issue Winter 2022

Physical Activity: Moving Forward to Reverse Chronic Disease

By Jeffrey Damaschke, PT, DPT, PhD

Lifestyle Medicine is an evidence-based intervention to prevent, treat and reverse chronic illness and population-health epidemics through healthy behaviors, including what are often referred to as the six pillars of wellness: good nutrition, regular exercise, quality sleep, stress resiliency, addiction avoidance and social connectedness. Three College of Health Professions faculty members were asked to pick one of the pillars and comment on the lifestyle modifications that can benefit individuals and communities.

We do not need a microscope to assess our wellness. Exercise, along with a healthy eating pattern, has been proven to be a powerful combination to combat all noncommunicable chronic disease. This means that physical activity, one of the six pillars of lifestyle medicine, can prevent, treat and even reverse chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

What it takes to improve our overall wellness is just some time and movement. So, how are we doing as Americans to meet the recommended amount of minimal physical activity? Well, we are not doing very well. Currently, only 18% of women and 25% of men are meeting the minimal amount of physical activity recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans; 2nd edition which was published in 2018.

I have a challenge for you — please try to make yourself more well by attempting to meet the physical activity guidelines. What your goal should be is to try to perform at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity. This would mean 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least five times per week. Moderate physical activity would be anything that makes your heart beat faster and includes brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower or hiking.

In addition, perform strength exercises or activities that make your muscles work harder than usual at least two times per week. This includes lifting weights; working with resistance bands; heavy gardening, such as digging and shoveling; or performing push-ups, sit-ups and squats.

Now that we have discussed the benefits of physical activity and ways you can meet its requirements, let’s talk about some ways to prevent barriers that may stop you from reaching your physical activity goals. Time is always a barrier, so sticking with your activities even if you miss a day is a great achievement. You can also plan ahead and put your activities on your calendar and always have a set of workout clothes with you. Also, seeking support from others is a great way to hold you accountable. Invite a friend to exercise with you or join an exercise group or class.

Let’s all live well and try to move more. It will help us feel better and live longer!

Dr. Jeffrey Damaschke is an associate professor and co-director of student affairs for the College of Health Professions and interim chair of the Lifestyle Medicine Program. He developed and implemented Healthy U! — RFU’s health promotion and wellness initiative for students, faculty and staff — and co-chairs the Healthy U! Wellness Council.

Opinions expressed in "Through the Microscope" columns are solely those of the authors and are not intended to represent those of Rosalind Franklin University.