If you knew that there was a pill that would greatly reduce your risk of premature death and improve your quality of life, would you take it? What would you pay for it? This miracle treatment does exist and it’s basically free — it just takes a bit of work. We’re talking about plain old-fashioned exercise.
If it’s so simple, why are we talking about it? Because only about half of adults in the United States and Canada get the amount of exercise needed to collect on these health benefits.1,2 The current guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiologists (CSEP) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity performed in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • Resistance and stretching exercises for each major muscle group, two to three times per week.3,4

It’s just that easy gentlemen. Still not convinced? Keep reading.

  1. Lower risk of heart disease – Heart disease is the No.1 cause of death for men in the US and No. 2 in Canada. It is responsible for about a quarter of all mortalities for men in each country.5,6 Exercise works to reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, lowering triglycerides and improving the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol.7,8 The most active individuals cut their risk of heart disease by about a third, compared to the least active.9 The more exercise you do, the more health benefits you achieve.
  2. Lower risk of stroke – Canada and the US share stroke as the fifth most common cause of death for men. A stroke is like a heart attack in your brain. If it does not kill you, there can be some frightening consequences including, but not limited to, partial paralysis and difficulties with speech and swallowing. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of disability in the US.10 Exercise reduces the risk of stroke for the same reasons it prevents heart attacks, by lowering blood pressure, triglycerides and bad cholesterol.10, 11
  3. Lower risk of cancer – A recent paper looked at pooled data from 12 prospective studies involving 1.4 million participants. The results showed that exercise reduced the risk of developing 11 cancers affecting men and women. These include esophageal adenocarcinoma, liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, colon, head and neck, rectal and bladder cancers. For women, endometrial and breast cancers were also reduced.12 This is good news considering cancer ranks as the leading cause of death for men in Canada and second in the US.5,6
  4. Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes – Not only is diabetes the sixth leading cause of death in men in both Canada and the US but it also comes with potential complications including blindness, amputations and kidney disease.5,6 Exercise fights diabetes by preventing insulin resistance and lowering blood sugar. Exercise is so potent a force in stopping the onset of Type 2 diabetes that studies show it outperforms metformin, a common diabetes drug.8
  5. Improvement in mental health – Exercise is good for your mental health. Research shows that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression13, improve overall mood and reduce stress, anxiety. 13,14 Potential mechanisms for this include endorphin release, distraction from worrying thoughts and improvement in self-efficacy.15
  6. Lower risk of dementia – Higher levels of physical activity also correlate with a lower risk of dementia.16 This is due to two possible reasons. First, exercise may have a sort of neuroprotective effect that limits the extent of age related degeneration in the brain. Second, exercise improves the health of the small blood vessels in your brain that, when damaged, can lead to vascular dementia.17
  7. Lower risk of arthritis – Exercise can reduce your risk of osteoarthritis (OA), with studies showing positive effects on joint cartilage.18 Some elite athletes have an increased risk of OA but this is likely due to the extraordinary amount of exercise they do. 19 When it comes to recreational athletes there is no clear link to increased OA.20 Like most things, moderation is key.
  8. Improvement in bone density – When is comes to bone density, the type of exercise matters most. There is good evidence that resistance training is important for maintaining and possibly increasing bone density.14, 21 This decreases the risk of fractures, which is especially important as you age.
  9. Obesity – If you are trying to lose weight you — quite literally — can’t outrun a crappy diet. Recent research highlights how proper nutrition — not exercise — may be the most important factor for weight loss. By itself, a low-caloric diet is much more effective than exercise. However when exercise is combined with diet, the strongest effect is found.22, 23 Considering how obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoarthritis, among other things, keeping those extra pounds off turns out to be pretty important.24
  10. Sleep – Although the exact mechanisms are not entirely clear, exercise is generally known to improve sleep quality.25 Impaired sleep is associated with cognitive impairment26, diabetes and obesity.27
  11. Higher Testosterone – Young and old men who are physically active have elevated testosterone and growth hormone levels as compared to their sedentary counterparts. 28,29,30 The type of exercise is the critical ingredient to getting this benefit. For the most increase in testosterone you must do resistance training and/or high intensity interval training.31,32,33,34 Why is this important? Research shows a clear link between all-cause mortality and low testosterone. That means that the risk of dying of anything is associated with lower testosterone.35,36,37 So get — and keep — moving!

References:

  1. FastStats [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2016 [cited 21 December 2016]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm
  2. Findings [Internet]. Statcan.gc.ca. 2016 [cited 21 December 2016]. Available from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006008/article/phys/10307-eng.htm
  3. ACSM | News Releases [Internet]. Acsm.org. 2016 [cited 8 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/acsm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise
  4. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines [Internet]. Csep.ca. 2016 [cited 8 November 2016]. Available from: http://csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf
  5. Leading Causes of Death in Males 2013 – Men’s Health – CDC [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2016 [cited 8 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/2013/index.htm
  6. The 10 leading causes of death, 2012 [Internet]. Statcan.gc.ca. 2016 [cited 6 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14296-eng.htm
  7. Buttar HS, Li T, Ravi N. Prevention of cardiovascular diseases: Role of exercise, dietary interventions, obesity and smoking cessation. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology. 2005;10(4):229.
  8. Thompson PD, Buchner D, Piña IL, Balady GJ, Williams MA, Marcus BH, Berra K, Blair SN, Costa F, Franklin B, Fletcher GF. Exercise and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease a statement from the Council on Clinical Cardiology (Subcommittee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention) and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism (Subcommittee on Physical Activity). Circulation. 2003 Jun 24;107(24):3109-16.
  9. Shiroma EJ, Lee IM. Physical activity and cardiovascular health lessons learned from epidemiological studies across age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Circulation. 2010 Aug 17;122(7):743-52.
  10. Gordon NF, Gulanick M, Costa F, Fletcher G, Franklin BA, Roth EJ, Shephard T. Physical activity and exercise recommendations for stroke survivors an American heart association scientific statement from the council on clinical cardiology, subcommittee on exercise, cardiac rehabilitation, and prevention; the council on cardiovascular nursing; the council on nutrition, physical activity, and metabolism; and the stroke council. Stroke. 2004 May 1;35(5):1230-40.
  11. Gallanagh S, Quinn TJ, Alexander J, Walters MR. Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of stroke. ISRN neurology. 2011 Oct 1;2011.
  12. Moore SC, Lee IM, Weiderpass E, Campbell PT, Sampson JN, Kitahara CM, Keadle SK, Arem H, de Gonzalez AB, Hartge P, Adami HO. Association of leisure-time physical activity with risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million adults. JAMA internal medicine. 2016 Jun 1;176(6):816-25.
  13. Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, Lawlor DA, Rimer J, Waugh FR, McMurdo M, Mead GE. Exercise for depression. The Cochrane Library. 2013 Sep 12.
  14. Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal. 2006 Mar 14;174(6):801-9.
  15. Craft LL, Perna FM. The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry. 2004;6(3):104.
  16. Ahlskog JE, Geda YE, Graff-Radford NR, Petersen RC. Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging. InMayo Clinic Proceedings 2011 Sep 30 (Vol. 86, No. 9, pp. 876-884).
  17. Blondell SJ, Hammersley-Mather R, Veerman JL. Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline and dementia?: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. BMC public health. 2014 May 27;14(1):1.
  18. Valderrabano V, Steiger C. Treatment and prevention of osteoarthritis through exercise and sports. Journal of aging research. 2010 Dec 6;2011.
  19. Driban JB, Hootman JM, Sitler MR, Harris K, Cattano NM. Is participation in certain sports associated with knee osteoarthritis? A systematic review. Journal of athletic training. 2015;50(2).
  20. Tran G, Smith TO, Grice A, Kingsbury SR, McCrory P, Conaghan PG. Does sports participation (including level of performance and previous injury) increase risk of osteoarthritis? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016 Sep 28:bjsports-2016.
  21. Layne JE, Nelson ME. The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 1999 Jan;31(1):25-30.
  22. Johns DJ, Hartmann-Boyce J, Jebb SA, Aveyard P, Group BW. Diet or exercise interventions vs combined behavioral weight management programs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of direct comparisons. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014 Oct 31;114(10):1557-68.
  23. Schwingshackl L, Dias S, Hoffmann G. Impact of long-term lifestyle programmes on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight/obese participants: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Systematic reviews. 2014 Oct 30;3(1):1.
  24. Ofei F. Obesity-a preventable disease. Ghana Med J. 2005 Sep;39(3):98-101.
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  29. Vaamonde D, Da Silva-Grigoletto ME, García-Manso JM, Barrera N, Vaamonde-Lemos R. Physically active men show better semen parameters and hormone values than sedentary men. European journal of applied physiology. 2012 Sep 1;112(9):3267-73.
  30. Kraemer WJ, Häkkinen K, Newton RU, Nindl BC, Volek JS, McCormick M, Gotshalk LA, Gordon SE, Fleck SJ, Campbell WW, Putukian M. Effects of heavy-resistance training on hormonal response patterns in younger vs. older men. Journal of applied physiology. 1999 Sep 1;87(3):982-92.
  31. Tremblay MS, Copeland JL, Van Helder W. Effect of training status and exercise mode on endogenous steroid hormones in men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2004 Feb 1;96(2):531-9.
  32. Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, Bush JA, Incledon T, Boetes M. Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1997 Jan 1;82(1):49-54.
  33. Sato K, Iemitsu M, Katayama K, Ishida K, Kanao Y, Saito M. Responses of sex steroid hormones to different intensities of exercise in endurance athletes. Experimental physiology. 2016 Jan 1;101(1):168-75.
  34. Hackney AC, Hosick KP, Myer A, Rubin DA, Battaglini CL. Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise. Journal of endocrinological investigation. 2012 Dec 1;35(11):947-50.
  35. Araujo AB, Dixon JM, Suarez EA, Murad MH, Guey LT, Wittert GA. Endogenous testosterone and mortality in men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2011 Aug 3;96(10):3007-19.
  36. Laughlin GA, Barrett-Connor E, Bergstrom J. Low serum testosterone and mortality in older men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008 Jan;93(1):68-75.
  37. Khaw KT, Dowsett M, Folkerd E, Bingham S, Wareham N, Luben R, Welch A, Day N. Endogenous testosterone and mortality due to all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in men. Circulation. 2007 Dec 4;116(23):2694-701.