than 100,000 older patients who have surgery every year in Canada and while the results of the initial 100 participants are being reviewed, researchers hope to see positive results from an expanded study improving muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility for 750 participants across Canada this fall.

On the opposite side of the age spectrum, exercise can even play a part in an infant’s metabolism. Researchers at The Ohio State University and Joslin Diabetes Center found evidence that a father’s level of exercise can play a role in a child’s body weight and glucose tolerance. Mice in a study were divided between offspring of dads who exercised and had a high fat diet and those who were sedentary. The results show better metabolic health in the adult offspring of those mouse dads who were more active.

Exercise and a healthy diet are two key components of preventing type 2 diabetes. A recent Diabetes Epidemic and Action report indicated that about 623,000 adults in Washington state have diabetes and a quarter of them are not aware of their diagnosis. From our Community Checkup we know that as a state have a way to go to reach the national 90th percentile established by the NCQA HEDIS measures for all diabetes-related care measures, not just eye exams. But we also know that some providers exceed that quality standard already and my hope is they will pave the way for others.

In the meantime, we all know it’s better to be active than sedentary, what we don’t always think about is how it plays a part in our quality of life, health care costs, as we age, and, even in our children’s health and well-being.

Clearly it’s never too late (or too early)! Take some time to head to the gym, take a yoga class or go for a long walk.

All the best,

Nancy Giunto