Taking the First Step
Proper Exercise is Therapeutic

By Karl Knopf, Ed.D.

Most of the things that cause disease and or accelerate aging can be positively influenced with a proper dose of therapeutic exercise whether as a preventive measure or as a restorative tool. Hypocrates knew this in 370 BC; he is known to have said "Generally speaking all parts of the body that have function, if used in moderation and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed become healthy and well developed and age slowly. But if unused and left idle become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly." Said another way "Use it or lose it!" Most of us agree with these statements. Unfortunately, it only took 2000 years for the scientific community to prove it.

Today there is promising evidence that regular physical activity positively influences the following:

Mental activity - whether by decreasing depression or improving mental acuity.

Immune function - mild to moderate exercise improves the body's immune system where as vigorous exercise decreases immune function.

Cardio-respiratory function - heart and lung function has been well documented to improve with proper training.

Cardio-vascular function - the vascular system can develop collateral circulation to make this system more efficient.

Bone density - can maintain or increase with adequate stimulation. Wolfe's Law says the robustness of the bone is in direct relation to the forces applied to it.

Liver function - the ability to store liver glycogen is improved with cardiovascular conditioning.

Body composition - proper exercise along proper caloric consumption can improve lean body mass quotients.

Gastrointestinal function - physical activity may decrease colon cancer because physical movement decreases the time food is in the colon and rectum.

Metabolism - physical activity increases the body's metabolism, strength training increases muscle mass which elevates metabolism as well.

Musculoskeletal System - most sedentary older adults have lost a large amount of strength and muscle mass by age 70. This loss of muscle is responsible for many older adults losing their ability to maintain their independence.

It appears that regular exercise benefits everything from the head to the toe and from the inside out. It now appears that exercise/physical activity can be used to prevent or control a condition or rehab or restore a condition. Therapists and rehab specialists have known for years that the proper dose of exercise is useful to restore numerous chronic conditions. Neurological conditions have been well served by proper exercise. The following are a few conditions that can be influenced by exercise.

Stroke/CVA (Cardio Vascular Accident)
Increase ROM (Range of Motion) & ADL (Assisted Daily Living) skills
Improve body awareness
Improve balance

Multiple Sclerosis
Improve balance
Improve torso stability
Improve ADLs

Spinal Cord Injury
Improve ADLs
Improve ability to push wheelchair and transfer
Positive outlet to prepare for wheelchair sports

Research has well documented that a prudent and well designed fitness program will keep us healthy and or make us healthier. A review of the literature shows that proper exercise is good from the womb to the tomb and everything along the way, whether it be pre-natal classes or stroke rehab programs.

The most important thing for each of us to keep in mind is to learn what is the proper dose to get the ideal response. More is not always better and what is right for one person may not be right for the next person. Just like with a medication - one person's medication can be another person's poison. Train Don't Strain! No Pain no Gain is insane! Exercise physiologists are grappling with this challenge currently trying to determine what is the correct dosage of exercise for different conditions. This concept is not unlike finding the correct prescription medication, the key is to find the ideal amount that provides maximum benefit without any undesirable side effects. Stay tuned when this magic formula is developed, then we will have finally found the fountain of youth.

Karl Knopf is President of Fitness Educators of Active Adults Association.