Monday, February 25, 2013

Moderate exercise
if I can do it, anybody can

Another health study in the news this morning, where they show that physical activity not only helps prevent diabetes (which we already have very good evidence for), but it also seems to greatly reduce the risk of death among people that already suffer from the disease.

In short, 40-60 year-old diabetes patients that did the equivalent of half an hour brisk walking or more every day had a 40% lower risk of dying within eight years than a control group that was sedentary. 40% is enough of an effect that it really ranks right up there with diet and medication for controlling diabetes.

One study doesn't really prove anything, and I often go on at length about that. But this fits very well with what we already know about the benefits of moderate, frequent exercise. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, but expected claims do not. And when the upside of acting if it is correct is large and the downside if it's wrong is very small, you might as well act as if it is true and not waste time waiting for more confirmation.

The study used walking as an example of activity level. But there's more and more reason to believe that walking, specifically, is especially good for your health. Low or medium-intensity exercise over long periods have better effect and less injuries than high intensity in short spurts. So walking for an hour every day is probably better for you than, say, aerobics two or three times a week. Standing and moving about instead of sitting down for hours on end may be better still.

There's many good ways to motivate yourself to do this level of exercise. I bring a camera along, and I play Ingress. Both push me to take detours, get off the train a station early, take lunchtime walks, wander through town on my days off and so on. And I often stand and work at the office — mostly for my back, so the other benefits are a bonus.

It seems to be effective — my weight, blood pressure and health exam results have all been improving over the years — but the effect is a bit lopsided. My legs and hips get lots of exercise, while my arms and shoulders get nothing. I should probably do something for my back if nothing else, but it's difficult to figure out what to do. Walking is just, well, walking, but all upper-body exercise seems to involve doing actual sports, which is something I'm just as happy to avoid.

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