The Incredible Benefits of Moderate Exercise

Research now shows that the benefits of exercise are even more abundant than first suspected. Backache, commonly associated with sedentary occupations, can be prevented with exercise; bones can be strengthened; the common cold and other infections possibly even be prevented because the number of white blood cells is increased by exercise, and it is these that are the front-line fighters against infection.

Exercise also increases the amount of another substance, pyrogen, in the body. Pyrogen produces a transient fever after exercise, which stimulates the immune system to resist infection.

The rewards of exercise were in fact first demonstrated dramatically more than 30 years ago by Professor Jermey Morris of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In a pioneering study he found that bus conductors who walked up and down stairs all day suffered fewer heart attacks and died less often from them than bus drivers. He also showed that postmen, walking several miles daily, had less heart disease than supervisors, clerks and telephonists who spent most of their working time sitting down.

But probably the largest and most comprehensive study has been one carried out with the alumni of America’s Harvard University, where Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger and colleagues at the School of Public Health have studied the exercise habits and incidence of heart disease and death among some 17,000 former students who attended Harvard between 1916 and 1950.

Paffenbarger found that the alumni who developed sedentary habits after they left college had the same high risk of heart disease and strokes as those who never took much exercise. Playing for the first team, in other words, offers no long-term protection unless a moderate level of exercise is maintained.

Conversely the study provides encouraging news for men and women who are late starters: those alumni who took no exercise at college but started afterwards were found to have a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. ‘Men who are physically active in their youth do not have a lower risk of heart disease unless they maintain their vigorous activity throughout their life,’ says Paffenbarger. ‘Moreover, those physically inactive in adolescence or early adulthood are at decreased risk of coronary heart disease if their adult life acquires an adequate, sustained, physically active lifestyle.’

Family factors such as eating and exercise habits affect longevity. But though people whose parents suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure, for example, run an increased risk of suffering from these diseases themselves, the Harvard research holds out hope even in these cases. It shows that men and women can drastically reduce such ‘inherited’ risk.

But perhaps the most encouraging conclusion to emerge from the Harvard study is that it is not necessary to take up marathon running or long-distance swimming to reap the health benefits of exercise. Paffenbarger found that the risk of heart disease or stroke can be halved by physical activity that uses up only an extra 2,000 calories a week. As Paffenbarger says: ‘We are not talking about an amount of exercise which is overwhelming.’

Lose Weight By Walking

Want to lose weight easily? Walking briskly for an hour, four days a week, together with some extra stair climbing and a little gardening should use up the required calories. Other possible ways are suggested below.

As people begin to feel the benefits of exercise on their body, they often become interested in discovering a healthy diet as well. Diet is just as important for health as exercise, although controversy rages over the details. There have now been dozens of expert reports in many countries and there is overall agreement; the amount of fat, sugar and salt in our everyday diet needs to be reduced. As foods are processed they lose natural flavor and manufacturers try to make them more palatable by adding extra salt or sugar. Our second panel summaries ways in which diet can most easily be improved.

There may be one more bonus from exercise. In Norway jogging is being used as a successful treatment for mental hospital patients suffering from severe depression. Exercise cannot, of course, solve all your problems; but it might help keep you sane while tackling them.

1. SEVEN WAYS TO BURN UP AN EXTRA 2000 CALORIES A WEEK One hour walk (310 cals), five days a week; one hour tennis (430 cals) Half hour walk (155 cals), six days a week; two hours vigorous disco dancing (800 cals); half hour swim (300 cals) Three mile run (300 cals), three days a week; one hour walk (310 cals); two hours heavy gardening (900 cals) Five mile run (500 cals), three days a week; two hours walking (620 cals) One hour cycling at 9.4 mph (390 cals), five days a week Two hours horse riding at trot (430 cals); four hours cricket (1,200 cals) Half hour squash (830 cals), two days a week; half hour swim (300 cals); three hours walking (930 cals).

2. HOW TO EAT YOUR WAY TO HEALTH EAT MORE: Vegetables and fruit – try to include fresh fruit or vegetables as a part of every meal. Aim to eat at least two fruit, and some salad, items every day. Fish – eat fish at least twice a week. Both white fish (eg cod or plaice) and oily fish (eg mackerel, sardines) are good for health. Wholemeal bread or cereal – make sure you get plenty of fibre by making wholemeal bread and wholemeal cereal your staple. Oil – use corn oil, soya oil, olive oil or sunflower oil for cooking and salads.

EAT LESS: Fat – avoid sausages and processed meats, avoid cream and ice cream, cream biscuits, cakes and pastries. Cut fat off meat. Use skimmed milk and preferably choose low-fat dairy products. Use a margarine high in polyunsaturates. Sugar – eat fewer sweets, take fewer soft drinks, squashes, colas and blackcurrent drinks. Avoid sugared breakfast cereals and sweetened muesli, cakes, pastries and sweet biscuits. Salt – use less table salt, put less salt in cooking, and avoid stock cubes. Use pickles and bottled sauces sparingly. Use fresh meat rather than preserved, smoked or cured meats such as bacon. Avoid tinned vegetables and soups, salted nuts, crisps, savoury nibbles, soda water. Use a non-sodium-containing raising agent in baking instead of baking powder.