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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
In late September, Richmond resident Denise Davis noticed she had trouble finishing an otherwise routine walk without stopping to use her inhaler.
The 60-year-old knows plenty of people who have health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes and don't do much about them. But that's not her style. She threw herself into her exercise routine, lost 16 pounds in a month and now finds she can leave her inhaler at home.
Davis is one of many who takes Terrica Woolridge's free weekly class through Sports Backers' Fitness Warriors program at the Robinson Theater in Church Hill. Many have stories just like Davis' — once exercise became part of their routine, they not only feel better, but they find they use less medication as well.
"(Participants) tell me, 'I couldn't go up the stairs, but now I can,' or 'My arthritis isn't as bad,'" Woolridge said. "You don't have to look at the scale, that's not the only detector of your health. How're you sleeping? How're you feeling?"
New research suggests that Woolridge's line of thinking is right. Beyond the effect on the waistline, regular exercise saves lives.
A University of Virginia study published recently in the scientific journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine suggests that an antioxidant that muscles develop during exercise might protect the body against multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, which is often developed in those who have experienced severe trauma or sepsis.
The syndrome involves the immune system essentially turning against the body and attacking vital organs. It kills up to 80 percent of patients who develop it.
The study — which was conducted in mice — was done by Zhen Yan, a U.Va. researcher who hopes his work will make people more aware of exercise's tangible benefits, thus creating more incentives for people to be physically active. What better incentive to exercise than knowledge that it could very well save your life?
"That's one of the (problems) with society, we know little about prevention, we know little about interventions like exercise; therefore, people do not see the value enough to motivate them," he said.
He supports the recommendation of several professional societies, such as the American Diabetes Association, of 30 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise a day.
"We have a huge capability to produce more of this antioxidant, which can provide protection," Yan said. "Nothing is as good as exercise."
The World Health Organization estimates that sedentary lifestyles cause more than 5 million deaths a year. Another study published last year suggests that inactivity costs the global economy $67.5 billion annually in health care and lost productivity.
But people like Davis and Woolridge, who get regular exercise, are the exception. In fact, a quarter of Virginians may be going up to a month without even a single day of physical activity.
The Virginia Department of Health measures the percent of adults who did not participate in any physical activity during the past 30 days, and between 2014 and 2015 — the most recent year the data were available — the rate went up from 23.5 percent to 25.1 percent, according to a Joint Commission on Health Care report.
Virginia's Plan for Well-Being features a litany of goals that, if reached, will presumably enhance residents' quality of life. In it, the goal for physical activity is to lower the number of adults who go up to 30 days without exercise to just 20 percent by 2020.
The positive repercussions of reaching that goal, said Ron Clark, the Department of Health's prevention health and health services coordinator, would touch nearly every segment of society, not only resulting in happier individuals but translating to saved dollars for the state.
"You're talking about individuals who are healthier," he said. "Physical activity is a game changer."
Yet obstacles to exercise remain, from common issues like a busy schedule to the far more serious problem of neighborhoods with such high levels of violence that families don't feel comfortable letting their kids play outside, Clark said.
The effects of those obstacles are evident in the population, Clark said. In Virginia, 1 out of 2 adults have at least one chronic health condition, 1 in 4 adults have no physical exercise outside of work, and 1 in 3 have received some type of notice from their provider that they have high blood pressure.
"Of course, we all have excuses or reasons why we don't exercise," Woolridge said. "But personally, and what I preach to my group is: This is about survival. I want to see my grandchildren one day; I'm hoping to still be alive."
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