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Moving as medicine
Michael E. Moseley, PhD, professor of radiology at Stanford and a BeWell participant, shared his thoughts about wellness, exercise and his own healthier journey:
Much of what we read today touts the advantages of exercise. From anecdotes by pediatric brain tumor survivors to studies of aging and dementia, the benefits of exercise are widely lauded. But two research studies, in particular, really helped get me “get moving” this past year. Add their wisdom to the inspiration of this beautiful campus that we all traverse daily and you’ve got a powerful recipe for a healthier lifestyle.
I was greatly influenced by a recent study1 published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ): their meta-analysis showed that higher levels of physical activity, regardless of intensity, were associated with a lower risk of an early death — even in middle-aged people. Scary fact: being sedentary, such as sitting for nine hours or more per day (like I do almost daily), leads to an increased risk of death (defined as “all-cause mortality”). Deaths fell steeply as the amount of physical activity increased. Even for the group moving only moderately, the risk of death was half that of the group who engaged in little or no physical activity. The take-away: even some brisk walking daily has real benefits.
While this BMJ report that “doing anything is better than doing nothing” really got my attention, I had already started an informal journal of my activities (including the use of my iPhone “Health” app). Looking back, I realized that even standing at my desk or taking the stairs was significant. Walking to Clark and back for lunch or meetings was significant. Even the dreaded walk to the Oak Road parking garage morning and night took on new meaning. Walking became a kind of endorphin-inducing game: I learned better breathing, I focused on my gait and balance, and in so doing I became more aware of the Stanford scenery around me — such as the remaining majestic eucalyptus trees lining Governor’s Way. I realized that walking back and forth across campus wasn’t a waste of time; it was more of an investment in a better (and longer) life.
There were other gains from this moderate exercise as well, including cognitive benefits. As shown in an amazing study from the OHSU in Portland2, mice involved in even single bouts of activity (equivalent to me walking about 4,000 steps) promoted an increase in the synapses in the brain’s hippocampus by increasing the growth of dendritic spines, prepping the brain for learning.
So, what did I learn from these almost-daily revelations regarding exercise? It doesn’t hurt, it’s a good use of my time (especially with my Airpods in place), it opens an entirely new world, and it represents the absolute best investment we can all make for ourselves and our families.
1 Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all-cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis, BMJ (2019). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.l4570
2 Chatzi C, Zhang G, Hendricks WD, Chen Y, Schnell E, Goodman RH, Westbrook GL. Exercise-induced enhancement of synaptic function triggered by the inverse BAR protein, Mtss1L. eLife, 2019; 8 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.45920