• The Hidden Benefits of Movement as Medicine

    The Hidden Benefits of Movement as Medicine

A new motto is floating around fitness and physical therapy circles: Movement as medicine.

But what does that mean and how does it work? In this article, we explore the hidden benefits of movement as medicine and how you can harness those benefits as you age.

What is Movement as Medicine?

The Hidden Benefits

Movement as medicine refers to the tendency of active people to have healthier muscles. This is especially true of active people over 65. According to an article published in The New York Times, they found that people in their 70’s could have healthy muscles indistinguishable form from a 25-year-old. What these older individuals had in common was maintaining an active lifestyle for decades. Biologically speaking, these people were 30 years younger.

Recently, there has been a lot of attention drawn to “movement as medicine” and the theories suggest that it alters how we age. It affects everything from injury prevention to healthier immune and cognitive function. This research is challenging the idea that cardiovascular health and muscle building declines as a by-product of age, but rather as a result of inactivity.

In one study by Ball University, scientists looked at three groups of people; active 65 plus individuals, inactive 65 plus individuals, and a group of people in their 20’s. They found that the active group of senior individuals had muscles as capable as those of people in their 20’s. Those muscles also showed physical similarities, with equally healthy capillaries and enzymes (indicators of healthy muscle build). However, the inactive group showed a 40% reduction in muscle capabilities. 

Simply put, science backs up the old expression use it or lose it. So, the idea of movement as medicine indicates that the more active you are, the fewer health problems you will have. 

Now, that all sounds great for those who have stayed active and boast healthy muscles, but what about everyone else? What about people recovering from injuries or struggling with pain?

Well, it turns out that there are some hidden benefits of being active even if the activity is difficult.

Reduce Risk of Type Two Diabetes

This one is a little obvious, so calling it a hidden benefit isn’t entirely accurate. Nonetheless, we thought this was important enough to include anyway considering how many Americans struggle with the disorder.

Contrary to popular belief, type two diabetes is caused by more than just being overweight. However, in America, obesity is the leading cause of developing the condition. Millions of Americans have “prediabetes” and many aren’t aware of it. Prediabetes is when your glucose levels are elevated but not so much that you become diabetic. Basically, it is what it sounds like; a condition that develops before you become diabetic. Though overall health, genetic factors, and diet are major factors in the condition progressing, being active has a positive impact.

Improve Arthritis Symptoms

According to this article by The Washington Post, only 40% of Americans with arthritis are above the age of 65. Meaning that simple everyday tasks are considered difficult for about 24 million people with arthritis. 

Doctors recommend exercises for people with arthritis of all ages. Even though it can be painful, the benefits, in the long run, are worth it. Not only can an increase in physical activity help alleviate arthritic symptoms, but it can reduce the risk of developing other conditions associated with chronic pain, such as obesity. 

Here are a few quick exercises you can do to reduce pain caused by arthritis. 

Note: If you are experiencing any abnormal discomfort, please consult your physician. 

  • Stretching
  • Walking
  • Tia chi, yoga, and pilates
  • Water cycling
  •  Gardening
  • Low impact aerobics

Effects on Parkinson’s Symptoms

Exercise is vital to people with, or at risk of, developing Parkinson’s Disease. Since the main struggle with those with Parkinson’s is balance and motor function, an active person will diminish the progression of symptoms. The best results can be found by taking medication and working with a physical therapist or personal trainer. Though any regular exercise will help. If you don’t have a personal trainer or prefer to get your activity in other ways, that’s alright. The important thing isn’t what kind of exercise you are getting, simply that you are getting it regularly.

According to Parkinson’s News Today, here are a few quick exercises to diminish the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms:

  • Intensive sports training.
  • Treadmill training without body weight support.
  • Resistance training.
  • Aerobics.
  • Alternative exercises, such as yoga.
  • Home-based exercises.
  • Practicing movement strategies.

Reduce Chronic Pain

It has long been common knowledge that exercises release endorphins associated with the pleasure centers of our brains. But these same neurotransmitters, namely dopamine, and endocannabinoids, can also reduce the pain caused by inflammation and chronic disease. According to this NPR article, these naturally occurring endorphins have the same reported pain relief results as medical marijuana.

This is typically caused by intermittent, high-intensity exercise such as running, cycling, or swimming. Due to the intensity level and the strain these exercises can put on joints, you may want to work your way up with some of the other exercises we mentioned earlier.

Improved Social Life

Another benefit of the release of endorphins we experience when we exercise is to feel closer to people. This is particularly prevalent in group exercise activities like yoga, spin class, and synchronized swimming where groups of people are moving together as a group. Because of the release of endorphins and the team mentality of these activities, many people experience feeling a bond or closeness with those in their fitness groups. This reinforces our positive feelings toward being social and increases our likelihood to be social and more outgoing outside of group exercise.

Get Moving

Every day, we are working to reinvent the way people think about aging. Your number doesn’t mean being sentenced to the couch, and science suggests that empowering yourself to move is the key to staying healthy.

Originally published on the Life Enriching Communities website with the same title.

Confident Living is a continuing care at home membership program, focused on helping you remain active and independent as you age in your own home. We serve the greater Cincinnati area. For more information, contact us online or call (513) 719-3522. 

Cover of guide and Button reading Get more tips for living well in our a-z guide- Download my Free Guide.