Scientists probe the benefits of exercise—and the dangers of sloth

Source: Harvard Magazine, March/April 2004

Years of research are clearly showing that exercise is one the best prescriptions for protecting and healing the body from ailments and physical problems that emerge with age. However, it is among the least-practiced activities in the United States.

Three-fourths of the nation’s population does not engage in the recommended 30-minutes per day of exercise, and two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. Such sedentary lifestyles, and a lack of good nutrition, can lead to life-threatening diseases, particularly among today’s youth.

Overall, exercise (aerobic activities and/or strength training) has been shown to help slow the body’s natural aging process by: improving blood flow to the brain and heart, decreasing muscle decay, producing stronger bones and joints, improving brain activity, and a increasing immune system response. Exercise also can delay the onset, and/or reduce one’s risk of developing diabetes and some cancers; exercise affects the body’s insulin sensitivity and glucose transport by triggering glucose uptake by the muscles, regulating insulin production.

Though more research is needed on the effects of exercise on aging and on disease development, it has become clear that the body’s best bet for remaining or becoming healthy is exercise.