Doctor’s column: The benefits of exercise — and precautions |

Doctor’s column: The benefits of exercise — and precautions

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Staff Photo |


Greg Feinsinger of Carbondale, who retired in February from Glenwood Medical Associates after 41 years as a family physician, is writing a 10-week series of columns on critical health issues for the Post Independent. The columns will appear in Tuesday’s Body & More pages.


Blood pressure


People who exercise live longer than people who don’t, but most important is that they have a better quality of life as they age. Specific benefits from exercise are:

Better weight control.

Better blood pressure control.

Lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), higher HDL (good cholesterol).

Less depression.

Less dementia as they age (only two things have been shown to help prevent dementia: regular aerobic exercise and a plant-based, whole foods, low-fat diet).

Better sleep.

Healthier joints.

More muscle mass and better strength with aging.

More energy.

Stronger bones (less osteoporosis).

Less diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Stronger, healthier heart, with more stamina.

Of course, if you have a physically active job, you probably don’t need to do any additional exercise. But these days, most of us have sedentary jobs. We should therefore exercise aerobically at least 30 minutes a day, such as brisk walking (you don’t have to start running marathons). A good rule of thumb for aerobic exercise is to go hard enough so you could talk but not sing. This means that if you can’t even talk while exercising, you need to back off a little, but if you could sing a song, you need to push yourself harder.

You say you don’t have time? Well, you can break the 30 minutes up into three, 10-minute sessions.

Starting at age 40, it is wise to also start doing strength training for 20 minutes twice a week, which if you go from one exercise to the next without a break, can count as your aerobic exercise for the day. People start losing muscle mass and strength starting at around age 40, and a lot of aging is loss of strength. That is why maintaining strength is important. You do not have to go to the gym to do strength training, but can just use light weights, a kettlebell or special “rubber bands” at home. You can buy these things from stores that sell athletic equipment.

If you exercise and then sit around all day, that negates the benefits of the exercise. So if you have a sedentary job, or sit at your computer at home for prolonged periods, get up at least hourly if not every 30 minutes and move about. Another option is to get a stand-up desk.

Is there such a thing as too much exercise? Most of us aren’t in danger of that, but the answer is yes.

Years ago we thought that if someone could run a marathon, they were heart attack-proof, but it didn’t take long to disprove that. It has recently been shown that after someone runs a marathon, there is evidence of some heart muscle damage, and this certainly occurs in people who do ultra-marathons (races of 50 to 100 miles and even longer). World class ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, who wrote a book called “Eat and Run,” recently gave a talk at Independence Run and Hike in Carbondale, and I talked to him about this issue after his presentation. He feels he is protected because since he was a teenager he has been totally plant-based, and he is counting on the antioxidants and other nutrients in vegetables, fruits and whole grains to protect him from heart disease.

Four more caveats about exercise: First, you should wait a good hour after eating before engaging in vigorous exercise, because your blood is being shunted to your digestive system and away from your heart. The second is that it is dangerous to be a “weekend warrior,” especially as you get older. If you sit around all week without exercising and then on the weekend try to climb Mount Sopris, this can be dangerous if you have known or undetected heart disease. Third, if you have chest pain or unusual shortness of breath when exercising, stop immediately and call 911 or go to the emergency room. Fourth, if you have known heart disease or risk factors such as diabetes, you should get clearance from your health care provider before going from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician who is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, plant based nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment.

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