Doctor’s Tip: Exercise is important for optimal health |

Doctor’s Tip: Exercise is important for optimal health

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
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Over the past several weeks these columns have discussed Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen from his book “How Not to Die,” including 10 types of food we should be eating daily for optimal health. Last week’s column discussed what we should be drinking every day. Today’s column is the last of the daily dozen, something that we should be doing daily for optimal health: exercise.

Greger recommends ideally 90 minutes of moderate exercise or 40 minutes of vigorous activity daily. However, other experts point out that even 30 minutes a day of brisk walking is very beneficial. Examples of moderate exercise are biking on the level, dancing, downhill skiing, hiking, housework, roller-skating, light snow shoveling, recreational swimming, brisk walking (4 mph), yard work and yoga.

Examples of vigorous activities include bicycling uphill, circuit weight-training, cross-country skiing, racquetball, running, singles tennis, swimming laps and walking briskly uphill. Recent evidence indicates that interval training once or twice a week adds additional benefit, meaning pushing yourself hard enough to get your heart and breath rate up for 3 to 4 minutes at a time, repeat three times, with a brief rest in between.

Among the many health benefits of exercise are that it:

• helps overweight people lose weight and other people maintain ideal body weight.

• lowers blood pressure.

• can prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes.

• improves endothelial function (referring to the organ system that lines your arteries), thereby decreasing heart attacks and stroke risk.

• decreases the risk of several types of cancer.

• maintains joint health and range of motion.

• maintains strong bones and muscles.

• helps prevent and treat depression.

• helps prevent dementia including Alzheimer’s.

• improves low back pain.

• helps people live longer, but more importantly enhances quality of life as they age.

Some caveats about exercise are:

• If you think you don’t have time to exercise, even 10 minutes of walking three times a day is beneficial.

• If you sit for prolonged periods watching TV or at a sedentary job, you undo a lot of the benefit of exercise. So get up and move about at least every 30 minutes or use a stand-up desk.

• A lot of aging is loss of strength, which starts at around age 40. So if you are 40 or older, do strength training twice a week.

• If you have chest pain or unusual shortness of breath while exercising, stop immediately and go to the ER.

• If you have known heart disease, check with your primary care provider or cardiologist before starting an exercise program.

• Never engage in vigorous exercise within two hours of eating, while your heart is pumping blood to your digestive system.

• Especially if you are over 40, it’s dangerous to be a “weekend warrior” — couch potato all week and then exercise vigorously on the weekend.

• There is such a thing as too much exercise. Marathoners have evidence of heart damage after running an event, and people who run marathons frequently or even occasional ultramarathons or full Ironman Triathlons are at higher risk for atrial fibrillation. Due to excessive oxidative stress incurred from too much exercise, these people are also at higher risk for atherosclerosis, the cause of heart attacks and strokes.

• Taking antioxidant pills does not help with the oxidative stress of too much exercise, but eating foods high in antioxidants does (fruits and vegetables). Read “Eat and Run” by famous ultramarathoner Scott Jurek to learn more.

Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at

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