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Regular physical activity can help us recover more quickly, heal more easily, and get an edge on all kinds of disease and injury. In fact, exercise may just be nature’s best medicine. “There is no medication or nutritional supplement that even comes close to having all of the effects exercise does,” says David C. Nieman, PhD, author of The Exercise–Health Connection: How to Reduce Your Risk of Disease and Other Illnesses by Making Exercise Your Medicine. “It’s truly the best medicine we know of.”

We usually think of exercise as a preventive measure — something that helps us maintain our general fitness. But in truth, it offers a vast range of healing influences — helping to reverse negative biochemical trends while improving our resiliency and immunity at virtually every physiological level.

Inflammation Fix

Inflammation is one of our body’s key responses to injury and infection, but chronic inflammation can have an adverse rather than a protective function. It can play a role in conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, as well as depression and other mental-health issues.

Over the years, multiple studies and numerous health experts have heralded physical activity as one of the best ways to keep inflammation at bay.

There are multiple ways movement helps: It may prod the body into making more antioxidants, which then seek and destroy free radicals associated with prolonged inflammation. And studies find both aerobic and nonaerobic exercise lowers levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP, one of the body’s primary markers for inflammation.

Heightened Defenses

Epidemiological evidence shows that regular physical activity reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases as we age, “including communicable diseases such as viral and bacterial infections, as well as noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders,” according to a 2018 paper in Frontiers in Immunology.

Connected with this, in 2020 the American College of Sports Medicine reported that working out is a first line of immune defense against pandemics such as COVID-19.

Exercise also supports the lymph system, a network of organs, tissues, and vessels that transport lymph fluid throughout the body, balancing fluids and producing white blood cells to fight off infection. The body has roughly 500 lymph nodes — nodules of tissue that take out metabolic trash. But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of muscles contracting during exercise and putting the squeeze on lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system. Increased circulation is key to both white-blood-cell production and better lymph drainage.

Cancer Fighter

It’s long been known that exercise can prevent and treat heart disease, among other chronic conditions. In 2020, an international team of researchers and practitioners suggested that cancer is on that list as well.

The American College of Sports Medicine convened the panel, which included representatives from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and 15 other organizations. Experts reviewed the latest research and concluded in a paper, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, that an “exercise prescription” could lower the risk of developing colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal, and stomach cancers.

This was excerpted from “Made to Move” which was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Michael Dregni and Maggie Fazeli Fard

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor. Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, MFT-1, ALPHA, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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  1. This is a concisely written article that covers all the basic benefits of exercise. I did not begin to exercise until I was 30 years old–I had been discouraged by experiences in competitive sports in high school gym classes. Basically, I was too insecure to play aggressively. Encouraged by my husband, I started running from one tree to the next as we walked in the park–getting ”side stitches” even with that. With persistence, I built my routine to five ten-minute miles–finishing strong and uplifted. I firmly believe that my modest level of fitness helped me have a happy pregnancy and birth of my daughter at 32. I turned 80 on August 2nd of this year–with many changes in exercise, including three years of Aqua Fitness at the Cary Lifetime Fitness, Would you like to hear more about my journey?

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