Heart Association: Physical activity is the magic elixir of health

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez - the Chief Medical Officer for Prevention for the American Heart Association - described physical activity or exercise as "the magic elixir of health."

In a recent webinar (Physical Activity as a Vital Sign, Nov. 17, 2015 sponsored by Garmin), Dr. Sanchez explained that his "magic elixir of health" phrase stems from a statement he "just loves." The statement he "just loves" is, ". . . there is no single medication that can positively influence as many organ systems (cardiorespiratory, vascular, musculoskeletal, mental, metabolic) as can physical activity."

Additionally, he then went on to describe "fitness as a vital sign." The short of it is, your level of fitness is a measure of health just like your blood pressure or temperature - vital signs are baseline standards which are useful in detecting or monitoring medical problems.

Back to the "magic elixir quote" - during the presentation, Dr. Sanchez explained that the American Heart Association defines the ideal cardiovascular health by "the simple 7" – the seven things that are the prescription for a good life and a long life (the items listed in the left hand column below).

If you are 50-years old and are in the "green" for all 7 of "the simple 7", the odds of you living into your 80s and 90s and being healthy are very much higher than if you're in the yellow, and much much higher than if you're in the red for any of the categories. [For further details see]

And, if you look at the ten leading risk factors of "Disability Adjusted Life Years" (DALYs) – the top ten things causing people to become disabled – 7 of them are "life's simple 7."Also, if you have 5 of the 7 in 'the green" (per the previous slide) you have an 88% less chance of cardio vascular related death vs. everybody else. But only 18% of US adults have 5 or more of the items in the green.

If you have "life's simple 7" in the green, things get better across your total health spectrum by improving the items presented below. Of special interest, "Compression of morbidity" means that you would be very healthy into your 90s and then quickly die, as opposed to being hospitalised for 30 years into your 90s, then dieing.

Further, he presented that there is very compelling evidence that the more physical activity you get, the lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and this continues even beyond the recommended minimums.

When we look at fitness, the more fit we are the fewer chronic conditions/diseases we will have (high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, etc.).The more fit you are, the lower the burden of chronic diseases.

So given all of this, he states that physical activity or exercise is "the magic elixir" and therefore he "just loves" the highlighted statement from below, ". . . there is no single medication that can positively influence as many organ systems (cardiorespiratory, vascular, musculoskeletal, mental, metabolic) as can physical activity."

Further, Dr. Sanchez's presentation is not a lone voice in the wilderness - it aligns with a Mayo Clinic item, which states that regular exercise can:

  • Reduce heart disease risk by 40 percent
  • Lower stroke risk by 27 percent
  • Reduce diabetes risk by almost 50 percent
  • Reduce high blood pressure incidences by about 50 percent
  • Reduce mortality and recurrent breast cancer risk by nearly 50 percent
  • Lower colon cancer risk by more than 60 percent
  • Reduce Alzheimer's disease development risk by one-third
  • Decrease depression as effectively as certain medications and behavioral therapies
Given these results from regular exercise, it is easy to see how exercise can be "the magic elixir of health."

Category: Fitness Tips
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