I go back to my Sesame Street days and when the word exercise comes to mind, almost immediately the image of a giant caterpillar with a headband, sneakers and socks walking around is displayed on the screen of my mind. Can anyone else recall this caterpillar in her almost operatic voice singing ‘Exercise, exercise, it’s so good for you-oooo’? Although I may have dated myself by that confession, she had a valid point. Exercise really is good for you.
I was chatting with a patient a few days ago and we were discussing the pros and cons of exercise and, truthfully, I could only find one con: the temporary pain after engaging one’s muscles especially after a long period of little to no use of said muscles.
Why should we bother to exercise? Well if we go back to the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve were created they were put to work. God did not encourage them to lie and tan on the bed of the river and lull in luxury. They were put to work. It is therefore my conclusion that we are not meant to be sedentary. However, with advancements in technology and increasing affluence we have decreased our physical activity and placed a burden of ill-health on our shoulders and those of coming generations. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes exercise as “a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective”.
It would take me too much time to list all the scientific evidence that proves that exercise is beneficial. So strong is the evidence that Australia launched a campaign called Exercise is Medicine where doctors were challenged to prescribe exercise in the same way as they would prescribe a pill. Therefore, a doctor would write for the patient what type of exercise, how often it should be done and for what duration, as well as how often the exercise should be repeated.
What are the benefits of exercise? Exercise helps you to lose weight, improves self-confidence, improves mood, reduces the risk of development of chronic diseases including cancer by up to 50 per cent, increases the level of the good cholesterol and decreases the level of bad cholesterol, improves sleep quality, improves the quality of sex, and the list goes on and on and on. Exercise is good for you.
I love my birthday! I look forward to it from the day after it has arrived until it comes around the next year. I usually indulge in a treat of makeup (usually blush or lipstick) and spend the day in a euphoric haze. Depending upon when it falls, my friends and family might treat to me to a meal somewhere on that day, or the closest weekend. And I enjoy receiving presents. I really am not the extravagant type and I don’t demand that those in my life shower me with exquisite bank-breaking purchases. However, the thoughtful gifts that add value to my life remind me that I am loved.
So why did I insert that blurb about my birthday? Later this year I will celebrate a major milestone and I have decided to do like it says in the Bible in Luke 4:23a: “Physician heal thyself”. What better mode towards healing than to exercise? I have read the evidence and I have taken it upon myself to remove my cloak of hypocrisy and don exercise gear and get fit.
Of course, this has not been my first effort at getting fit, and I will not placate myself by saying I am not so fat and I am not doing terribly. I can do much better when it comes to my health and so since no-one else has the power to make the change for me, I have to do it myself. It would be so much easier to swallow ‘225 mg of exercise’ twice a day for three weeks and reach my desired level of fitness. As no-one has been able to create this tablet I am forced to put the effort in to reap the results.
Whether foolishly or not I have declared my hand and you all now know that I am in the process of getting fit. Knowing how easily I let myself off the hook with the most trivial excuses, I have enlisted the services of some like-minded friends. In one case I will have to pay a significant penalty if the required amount of exercise is not completed at the end of the week. In our economic climate that for me certainly is a motivator.
It is important to remember when restarting an exercise programme whichever type, to clear it with your doctor. Once you get the privilege to start, do so at a slow and tolerable pace rather than at an impossible break-neck speed. Apart from possibly damaging yourself in a serious way, it is easy to become discouraged and not continue with the fitness challenge. This is testament to the adage that ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Small changes consistently and planned, purposeful changes as in the WHO definition will see you, and me to our goal of physical fitness. Remember, pounds were not put on in a day and as such, if there is one thing I can guarantee you it is that said pounds will not come off in a day.
Hippocrates said, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” He obviously knew about what he was speaking centuries ago and it has now come full circle. Therefore, I will take his advice and see where it takes me. I wish you success on your journey and look forward to hearing about your triumphs, as I share mine later this year.
(Renee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:reneestboyce@gmail)