It's fairly cold at 4:30 a.m., even in Southern California. (I'm sure some DCs in the Midwest and on the East Coast are laughing right now.) It's cold and still dark out. Why am I doing this? Why does anyone do this? Is it only because my wife likes the way I look? (Come to think of it, so do I.) Those are just some of the thoughts running through my half-awake head as I work out at the gym.
When I first made the commitment to exercise, something had to give. It couldn't be work and it wasn't going to be my family. The only thing left was my free time and an hour or so of sleep.
Few people are in the mood to talk this early in the morning. We don't smile, we don't complain, we (as the saying goes) just do it. You can tell that most of us would rather be somewhere else (probably back in bed). A few seem to enjoy the morning ritual, but most are there because they have to be. It's generally the same people, but there are a few "seasons" when the crowd swells:
- Holiday Burnoff - usually the week or so after Thanksgiving, immediately after most of the nation has gorged themselves into a stupor.
- Post-New Year's - a time when "resolutionists" begin the new year with good intentions that usually don't last past the middle of February.
- Warmer Weather - a season that falls just after trying on the swimsuit for the first time after it gets a little warmer. This season usually impacts more women than men and can last into June.
People who consistently exercise do so for a variety of reasons. These reasons change as we get older. Science is discovering more and more reasons to work out. The impact of exercise on our health is far beyond a trim body and hard muscles. There are some obvious health reasons to exercise: lower blood pressure, increased resting heart rate, lower body fat, etc. These are all important to improving overall physical health.
Living longer is another reason to exercise. A recent study suggests that men can live 14 years longer if they exercise, keep their waist size down and don't smoke. Together, these three behavioral modifications reduce a man's risk of coronary heart disease events by 59 percent, risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 77 percent, and risk of all-cause mortality by 69 percent compared to their less-healthy counterparts.1
Exercise can also play an important role in reducing cancer risk. Another recent study has shown that exercise can help reduce the level of certain hormones in women that contribute to their risk of breast cancer.2
Perhaps the most motivating reasons to exercise is not physical benefits, but those associated with a person's mental wellness. One study that examined the cognitive development of teenagers revealed that "(c)ardiovascular fitness changes between age 15 and 18 y(ears) predicted cognitive performance at 18 y. Cox proportional-hazards models showed that cardiovascular fitness at age 18 y predicted educational achievements later in life. These data substantiate that physical exercise could be an important instrument for public health initiatives to optimize educational achievements, cognitive performance, as well as disease prevention at the society level."3
These findings tend to negate the "dumb jock" stereotype. Certainly the guys down the line on the treadmills have better cognitive skills than they would have if they watched TV all morning instead of working out.
Exercise also has a very positive impact on people at the other end of the age scale. It can actually reduce cognitive impairment. One study in particular discovered that "twelve months of once-weekly or twice-weekly resistance training benefited the executive cognitive function of selective attention and conflict resolution among senior women."4 Another study noted that "moderate or high physical activity is associated with a reduced incidence of cognitive impairment after 2 years in a large population-based cohort of elderly subjects." Moderate physical activity is defined as physical activity less than three times a week, high physical activity is three or more times a week.5
At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, one of the papers presented to attendees reported: "[H]igher levels of physical activity objectively measured by an accelerometer are strongly associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms and a lower prevalence of depressive disorders." The physical activity required for this benefit was only 12 minutes of moderate exercise a day.6
Walking slowly down the stairs of the gym and out the door 45 minutes after my arrival, my T-shirt is almost drenched. The crisp, cold air is now soothing. The sun will be coming up in 30 minutes or so. It's time for a new day.
So, why do I get up and exercise when most people are still asleep? I do it for myself and for the people I love. I do it out of respect and appreciation for the life I've been given. Why do you exercise? Perhaps for many of the same reasons I do. If you don't exercise consistently, maybe you should think about starting, and for a reason specific to the career path you've chosen: You're a doctor of chiropractic. You breathe health and wellness - don't you? And if you aren't willing to commit to health, how can you possibly expect your patients to do so?
- Lee CD, Sui X, Blair SN. Combined effects of cardiorespiratory fitness, not smoking, and normal waist girth on morbidity and mortality in men. Arch Intern Med, Dec. 14, 2009;169(22):2096-101.
- Friedenreich CM, Woolcott CG, McTiernan A, et al. Alberta Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Prevention Trial: sex hormone changes in a year-long exercise intervention among postmenopausal women. J Clin Oncol, Feb. 16, 2010. [Epub ahead of print]
- Åberg MAI, Pedersen NL, Toren Kjell, et al. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.). Epub ahead of print, Nov. 30, 2009.
- Liu-Ambrose T, Nagamatsu LS, Graf P, Beattie BL, Ashe MC, Handy TC. Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med, Jan. 25, 2010;170(2):170-8.
- Etgen T, Sander D, Huntgeburth U, Poppert H, Foerstl H, Bickel H. Physical activity and incident cognitive impairment in elderly persons: the INVADE study. Arch Intern Med, Jan. 25, 2010;170(2):186-93.
- "Higher Physical Activity Levels Strongly Linked to Lower Levels of Depression in Older Adults." Medscape Medical News, March 11, 2010.
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