By Tim Arnott … Would you like an easy way to add four years to your life?  Begin prayer walking.  That’s right, walk and pray one hour each morning.  Enoch took walks with God, and God took him to heaven.

Not walking also has its consequences.  The number four reason worldwide for early death is physical inactivity.  Furthermore, the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study revealed low cardiorespiratory fitness (not exercising) was the number one cause of preventable death from all causes. Not exercising is the cause of approximately one in ten premature deaths.  If just 25 percent of those who don’t exercise started a walking program, 1.3 million premature deaths could be averted every year.  People who exercise most live the longest, whether normal weight or overweight.  Further, prolonged sitting has been shown to cause 6.9% of all causes of early death.  Similarly, television viewing has been shown to increase all-cause mortality by approximately 50% even in those getting seven hours of exercise per week.  Clearly, we were made to be active.   

On a more positive note, exercise brings remarkable benefits.  Skeletal muscle, heart muscle, and artery and organ smooth muscle all strengthen with exercise.  Bones get stronger.  In fact, one of the keys to strong bones is strong muscles.  As a result, particularly for the elderly, exercise lowers fall risk and fracture risk, including spine fractures.  A daily walking program lowers risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and depression.  This is just the beginning of the benefits. According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, children age three to six improve bone health and weight status with exercise.  Children six to 17 years of age experience improved cognitive function.  Adults of all ages lower risk of bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung cancer.  Walking brings reduced risk of dementia, improved cognitive function, improved sleep, reduced anxiety and depression, and reduced risk of excessive weight gain.  Older adults also benefit, namely, reduced incidence of fall injuries and improved physical function. Women who are pregnant and walk have reduced risk of excessive weight gain, lower risk of gestational diabetes, and reduced postpartum depression. 

Even if you already have a preexisting medical condition, walking brings benefits.  Those with breast cancer who walk or regularly exercise have lower death rates from the cancer and all other causes.  The same is true of those with colon cancer.  Prostate cancer patients have reduced risk of prostate cancer mortality.  Those with osteoarthritis have reduced pain and improved function and quality of life.  Those with high blood pressure have reduced progression of heart and blood vessel diseases.  Their blood pressure is also less likely to increase over time.  If you have diabetes and walk regularly, you are at lower risk of death from heart attack and stroke, and hemoglobin A1c, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and weight all improve.  Those with multiple sclerosis who exercise have improved ability to walk and better physical fitness.   Cognitive function improves in those with dementia.  Furthermore, brain function has been shown to improve with exercise in those with ADHD, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, and prior stroke.

Not only are the benefits of walking for those with chronic conditions, but these improvements don’t take long to materialize.  Single episodes of physical exercise improved brain executive function, including concentration, attention, ability to regulate emotions, memory, ability to plan and organize, and speed of processing.  Further, a single bout of walking lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, lowers anxiety, and improves ability to handle blood sugar, in other words, exercise improves insulin sensitivity.  In fact, one of the most important ways to control blood sugar in those with diabetes is to walk 30 to 40 minutes immediately following each large meal. 

When it comes to incorporating the benefits of exercise, one should include strength training.  Resistance training and weight lifting actually reduce injuries long-term, increase basal metabolic rate, lower fatigue, improve sleep quality, improve muscle performance, increase quality of life, endurance, bone mineral density, and reduce body fat, lower cholesterol, improve ability to lower blood sugar, decrease pain and disability in those with osteoarthritis, and reduce fatty build up in the liver.  Strength training twice a week is the general recommendation.

Let’s take a look at the impact of aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, compared with strength training, weight lifting or using weight machines, on fitness variables.  Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise moderately increase bone mineral density.  They are equally effective.  Both reduce percent body fat, but aerobic exercise is most effective.  While resistance training moderately increases muscle mass, aerobic exercise does not.  Resistance exercise markedly improves muscle strength versus only a mild increase with aerobic exercise.  Both forms of exercise significantly lower the insulin rise after a big dose of glucose.  This means using muscles improves the ability to respond to insulin and more easily absorb blood sugar.  Thus, the pancreas can pump out less insulin.  Both exercise forms mildly reduce fasting insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity moderately and equally.  Aerobic exercise moderately lowers triglycerides, though resistance training has only a very mild effect. Both forms of exercise raise HDL cholesterol and equally.

With all these benefits, you may decide to start an exercise program.  When it comes to starting one, it’s important to know who needs a medical clearance from their doctor.  If one has known coronary artery disease (i.e., prior heart attack, coronary bypass or stent), type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or end stage kidney disease on dialysis, even if no symptoms (i.e., chest pain or shortness of breath), medical clearance from your physician or cardiologist is required. Furthermore, any patient with the above symptoms or others, regardless of known disease, requires medical clearance.  After clearance, light (i.e., stroll) to moderate (i.e., brisk walking) exercise only should be done to begin with.  For the first six weeks, start with 15 minutes and slowly progress to 30 minutes three to six days a week.  Brisk walking 150 minutes a week is the target exercise goal for most people. 

Do these exercise benefits translate into longer life?  Yes.  For every hour you exercise, you can expect to live that hour over again plus two or three to boot.  Those who exercise 150 minutes a week gain about 2.5 years of life.  If you walk briskly one hour daily, you can expect to live four extra years.  The maximum benefit is achieved after more than eight hours a week of moderate exercise, gaining approximately 4.5 years of extra life.  In short, the lowest risk of premature death comes to those walking briskly 60 minutes first thing every morning or each evening.  In fact, physical exercise reduces all causes of death and year of life lost in all regardless of weight.

Once your physician clears you to start an exercise program, or if you have no symptoms and no serious chronic disease, it is recommended one follow the FITT prescription.  Namely, frequency of three to six days a week, moderate intensity (i.e., able to talk, but not sing while walking), time allotment of 30 to 60 minutes per session, and type of exercise (i.e., swimming, walking, or biking, et cetera).  For adults cleared to exercise, or without need for clearance, strength training is recommended two or three nonconsecutive days per week, namely, one set of eight to twelve repetitions for each major muscle group (i.e., chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdomen and quadriceps) at 60 to 70 percent of maximum resistance.  Maximum resistance is the weight one could successfully lift or resist with one repetition.

In summary, exercise advice is not new.  The first was given nearly 6000 years ago.  The prophet Moses recorded it in Genesis, “in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return unto the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.”  In other words, till our last day on earth we are told to sweat in our face.  Generating sweat requires vigorous exercise.  However, work up to this gradually and get medical clearance, described above, when indicated, but sweating exercise was a command given to mankind by our Creator, His fifth command to us, actually.  His first was a whole food plant-based diet.  Science declares this sweating exercise command, like all the others, blesses our lives immensely, namely, there is strong evidence of 14 to 35 percent lower all-cause mortality, 20 to 30 percent lower coronary heart disease risk, 17 to 31 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes, 17 to 30 percent less colon cancer, and 20 to 30 percent drop in breast cancer, to name a few benefits.  In short, it pays to exercise.  You won’t want to leave home without taking this powerful medicine.