Most of us associate a prescription with a slip of paper. You take that slip of paper to your local pharmacy and receive medications from the plethora of drugs that exist today for just about anything that ails you – from the common cold to heart disease. Drugs can eliminate a severe headache, bring relief from seasonal allergies, generally alleviate symptoms and in some instances, even cure illnesses.
However, the word prescription is not limited to drugs; it now applies to exercise as well. Many physicians have begun to prescribe exercise routines in conjunction with or even instead of medications for their patients.
While exercise is a key ingredient in disease prevention, it has also been proven in recent years that exercise also can play a major role in the treatmentof many ailments that have previously been treated with medication alone. How does exercise fit into both overall wellness, and curing or controlling various diseases?
Dr. Jeremiah Stamler is an epidemiologist and world-renowned expert on cardiovascular disease. He is a major proponent of using diet and exercise in place of medication. In an interview last year with Nutrition Action Magazine, Dr. Stamler asserted that the heart disease epidemic in the United States could virtually be ended.
Dr. Stamler maintains that following the “DASH” diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which includes low sodium intake in conjunction with an adequate exercise program, can significantly lower one’s blood pressure and cholesterol. Dr. Stamler also maintains that diet, exercise and reduced smoking are enough to cut risk. He states that statin (cholesterol- lowering) drugs and blood pressure medications will not end the epidemic for the tens of millions of people who suffer from these ailments. These drugs are costly, have side effects and only ameliorate – not cure – the underlying problem.
Although these drugs are certainly a necessity in many cases, and their use outweighs any risk of not taking them, drugs alone are not the answer. If your doctor prescribes medication for you, follow his advice, but at the same time, ask him about establishing a comprehensive plan which includes diet and exercise.
Hashem gives us the gift of a healthy body and expects us to do our utmost to maintain our health. The pasuk (verse) in chapter four of Parshat V’eschanan, “V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem” clearly states that a Jew is obligated to take care of his own body. The pasuk includes the word “me’od” or “very much.” The Ohr Tzadikim, in his commentary, says that this word is included because if one doesn’t take care of himself physically and becomes ill, his “nefesh” – his soul and spirit – will become weak, thus hampering his ability to serve Hashem.
We can all increase our activity in order to be healthy both physically and spiritually. Exercise paired with good nutrition is the best way to maintain both your physical health and your spiritual well-being.
In recent years, the incidence of what is know as Type 2, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), has been steadily increasing. Specifically, Americans have been developing diabetes at an alarming rate over the past 10 years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 16 million people in the United States currently have diabetes – about a third more than had the disease in 1990. Only 5 to 10% of these cases are insulin- dependent.
While increases were reported among all adults, the most dramatic increase – a 70% jump – was seen in the 30-39 age group. Among those 40- 49, the rate of diabetes increased by 40%, and it was up 31% for those 50-59. Researches note that the increases among the younger age groups are especially troubling.
The instances of exercise acting to help or cure disease are countless. Let’s look at Type 2 diabetes, which is frequently manifesting itself in all ages of the population and is quickly spinning out of control both in the United States and Israel. Diabetics are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease 15 years earlier than the general population, according to a study released this past summer by the Institute of Clinical Evaluation Sciences in Toronto. Diabetics also are at risk for kidney disease, nerve disorder and blindness, and are at a particularly high risk for limb-threatening infections.
Yet we see from a study published through Medscape in June 2006 that a diabetic who performs four moderate aerobic sessions and does 2-3 resistance training sessions per week significantly cuts his risk of cardiovascular disease. A more intense program may reduce the need for medication or even eliminate it altogether. Exercise may actually prevent this illness from developing in the first place–active individuals have a 50% lower risk of ever developing diabetes. If you currently have a borderline glucose reading, you can avoid drugs and possibly insulin by beginning an exercise program now. It is important to consult with your physician prior to beginning any an exercise program.
In next week’s column, we will look at the ways in which exercise can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol–and even help prevent against cancer.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! He can be reached at (U.S. Line) 516-568-5027, 02-651-8502 or by email at email@example.com.