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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Exercise as Medicine

Author and Brian Hicks at National Duathlon Championship 2014 St. Paul

Ads for prescription drugs seem to be everywhere. I can’t watch television without seeing several an hour.  These ads create a demand from the American public for quick cures.  Doctors have been quick to comply, often prescribing drugs for symptoms without ever getting to a root cause or even a cure.  The foundation of American medicine seems to be prescription drugs. 

But study results published in a December 11, 2013 New York Times article that exercise may be even more effective then medicine for some conditions.

The study looked at how well certain drugs and exercise succeeded in reducing deaths in patients with heart disease, chronic heart failure, stroke and diabetes.  Huseyin Naci a graduate student at the London School of Economics and Dr. John Ioannidis, director of the Stanford Prevention Research center conducted the study.
They examined records for 340,000 patients from 305 past experiments.  

There were 57 studies that with 14,176 volunteers that used exercise alone.  They compared mortality risks for different treatment options.
Their results showed exercise and drugs had equal effectiveness except for patients with chronic heart failure.

To quote Dr. Ioannidis “Results suggest that exercise can be quite potent in treating heart disease and other conditions, equaling the life saving benefits available from most of the commonly prescribed drugs including statins. 

Dr. Ioannidis also stated that only about 5 percent of studies analyzed exercise as an intervention to prevent disease.   He hopes for more research; “We need far more information about how exercise compares head to head with drugs in the treatment of many conditions, as well as what types and amounts confer the most benefit.”

There are many benefits to exercise including:

Regular exercise can slow the aging process and help to prevent some of the chronic illness associated with aging.  It keeps muscles, bones, lungs and heart stronger as we age.

Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy body weight. It can control body fat composition at a lower level. Regular workouts especially if strength training can contribute to well-toned muscles.  Muscles have better tone and definition.  Skin will be healthier due to increased circulation from exercise.
Better Blood
Exercise improves the blood lipid profile or in other words can improve your cholesterol numbers. Exercise can raise you HDLC (Good) and lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Exercise increases the number of red blood cells which carry oxygen. Your bloods ability to clot also improves with exercise.

Blood Pressure
You can lower your blood pressure because exercise increases vessel size, number and elasticity reducing blood pressure.

Exercise that is weight bearing like running can help to keep bones strong. Exercise improves bone density and helps prevent bone mineral loss essential to preventing osteoporosis.

Regular exercise is a cancer preventer. Regular exercise can lower the risk of colon, breast and reproductive cancers.

Running can help to control asthma. Exercise makes the lungs open up and flush out. Your heart is a muscle and like any muscle gets stronger and larger when it is worked. Regular exercise helps the heart to work more efficiently and effectively.

Blood sugar can be controlled by regular exercise.  A regular program of exercise can prevent diabetes Type II which is the result of aging.

Telomeres protect DNA and protein complexes.  They prevent damage or fraying of the DNA.  The more the DNA frays the sicker you get and the faster you age.  Lifestyle changes and exercise help preserve telomeres. A research study in California did a control group and a group with lifestyle changes to see the effect of the telomeres.  The changes included 30 minutes of moderate exercise (walking), stress management and a diet high in whole foods, high in plant based protein and low in fat.

Telomere length was measured in the control group and the group doing the lifestyle changes. Short telomere length is associated with cellular aging and is seen as a precursor to many types of cancer, stroke, dementia, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.
The lifestyle group showed significant increase in telomere length.

Immune System
Exercise boosts the immune system. When you exercise on a regular basis your body is better able to fight off infections and diseases like cancer.

Being fit can improve pregnancy and delivery outcomes.

Running improves sleep quality and those that exercise report they fall asleep more easily. Being tired from exercise makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

So why doesn’t everyone exercise?  Because taking a pill is so much easier than going for a walk. One of my older brothers has recently been diagnosed with diabetes. He was prescribed a pill for the diabetes.  He is also taking a statin for high blood pressure.  Both of his medications are expensive and strain his budget. I suggested that going for a walk and some exercise at the gym might get him off of both prescriptions. He refuses to even consider it.

I think it is just easier for him to take a pill. Drugs can be expensive and are not without side effects. I suspect like me he has CMT. Statins can accelerate CMT and I’ve noticed he has hand tremors which I think are due to the Statins.

I notice in the CMT community many are waiting for a cure. They want a pill to make their CMT go away.
Honestly I would like that too, but we don’t know what the side effects of a cure could be or how much the treatment might cost.

Right now exercise is our only alternative. Even if a cure is discovered, exercise may still be needed to enhance the drug.  Any CMT drugs developed may also arrest progression and not reverse damage. So staying strong to preserve function is really important.

I believe so much in exercise for CMT that I started Team CMT.  Money that we raise goes to fund the research of Dr. Robert Chetlin on the effect of exercise on CMT.

Author at PATCO Dallas 2014
Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Chris is a triathlete and long distance runner. She is a three time participant of the Boston Marathon.  She was the 2012 National Champion Paratriathlon Open Division and 2014 PC Open Division Duathlon National Champion. In 2013 she qualified as a member of the Team USA Duathlon Team and was eligible to compete in 2014 at the Age Group World Duathlon Sprint Championship in Pontevedre Spain.  She chose instead to represent the U.S. as a paratriathlete at the Pan-American Triathlon Championship in Dallas, Texas.

She is the author of the book, “Running for My Life” that details her experience as a CMT affected athlete.

You may visit her author page at:

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 152 members in 30 states. We also have members in Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site; or

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

Additional Link
Follow CMT affected Paratriathlete Timmy Dixon

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