The top five causes of deaths in Guyana are Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes Mellitus, HIV/AIDS, and Hypertension. What if someone told you that you can deter four of those, plus cancer by simply walking two laps in the National Park for five days a week? What if someone told you half an hour of football a day can make you smarter? What if someone told you a routine 45 minute workout can lift stress, make you sharper, avoid dementia and improve your sex life? By now you might be thinking Kwesi Edmondson should have referenced that someone in his popular 2013 song –stupid questions.
As crazy as these claims sound, they are all backed by years of prominent scientific research, which continue to reveal the myriad of health benefits provided by some decent exercise on a regular basis. Let’s examine some of these claims:
1. Exercise can reverse the effects of stress- an hour of street cricket can do more than give you some good laughs, it’s an instant way to blow off tension by boosting levels of stress combating chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. That old aunt of yours might have told you that if you worry too much, you’ll be as grey as her sooner than you’d like, but that’s another area that exercise can help- studies by the University of California now show that it may work on a cellular level to reverse stress’ toll on the aging process. The researchers found that stressed-out women who exercised vigorously for an average of 45 minutes over a three-day period had cells that showed fewer signs of aging compared to women who were stressed and inactive. Elissa Epel, an associate professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, wrote that exercise “alters blood flow to those areas in the brain involved in triggering us to relive stressful thoughts again and again,” In a country where violence is one of top ten causes of death, that is already a reason to pick up a bat and a ball.
2. It can help get rid of depression – in Guyana depression isn’t always considered from a clinical standpoint, but let’s face it, some of our loved ones are not just ‘mizerrebble’. Research suggests that burning 350 calories three times a week, perhaps through a few decent sweat-inducing games of basketball, can reduce symptoms of depression almost as effectively as antidepressants. That’s possible because exercise has been found to stimulate the growth of neurons in certain brain regions damaged during depression.
3. It can make you smarter and sharper – it’s been shown that exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors that help make new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells to help us learn. What’s more, regular dancing or some volleyball provide some of the biggest brain boosts because you challenge your brain more when you have to think about coordination. Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, in his book on exercise and health says that “Like muscles, you have to stress your brain cells to get them to grow.” A German study found that activities that test our coordination improve our capacity to learn by enhancing our attention and concentration skills. In their study, high school students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing 10 minutes of a complicated fitness routine compared to 10 minutes of regular activity. While those who hadn’t exercised at all scored the worst.
4. It can stave off Dementia- don’t want to end up in the ‘Berbice Mad House? Get this – Italian researchers enlisted 749 people suffering from memory problems in a study and measured their walking and other moderate activities, such as yard work. At the four-year follow-up, they found that those who expended the most energy walking had a 27 percent lower risk of developing dementia than the people who expended the least. This could be the result of physical activity’s role in increasing blood flow to the brain.
5. Yes, it can improve your sex life- Regular exercise, like a decent swim at the creek or at the pool, actually increases the flexibility of your arteries, which improves blood flow, basically everywhere and that can improve arousal. The Harvard School of Public Health determined that just 20 minutes of regular exercise a day can boost sexual response in women. Added to that, exercise triggers hormones and brain chemicals like adrenaline and serotonin, which help boost arousal as well. In a study of women between 45 and 55 years old, those who exercised, including brisk walking, reported not only greater sexual desire, but better sexual satisfaction, too. So there it is, vitamin Ex, for your vitamin S.
6. Finally, exercise can help fight the big five diseases that you ought to be worried about in Guyana. Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension and Cancer don’t literally have to be the death of you. We’ve talked about cricket, football, basketball and swimming, but studies show that even brisk walking can lead to a significant risk reduction for developing type 2 diabetes. A recent British study found that people with a family history of the disease that walked briskly, or performed some other type of moderate to vigorous activity on a routine basis, improved insulin sensitivity, a predictor of this disease. According to University of South Carolina researchers, walking briskly for just 30 minutes, five days a week can also significantly lower your risk of suffering a stroke. After studying 46,000 men and 15,000 women over the course of 18 years, those with increased fitness levels associated with regular brisk walking had a 40 percent lower risk of suffering a stroke than those with the lowest fitness level.
In a 2012 study researchers found that breast cancer risk went down 30 percent in women who exercised 10 hours per week and that includes even low-level physical activity, like walking or climbing stairs. If you’re still not ready to strap on a pair of joggers, I dare you to find a doctor who doesn’t believe that regular exercise has a favorable effect on many of the established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If anything, Kwesi should sing about this place being crazy if people still refuse to take a stroll in the park.
By | Neil Barry