Exercise is an important part of any health and wellness practice. Exercises are “structured bouts of physical activity beyond those of normal daily activities (Schlenker & Roth, 2011, p. 318). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (2014) defines exercise as “any activity requiring physical exertion done for the sake of health” (p. 874). Exercise can take many forms. Aerobic exercise involves moving large muscles repeatedly such that energy used is from aerobic metabolic reactions that use oxygen (Freeman, 2009). This includes cycling, jogging, rowing, running, skiing, swimming, tennis, and walking. Anaerobic exercise requires anaerobic metabolic reactions without oxygen (Freeman, 2009). This includes resistance training and weight lifting. In addition, there are martial arts, qi gong, stretching, tai chi, and yoga, among others. Exercise varies on personal choice, but it is important to engage in some form of exercise.
Origins of Exercise
For millions of years, humans had to walk every day as their main or only way of movement (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Movement as a form of exercise and not a necessity can be dated back to the inception of yoga around 5,000 years ago in India. Around 2,500 years ago, the Chinese got involved in kung fu, qi gong, and tai chi. The Greek started exercise programs and launched the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. (Gale, 2014).
Although other forms of physical exercise were practiced, it was not until the 1800s that exercise machines were documented in journals (Gale, 2014). Even then, exercise programs became mainstream in the Western world over 100 years later, in the 1960s, with the advent of gymnasiums (Gale, 2014). Today, exercise and movement are crucial, given the obesity epidemic, overly sedentary lifestyles, and the rising incidence of serious health conditions (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Clinical Evidence of the Effects of Exercise on the Body
Regular exercise is considered a vital practice for health. A study with 13,000 people over an eight-year period found that 30 minutes of exercise a day reduced the risk of premature death when compared to those who did not exercise (Gale, 2014). Another study showed that 10 minutes of exercise a day could improve mental outlook (Gale, 2014).
A mortality study on over 3,000 railroad workers during a 17 to 20 year period found that coronary heart disease was the cause of death 40% more often in those who led sedentary lives than in those who were active. Over 1,400 men were tracked for five years and those who were most active had 60% fewer heart attacks than those who were inactive (Freeman, 2009). Several clinical studies found that high-intensity interval training or HIIT is beneficial to vascular and heart health (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). In a study on 11 elderly men with a mean age of 74, HIIT improved heart rate variability and cardiac baroreflex. A study on 47 patients on a HIIT program showed it could help rehabilitate those with peripheral vascular disease and cardiovascular disease suffering from intermittent claudication. Another study found that HIIT was better than traditional aerobic training in reversing left ventricular remodeling, and improving aerobic capacity, endothelial function, and quality of life (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Studies indicated that exercise programs were effective in pulmonary rehabilitation resulting from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and other forms of pulmonary disease (Freeman, 2009). Studies have also shown that exercise has a positive effect in reducing anger, anxiety, and stress, and in healthy aging, treating depression, and supporting treatment for cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, impotence, menopause, and urinary incontinence (Freeman, 2009).
Yoga has been correlated with positive outcomes from breast, head, and neck cancer patients (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Yoga helps to reduce anxiety and stress from cancer treatments, and has been incorporated into 56% of cancer clinics. Resistance training was effective in treating those suffering from cachexia (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Aerobic exercise of 30 minutes three times a week for a 10-week period helped improve depressed moods on a group of patients, where 62% reached a normal range score on the Profile of Mood States-Short Form Depression Scale (POMS). In the control group only 29% reached a normal score (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Another study saw participants suffering from major depression improve significantly after walking daily for at least 30 minutes after 12 days (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A study compared exercise with Zoloft, a commonly prescribed medication to treat depression. Over a 12-month period the group who exercised on a treadmill at least three times per week had significantly better outcome than the group who received Zoloft alone or the group who received Zoloft and exercise (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A 10-week study showed that aerobic exercise was effective in reducing anxiety amongst patients suffering from panic disorder (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
The University of Washington tested 115 women in 2006, where half of the participants stretched for 45 minutes every week for 12 months, and the other half did 45 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week for the same 12-month period. They found that the women who exercised regularly had significantly fewer colds than the women who stretched (Hirt, 2013).
There are health benefits of walking in urban parks. A study in Japan on 17 male students aged around 21 years looked at the difference between walking in an urban park and walking in a city area (Song et al., 2014). Participants walked a 15-minute course in each area, and the study showed that heart rate and sympathetic nervous activity was lower, and parasympathetic nervous activity was higher after the walk in the urban area than in the city. In addition, tension, fatigue, and anxiety were lower, and positive moods were higher after the walk in the urban park than after the walk in the city (Song et al., 2014). Not only walking, but nature plays an important role in promoting health and wellness.
A physically active person needs to increase carbohydrate intake, as this is the primary fuel for the body. A highly active person should consume 6 to 10 g / kg of body weight per day in carbohydrates (Schlenker & Roth, 2011), although carbohydrate needs vary on the person’s “total daily energy expenditure, type of sport, gender, and environmental conditions” (Mahan, Escott-Stump, & Raymond, 2012, p. 512).
Protein intake should vary based on the type of physical exertion, as well as “age, gender, mass, fitness level, regiment, and phase of training” (Mahan et al., 2012, p. 514). In general, a physically active person should consume 1.2 to 2 g of protein / kg of body weight daily. Endurance athletes require 1.2 to 1.4 g / kg of body weight in protein per day, and resistance and strength trainers need 1.6 to 1.7 g / kg of body weight in protein per day (Mahan et al., 2012).
People who exercise regularly need to ensure they consume sufficient water before engaging in physical activity, that they replace fluids during exercise, and they replace fluids after exercise (Schlenker & Roth, 2011). Although increase consumption of vitamins and minerals is not required for those physically active, it is important to consume adequate vitamins and minerals (Schlenker & Roth, 2011). They also do not need increased fat intake, and should consume 20 to 35% of their daily calorie intake from fat. Certain physical training programs require reduced fat intake to 15 to 25% of daily calorie intake (Schlenker & Roth, 2011).
Freeman, L. (2009). Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine, A Research-Based Approach (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Hirt, M. (2013). 19 ways to prevent and treat colds and flu. Mother Earth News. Retrieved from http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/colds-and-flu-zm0z12djzhir.aspx#axzz35NYiXVBp
Mahan, L. K., Escott-Stump, S., & Raymond, J. L. (2012). Krause’s Food and The Nutrition Care Process (13th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Schlenker, E. D. & Roth, S. L. (2011). Williams’ Essentials of Nutrition and Diet Therapy- Revised Reprint (10th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Song, C., Ikei, H., Igarashi, M., Miwa, M., Takagaki, M., & Miyazaki, Y. (2014). Physiological and psychological responses of young males during spring-time walks in urban parks. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33, 8-15. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-33-8.