Prevention is the Best Medicine

Preventative health care in America is practically non existent. Other than the people that are regularly active, most people don’t tend to take the initiative to do anything to improve their health before they get sick. Even worse, if you happen to go into the doctor for a routine exam, and all of your numbers come back “normal”, the doctor is likely to tell you that you’re healthy, and you should just keep doing what you’re doing.

For those that are currently healthy and don’t do any type of regular physical activity, should they just remain sedentary?

According to the CDC, fewer than half of American adults regularly meet the recommendations for physical activity, and not all of those that aren’t as active as they should be look unhealthy. I know many people that hate exercise, eat crap, and on the surface look very slim and fit. But what will happen to them 20 or 30 years from now if they don’t start doing something proactively to keep them healthy?

I recently saw a headline for an article (More Physically Active Adults Have Improved Cardiorespiratory Fitness) that seemed pretty straight forward to me. I mean, the more you exercise the fitter you are going to be, right? Thankfully, there was a little more to the article than the headline would have led you believe.

Instead of focusing on an unhealthy population, researchers from the University of Missouri are looking at the physical activity levels of healthy individuals and are looking for ways to encourage healthy people that don’t get the recommended amount of activity up and moving. Improved cardiorespiratory fitness can decrease the risk of developing an array of chronic diseases later in life, so encouraging physical activity in young and healthy individuals now can help keep them healthy as they age.

It seems that for those in the healthy yet physically inactive crowd, many just don’t know why they should be exercising regularly. If all of the vital signs are within range, weight is controlled, and the body feels fine, why should they try to squeeze regular exercise into their already busy schedule?

Researchers studied the effect of motivational physical activity interventions (education, recommendations from health professionals, counseling) on healthy adults, and whether or not those interventions helped to improve an individual’s cardiorespiratory fitness. The interventions used in the study varied, but all were aimed at encouraging the participants of the study to become more active. The individuals in the study that had the greatest improvement to their cardiorespiratory fitness were told that increasing physical activity can help to improve their cardiorespiratory fitness, instead of just encouraging them to do endurance exercise alone.

In my opinion, perhaps the biggest benefit of this study is the finding that the interventions didn’t have to come from a fitness professional to be effective, but that a quick mention from a doctor or nurse about the cardiorespiratory benefits of regular exercise were successful in increasing patient activity.

Instead of telling you to just keep doing what you’re doing, doctors and nurses need to be a little more direct with their patients. Tell them their numbers look good and the patient looks healthy. But remind them that their health can change in the future, and to keep their heart and lungs strong and healthy they need to be physically active on a regular basis.

If doctors and hospitals can spread that message, preventative health care may exist after all.

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