Is Exercise the Best Medicine?

In our last article in this series we discovered we often equate "medicine" with "drugs". In fact that is usually the way we think about medicine. Ask even the smallest child what medicine is, and the answer will be something mommy or daddy gives him to make his tummy or head feel better. And this true - that is one definition of medicine.

But let's center this discussion around the other definition of medicine.

"the science dealing with the preserving of health and with preventing and treating disease or injury"

Preserving Health.

Preventing Disease.​​​​

The interesting thing about modern medicine is that the more drugs that we invent, the farther away from the roots of medicine we travel. It wasn't until the last couple of centuries the focus turned away from prevention and maintenance of health to the treatment of disease. Again I am grateful for the drugs that have wiped some disease off the face of the earth and can treat the sick. That is good. But that is far different than creating concoctions that cover symptoms of largely preventable disease. And this trend toward treatment over prevention has created a false dichotomy; it doesn't have to be one or the other, when necessary it can absolutely be both. But prevention and maintenance should be the priority. 


A consistent focus on the maintenance of health makes the treatment of disease much less necessary. Yet we so often get it backwards. It isn't until some health scare wakes us up that we even think about prevention, and by then it's too late. Now we really have to get to work.

In the 4th century BC Hippocrates said "eating alone will not keep a man well; he must also take exercise. For food and exercise work together to produce health."

Did you catch that?

"Take Exercise".

I love that. We take exercise. so that we don't have to take drugs.

Exercise is truly the most powerful medicine in the world. I did not come up with this, but how often have you really thought about this as factual?

No drug in the world could ever be as effective as the power of exercise. Consider just a few of it's many benefits on:

Musculoskeletal Health

Metabolic rate, endurance, strength, power. Improved bone density, joint function, range of motion, connective tissue elasticity and strength.

Cardiovascular Health

Decreased resting heart rate, increased cardiac stroke volume, positive effect on blood pressure and lipid profiles.

Metabolic Health

Improved insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels, positive changes in thyroid hormone, decreased systemic inflammation.

Neurological Health

There is so much we do not know about brain health and the preponderance of disease states such as Alzheimers and dementia. But there is a preponderance of evidence that the same mechanism that promote cardiovascular health also have a positive effect on the brain. Exercise decreases the loss of brain tissue as we age, and I don't know about you, but I need all I can get.

Psychological Health

How do you really measure "quality of life"? It is very different from person to person. But anything that helps you sleep better, improves your mood, and sharpens your thinking certainly contributes. Exercise does all that and more.

Not all people can (or certainly should) take every kind of drug. Some of us are allergic to certain meds, some are contraindicated depending on other disease states.

But Exercise? 

  • Rarely contraindicated. Almost everyone can do some form of exercise.
  • Side effects? If you are training smart and with injury prevention in mind, some soreness from time to time is about it.
  • Exercise goes to the root cause, not merely covers symptoms.
  • And insurance can't tell you "no, you can't have that".

So where do we start, and what kind of exercise should we do?

Stay tuned.

Until next time,

Coach Dean 

This article is part 3 of the series "Athletes of Aging"

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