Unlike any generation before us, our world is in an age of information at our fingertips. Yet our country inches toward an unprecedented epidemic of chronic disease, and it begs some serious questions: Why is this happening, and how did we get here? How is such a substantial amount of our population developing chronic diseases, and will this be the blindly accepted fate of the future of our country and its generations to come? Or is there something we can do to reverse it?
According to The World Health Organization, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, COPD and obesity are among the most common, costly and preventable of all health problems; each is ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in the world. But there's a sneaky culprit working behind the scenes of these diseases – an invisible offender that's causing approximately 2 million deaths per year. So what is this threatening and critical condition creating a dark cloud of illness and malaise in our country?
Yes, you read that right. Inactivity – a 100 percent preventable lifestyle factor – is responsible for doubling our nation's risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, plus significantly increasing the risk of cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, depression and anxiety. What a list. On top of that, our country spends upwards of one trillion dollars on health care for these (preventable) conditions and the consequences of inactivity. It's a phenomenon of human behavior and psychology as to why people continue to allow themselves to suffer from a life of chronic disease, when the cure literally lies in their hands – and this is an area to which we must direct our utmost attention.
It's time to discover that you are the master of your own fate. You have complete control over the destiny of your life, of your health and of your ability to not only survive, but to thrive. The proof is in the pudding. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating three risk factors – poor diet, inactivity and smoking – would prevent 80 percent of heart disease and diabetes. Further evidence was found recently by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, who did a 12-week exercise experiment on people 30 and younger and those older than 64. Some did various types and intensity of aerobic and weight-training exercises, while a control group did no exercise at all. While there were some obvious outcomes of the study – like the fact that the muscle cells improved in everyone who exercised – there were some surprising results, as well. The most significant was that the decline in the cellular health of muscle tissue seemed to be improved with exercise in the muscle cells of the older test subjects. In fact, in some ways these cells reacted more healthfully to intense exercise than did the cells of the younger subjects, leading the study's senior author to suggest that it's never too late to reap extreme benefits from exercise. Anybody can incorporate physical activity into their daily life, regardless of age, physical ability or financial status. No fancy equipment is needed; no expensive gym memberships – just a will to win and a drive to live the most fulfilling life possible.
At our fundamental core, we are all athletes, even dating back to the time of our ancestors. Our bodies were expertly designed to move and to flourish from the benefits that physical activity brings – a long and disease-free life topping the list. Daily exercise is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself, and the health benefits are hard to ignore. In ditching a sedentary lifestyle, you'll see instant and life-changing results in controlling your weight, strengthening your bones and muscles, improving your mental health and mood, and significantly reducing your chances of developing chronic conditions – conditions that may not only take years off your life, but will drastically lower the quality of the years you have left.
Many may be intimidated by this information, especially if exercise is something you've never done before. The important thing to understand is that you don't have to transform into a world-class athlete overnight to reap the benefits of physical activity. Starting off with 20 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, as simple as brisk walking, is all you need to begin to reform your health. As your body becomes stronger, you'll be able to increase the intensity of your exercise and add in weights, exponentially enhancing the benefits as you go. Remember, your body was created to be active, so don't be afraid to put it to work.
A life of chronic illness doesn't have to be your fate – you hold more power than you think over a fully-functioning, happy, healthy and long life. Not only does exercise work wonders at preventing disease, but it also works to reverse pre-existing conditions, so it's never too late to start. The actions we choose today are in fact shaping us into the people we'll be tomorrow, next month and for the remainder of our lives. We're either going to become better prey or better predators. Realize that regardless of any outside factors, you hold the power and the responsibility to design the road map of health for your life. Be grateful, and take advantage of the physical ability that was engraved into your DNA to experience your life at its full potential.