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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Exercise, Heart Disease, and Health

Interest in exercise is becoming greater, in part because of our growing concern about our appearance. Fat is the enemy. The models of success and happiness that the media present to us are young, energetic, slim, and good-looking. A possible upside to the long hours of TV many Americans watch is that this may well contribute to the interest in exercise. The interconnection between self-image, physical appearance, and exercise is very strong.

Fitness centers, spas, running clubs, and dance classes are places to meet people, to gain a sense of community, to receive the encouragement and support we all need. Besides, exercise makes us feel good - not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

There is clearly a relationship between the growing interest in exercise and the public recognition that coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. When a friend suffers a heart attack, you take notice. Such an event may shock many people into running, swimming, or some other vigorous, heart-healthy activity.

Heart disease is the subject of much research, and there is no one explanation for why some people get it and others don't (unless you support the notion that we choose our illnesses). We do know the leading risk factors in heart disease:

  • High blood fats
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood sugar
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Hostility.

Perhaps most enticing and rewarding of all outcomes, exercise increases the levels of endorphins (the feel good" hormones) levels in the bloodstream. Feeling better further encourages you to continue your exercise program for all those other benefits it affords you - a safety valve for stress, help in shedding unwanted pounds, and lowering of blood sugar levels. Many smokers are able to cut down significantly or stop smoking altogether when they start a regular program of exercise.

Exercise is beneficial in treating some backaches, ulcers, arthritis, insomnia, nervous tension, indigestion, asthma, diabetes, plus anxiety and low-level depression. It truly is a wonder "drug."

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