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Physical Activity and Health


  From the beginning of recorded history, philosophers and  health professionals have observed that regular physical  activity is an essential part of a healthy life. Hippocrates  wrote the following in On Regimen in Acute Diseases,  about 400 BC: 

  Eating alone will not keep a man woman  well; he she] must also take exercise. For  food and exercise, while possessing opposite  qualities, yet work together to produce health.  . . . And it is necessary, as it appears, to discern  the power of various exercises, both natural  exercises and artificial, to know which of them  tends to increase flesh and which to lessen it;  and not only this, but also to proportion exer- cise to bulk of food, to the constitution of the  patient, to the age of the individual . . . (21) 

  Over the past four decades, thousands of studies have  examined the relationship between physical activity and  the risk of various diseases and death. The overwhelming  conclusion is that regular participation in physical activity  results in a reduced risk of numerous diseases and death  from all causes. As shown in figure 1.4, regular participa- tion in physical activity reduces the risk of death from all  causes by about 40% (relative risk decreased from 1.0 to  0.6). Doing physical activity on a regular basis also has  been shown to have a similar impact on the following (33): 

  • Cardiorespiratory health: Physical activity reduces  the risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure  (BP), improves the blood lipid profile, and increases CRF. 

  • Metabolic health: Physical activity reduces the risk  of developing type 2 diabetes and helps to control blood  glucose in those who already have type 2 diabetes. 

  • Musculoskeletal health: Physical activity slows the  loss of bone density that occurs with aging, and it lowers  the risk of hip fractures. In addition, it improves pain  management in people with arthritis. Finally, progressive  muscle-strengthening activities increase or preserve muscle  mass, strength, and power. 

  • Cancer: Physically active people have a signifi- cantly lower risk of colon cancer and breast cancer. In addi- tion, there is some evidence that physical activity reduces  the risk of endometrial cancer and lung cancer. 

  • Mental health: Physical activity lowers the risk  of depression and age-related cognitive decline, and it  improves the quality of sleep. 

  • Functional ability and fall prevention: Physical  activity reduces the risk of functional limitations (e.g.,  ability to do activities of daily living), and for those older  adults at risk of falling, physical activity is safe and reduces  this risk.
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