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Did you take your exercise medicine today?

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The effects of regular exercise on our body are similar to medications used to stimulate or sedate us, relieve pain and induce sleep, but minus the toxic side effects. Exercise changes the way we think, feel and act because of the functional or pathological changes it causes in the brain.

Physical activity is used extensively in the treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Physical activity can induce a sense of well-being, self-confidence, improved self-esteem, excitement and alertness or even the adrenaline rush in persons who are depressed. People who are experiencing bouts of anxiety and nervousness can regain control with an exercise prescription that tranquilises them and reduces tension.

Physical activity enhances our brain's ability to target and recruit sensory units and vary their activation to elicit changes we want in our body. It helps to reduce pain and induce sleep because of the release of stress hormones that act as a tranquiliser.

Exercise and heart disease

Physical activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease such as thickening and hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. Much of this is done by strengthening the heart, reducing blood pressure, preventing irregular heartbeat, reducing heart rate, freeing up blood flow and increasing the production of the good cholesterol that mops up the bad cholesterol.

Physical activity stimulates the digestive process and enhances our nutrient supply. The possibility of constipation is reduced. This minimises the risk of digestive track complications, colon cancer and other cancers such as cervical, prostate, breast and uterine.

If you are overwhelmed because of overweight or obesity, physical activity is an excellent appetite suppressant, fat reducer and metabolism booster for weight loss. It has been very effective in the management of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Physical activity has been very effective in improving insulin production and function, improving blood composition by reducing cholesterol levels and keeping it liquid enough so that circulation is improved and reducing blood sugar. The associated tissue damage of the eye that causes blindness and the damage of tissues and ulceration of extremities that could require amputation can be prevented.

Improves immune system

Physical activity improves the immune system, increases the production and circulation of body fluids, nutrients, gases, hormones and other chemicals and eliminates waste substances that are critical to the preservation of life.

Physical activity maintains the integrity of our skeletal structure by enhancing the development of shock absorbers and lubricants to prevent and reduce inflammation of our joints, improve bone density, prevent and reduce osteoporosis and arthritis. These effects of physical activity on our health and well-being make it difficult to ignore its medicinal value.

Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: