Old and New Studies Prove Exercise Really Is Medicine. Here's How to Get Started

(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Alyssa Van Hook)

Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and even boost your mood. In fact, many experts consider exercise to be medicine.

Since 400 B.C., the term "Exercise is Medicine" has been discussed among doctors, philosophers, warriors and athletes. In fact, it is attributed to Hippocrates, to whom all doctors pledge the Hippocratic Oath to this day. The first prescription for exercise (walking) was also credited to him, with an accompanying quote:

"I say this is a most excellent one and allied to many others, some of the most vital importance in the art [medicine], for that it can contribute much to the recovery of the sick, and to the preservation of health in case of those gymnastic [athletic] exercises, and is useful to whatever one wishes to apply it."

Fast forward 2,400 years, and there is additional evidence from the British Journal of Sports Medicine that exercise is not only effective medicine for chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, but also for depression, anxiety and distress, and weight loss.

The meta-analysis concluded that any form of physical activity reduced depressive symptoms. The good news is that you don't have to start running marathons (although you could) or even join a gym: Walking was highly effective as a source of physical activity.

There are countless other studies that recommend physical activity for additional benefits. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that regular physical activity can help improve your overall health; reduce symptoms of depression; and even help manage chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Physical activity is not the only treatment available and certainly should not replace therapy and medication, but it is perhaps the catalyst to helping other treatments work better. Exercise has many benefits, but for the individual who seeks to get healthier medical screening numbers and lose weight, it should also not be the only prescription.

Nutrition, sleep, medication and physical activity may be the ideal combination for some, though not everyone may need the full spectrum of healthy suggestions. Exercise is a fundamental aspect of health care, and Hippocrates, the father of medicine himself, couldn't agree more.

To implement this knowledge into your daily routine, it's important to start small and act. Even a simple walk can be beneficial, especially when combined with the practice of box breathing.

For military veterans and aging Americans looking to improve their fitness level, try the basics with walking and box breathing as they offer accessible and convenient ways to incorporate exercise medicine into your daily routine, with just a 10-minute walk after each meal.

Remember, any exercise is better than none, no matter your mental health status. So, let's get moving toward a healthier tomorrow.

If you are wondering what type of exercise would be most beneficial, the researchers did not specify the frequency, intensity, time or type (called the FITT Principle) that led to these results. It should be known that there is no one solution that appropriately answers what works best for the individual.

Similar to dieting, there is no one meal that pleases everyone or yields optimal results universally. My recommendation is to start easy and focus on lower intensity, but daily frequency with short bursts of time.

For instance, a 10-minute walk after each meal of the day is a great place to start to see if you have any changes in mental or physical health. Add stretching for a few minutes afterward, and you will quickly feel a difference in a 10-minute before and after.

Here are some basic considerations however just to be safe:

First, consult your doctor. Before beginning any kind of exercise routine, your doctor should be aware of your plans and any potential risks, especially if you are already on any medications.

Next, find activities that you enjoy. Exercise doesn't have to be running marathons or joining a gym. Physical activity comes in many shapes and sizes. There are plenty of activities that you can do, such as walking, swimming, cycling and even yard work. Get a partner to join you and get social too. Join a walking group or an exercise class with friends and family.

Finally, start with a few minutes and build up to 30 minutes of activity per day. If you're new to exercise, start slow. Begin with just a few minutes of activity every day, then build up to 30 minutes. Even small amounts of exercise can have a big impact on your health.

Are you ready to conquer your fitness goals? Our Military.com fitness pages have got your back! From crushing fitness tests and spec ops training to box breathing technique training, we make it easy to incorporate some form of exercise into your daily routine, no matter your fitness level.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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