Last Updated on October 14, 2020 by Paul Farrell, MRP, JD, PhD
The New Science of Exercise
By Mandy Oakland
July 28, 2017
“Ever since high school, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky has blurred the line between jock and nerd. After working out every morning and doing 200 push-ups, he runs three miles to his lab at McMaster University in Ontario. When he was younger, Tarnopolsky dreamed of becoming a gym teacher. But now, in his backup career as a genetic metabolic neurologist, he’s determined to prove that exercise can be used as medicine for even the sickest patients.’
Exercise as Medicine
“People would always say to me, ‘Exercise? Come on. Scientifically, you can’t come up with a mechanism, so it’s a complete waste of time,’ Tarnopolsky says. ‘But as time goes on, paper after paper after paper shows that the most effective, potent way that we can improve quality of life and duration of life is exercise.’
The Proof is in the Mice
“Tarnopolsky has published some of those papers himself. In 2011, he and a team studied mice with a terrible genetic disease that caused them to age prematurely. Over the course of five months, half of the mice were sedentary. The other half were coaxed to run three times a week on a miniature treadmill.
“By the end of the study, the sedentary mice were barely hanging on. The fur that had yet to fall out had grown coarse and gray, muscles shriveled, hearts weakened, skin thinned–even the mice’s hearing got worse. ‘They were shivering in the corner, about to die,’ Tarnopolsky says.
“But the group of mice that exercised, genetically compromised though they were, were nearly indistinguishable from healthy mice. Their coats were sleek and black, they ran around their cages, they could even reproduce. ‘We almost completely prevented the premature aging in the animals'” Tarnopolsky says.
“That’s remarkable news, if you’re a mouse. And though there are obvious differences between rodents and humans, Tarnopolsky has seen something similar happen in his ill patients. ‘I’ve seen all the hype about gene therapy for people with genetic disease’ – Tarnopolsky treats kids with severe genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy – ‘but it hasn’t delivered in the 25 years I’ve been doing this,’ he says. ‘The most effective therapy available to my patients right now is exercise.’
Exercise Causes Positive Changes Throughout the Body
“Tarnopolsky now thinks he knows why. In studies where blood is drawn immediately after people exercised, researchers have found that many positive changes occur throughout the body during and right after a workout. ‘Going for a run is going to improve your skin health, your eye health, your gonadal health,’ he says. ‘It’s unbelievable.’
“If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.
“The trouble is only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever, and 80.2 million Americans over age 6 are entirely inactive.
Sedentary People are at Higher Risk for Disease
“The consequences of a sedentary life are as well documented as they are dire. People with low levels of physical activity are at higher risk for many different kinds of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and early death by any cause. That’s at the end of life. Long before that, inactivity can worsen arthritis symptoms, increase lower-back pain and lead to depression and anxiety–not to mention cause a sallow complexion.
“Despite public-awareness campaigns, the health benefits of exercise have not been effectively communicated to the average American. Humans are notoriously bad at assessing the long-term benefits – and risks – of their lifestyle choices. And vague promises that exercise is ‘good for you’ or even ‘good for the heart’ aren’t powerful enough to motivate most people to do something they think of as a chore. Humans are, however, motivated by rewards. That is why experts like Tarnopolsky are so focused on proving that the scientific benefits of exercise – slower aging, better mood, less chronic pain, stronger vision, the list goes on – are real, measurable and almost immediate.
Proving Exercise is Medicine
“The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is on the bandwagon too. Next year the agency will launch a massive new study with the aim of documenting in unprecedented detail exactly what happens inside a body in motion. Its hope: to prove that exercise is medicine.
“Before doctors adopted a single-minded focus on treating and curing diseases, their main goal was to keep people healthy. Even back in 400 B.C., doctors knew that diet and exercise were the best ways to do that. ‘Eating alone will not keep a man well,’ Hippocrates famously wrote. ‘He must also take exercise.’ For millennia, doctors were the vanguards of physical education – the original PE teachers.
Medicine Shifted from Prevention to Treatment
“But in the early 1900s, with the rise of modern surgery and nascent pharmaceuticals, medicine shifted its focus from the prevention of disease to its treatment. Paradoxically, physicians de-emphasized exercise just as the modern Olympics swelled in popularity and colleges began building campus stadiums to accommodate America’s growing love of spectator sports. The authors of a paper published in a 1905 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association mourned how many people were losing sight of the health benefits of exercise. ‘The men on the teams are the very ones whom Nature has endowed superabundantly with physical capacity, but on them the physical director bends most of his energies'” they wrote, ‘while the average student is left to get his physical development by yelling from the bleachers.’
“Physical activity was no longer the medicine of the masses but the privilege of elite athletes. When scientists studied exercise, it was to figure out how athletes could improve their peak performance – not how mere mortals could improve their health day to day. This gap persists. At a time when boutique (read: expensive) fitness studios are more popular than ever, fewer people are getting the minimum recommended amount of exercise” … read the full article, discover the New Science proving the miracle of the “Exercise Cure” …
The “New Biology” & the Scientific Proof for the Exercise Cure
Yes, read every line of “The Exercise Cure,” in fact, get Time’s Special Edition for your library and read every article on this New Science. In a profoundly simple way Mandy Oakland’s piece is the best summary of the amazing link between exercise, meditation, exercise, wellness and healthy living.
Next, if you want reinforcement, read the perennial bestseller, Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 & Beyond, by Chris Crawley & Henry Lodge, M.D. Especially their lead to chapter five, “The Biology of Growth & Decay:”
“Biologically, there is no such thing as retirement, or even aging. There is only growth or decay, and your body looks to you to choose between them. So this is the place where we take you backstage to look at that process — at the actual mechanism of the new biology that has forever changed our thinking about aging. If things get mildly complicated, just remember we are always talking about growth and decay. Come back to that simple point.” Remember that one very simple point, tape it to your bathroom mirror, your dashboard, your computer. Yes, it works!
There Is No Such Thing As Retirement, Or Even Aging.
There Is Only Growth Or Decay
And Your Body Looks To You To Choose Between Them.”
About the Author
Dr. Farrell is a Behavioral Economist. His books include The Millionaire Code; The Millionaire Meditation: Stress Management for Wall Street, Corporate America & Entrepreneurs; The Zen Millionaire; The Winning Portfolio; Expert Investing on The Net; Mutual Funds on The Net; and The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.
He also published 1,643 columns on DowJones-MarketWatch and for years was their #1 traffic-generating columnist. Before the Internet, he edited & published FNX: Future News Index, a financial newsletter for stock market traders. Earlier he was a Wall Street investment banker with Morgan Stanley, Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network; and Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
He has a Doctorate in Psychology, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning and Bachelor of Architecture. He worked on the Esalen organic farm and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as Staff Sergeant in aviation computer technology.