Exercise is one of those things we all know we should do to stay healthy. Still, most of us fail to do enough of it. In fact, only about 20% of adults meet the standard guidelines for physical activity.
There are plenty of reasons why it can be so hard for so many of us to get up and moving more: time, money, stress, little perceived immediate payoff – you name it. And since we don’t really notice or feel the ill effects right away, it’s easy to forget this is a problem – until enough time has passed for those effects to pile up and drag us down.
One new paper powerfully shows not only how much of a difference exercise can make but how relatively quickly those changes become evident.
The study focused on identical twins whose exercise habits had significantly diverged in early adulthood. Before then, everything was generally the same: environment, diet, and, of course, genetics. With most of the subjects, the differences had arisen only within the last handful of years. The results, as reported by the NY Times, were profound.
The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. (Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines, so food choices were unlikely to have contributed to health differences.)
The twins’ brains also were unalike. The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.
Presumably, all of these differences in the young men’s bodies and brains had developed during their few, brief years of divergent workouts, underscoring how rapidly and robustly exercising — or not — can affect health, said Dr. Urho Kujala, a professor of sports and exercise medicine at the University of Jyvaskyla who oversaw the study.
Granted, this study was small and hardly definitive. Yet it reinforces the point that we all “know” yet don’t always act on: Exercise matters. A lot.
One thing you might not be aware of is that there are oral health benefits to exercise, as well. Through recent years, research has shown that those who regularly exercise have a much lower risk of gum disease (which itself is linked to a wide variety of systemic inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis). Fitness and perio health very much seem to go together. A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Periodontology showed that gum disease may be a risk indicator for poor physical fitness, at least in males.
The crux of the matter: Our bodies were built to move. Just as a car left undriven for long periods of time runs less and less well when it is used – if it runs at all – so, too, our bodies.
Image by E’Lisa Campbell, via Flickr