Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
"I don't have time to exercise" is probably uttered as many times a day as "Do you want fries with that?" Of course, persons who never engage in formal exercise or any other kind of physical activity will eventually have plenty of time. They will simply spend it later on in the waiting rooms of doctors' offices or emergency rooms or in cardiac or stroke rehabilitation programs. Each of us has the same number of hours in the day; how and when we use those hours will make all the difference.
Even as the average life expectancy of Americans edges toward 80 years a little slippage is showing. Life expectancy in some southeastern states is actually declining, a trend that some authorities fear will spread to the nation as a whole. In spite of near-miraculous advances in medicine in the last half-century, lifestyle-driven diseases are eroding our progress. A deeper analysis of life expectancy figures shows that our years spent battling chronic disease are increasing faster than the years in which we enjoy good health. The last one tenth of the average American's life finds him battling one or more chronic diseases.
We don't develop these problems because we live longer. Present-day hunter-gatherers who live like our Stone Age ancestors are free of these diseases even when they reach the seventh decade of life, as nearly a fifth of them do. Native Americans and Australian Aborigines who take up the modern Western lifestyle succumb to Western diseases, further aggravated by high rates of alcoholism and suicide.
Most of us, including physicians, vastly underestimate the need for daily, moderately intense physical activity. It is a genetically hard-wired requirement that evolved over thousands of generations and that cannot be ignored. The good news is that several hours a week of brisk walking and resistance exercise (a combination of dumbbells and weight machines) will improve heart and lung capacity, enhance immunity against infections and cancer and nearly eliminate the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Improved memory, sharper reaction time, more restful sleep, less arthritis pain and postponement of age-related dementia make adjusting one's schedule a wise move. Leisure activities such as tennis, dancing or gardening are nearly as good. Take the time to ride a bike to work, park the car farther from your office and use the stairs instead of the elevator. It might avoid a few months in rehab.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.