3 Lesser-Known Benefits of Exercise

May 19th 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

Exercise is known to help patients lose weight and manage cholesterol, but many patients may be unaware of the other benefits of being physically active.

Exercise is known to help patientslose weightandmanage cholesterol, but many patients may be unaware of the other benefits of being physically active.

Retail clinicians looking to encourage their patients to kickstart a healthier routine may be able to provide them with a little added incentive by telling them that regular exercise can potentially:

1. Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Exercise may be just as healthy for the mind as it is for the body, as a recent study suggests that physical activity may be able to reduce a patient’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Seeking to better understand the relationship between physical fitness and cerebral blood flow, a research team from the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences administered treadmill fitness assessments to 30 patients aged 59 to 69 years.

After analyzing brain scans of the patients, as well as ultrasounds of their hearts, the researchers found that blood flow to critical areas of the brain was higher in more physically fit patients. Thus, the study authors speculated that regular physical activity maintains the integrity of these blood vessels, potentially protecting patients from Alzheimer’s disease.

“Can we prove irrefutably that increased fitness will prevent Alzheimer's disease? Not at this point,” noted lead author Nathan Johnson, PT, DPT, PhD, in a press release. “But this is an important first step towards demonstrating that being physically active improves blood flow to the brain and confers some protection from dementia, and conversely that people who live sedentary lifestyles, especially those who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s, might be more susceptible.”

The study results were published inNeuroImage.

2. Reduce Cancer Risk

Patients who exercise frequently may also lower their odds of developing certain types of cancer, according to a separate study.

The study, which was published inJAMA Internal Medicine, examined self-reported data on physical activity from 1.4 million patients across 12 US and European cohorts between 1987 and 2004. Throughout a median follow-up period of 12 years, there were 186,932 cancer diagnoses among all participants.

Based on their analysis, the researchers determined that greater levels of physical activity were associated with a 7% lower risk of total cancer. In particular, exercise was linked with reduced risks of the following cancers:

· Esophageal adenocarcinoma (42 %)

· Liver (27%)

· Lung (26%)

· Kidney (23%)

· Gastric cardia (22%)

· Endometrial (21%)

· Myeloid leukemia (20%)

· Myeloma (17%)

· Colon (16%)

· Head and neck (15%)

· Rectal (13%)

· Bladder (13%)

· Breast (10%)

These associations held true even after accounting for the patients’ body size or smoking history, the study authors noted.

“These findings support promoting physical activity as a key component of population-wide cancer prevention and control efforts,” they wrote.

However, physical activity was also linked with a 5% higher risk of prostate cancer and a 27% higher risk of malignant melanoma—an association that was particularly prevalent in regions of the United States with higher levels of UV radiation.

The study authors acknowledged that diet, smoking, and other factors may have had an effect on the results, and so they added that further research is needed before causality can be established.

3. Assist Recovery After COPD Hospitalization

Patients who participate in moderate to vigorous exercise may see reduced risk of early death after being hospitalized for a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) episode.

Expanding on previous research that indicated high levels of physical activity can lead to shorter hospital stays and a decreased risk of acute exacerbations, death, and hospitalizations, arecent studyanalyzed data on 2370 patients who were hospitalized for COPD between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2011.

The participants self-reported their amount of moderate to vigorous exercise at routine outpatient visits prior to their hospitalization.

Of the participants, 73% reported no moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (inactive), about 17% participated in 1 to 149 minutes of activity per week (insufficiently active), and 10% exercised for 150 minutes or more per week (active).

The research team found that active or insufficiently active patients had a 28% lower risk of death than inactive patients during the 12 months following a COPD hospitalization. Overall, there were 464 patient deaths during the 12-month study period.

In a previous interview withContemporary Clinic, study author Huong Q. Nguyen, PhD, RN, encouraged retail clinicians to refer recently discharged COPD patients to a local pulmonary rehabilitation program, where patients can be eased into a healthy post-hospitalization exercise routine.

“A warm handoff is ideal if the clinician works closely with the pulmonary rehab programs in the area,” Dr. Nguyen said. “The clinician discusses with the patient and family the importance of improving physical functioning, gains patients’ commitment, and the patient agrees to be connected to a pulmonary rehab program.”

Retail clinicians can also refer the patient to a local community center or senior center if a rehab facility is not available. Patients who would prefer to start or resume physical activity on their own can be advised to take small steps, such as marching in place during TV commercial breaks and steadily progressing to walking for longer periods.

“Most important for the retail clinician is to understand patients’ readiness for change, their preferences, and how they wish to be supported to become more physically active and providing the resources/referrals and advice,” Dr. Nguyen explained.

The study was published inERJ Open Research.

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