Can movement be medicine?

Author: Hayley Alexander

It doesn’t require you getting a doctor’s prescription and you can administer it on your own.


Not only does it lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, it improves your mood, sleep, self-esteem, endurance, strength, balance and even your libido.


Some call it a miracle cure. It’s also known as exercise!  


Of course, we all know that exercise has numerous health benefits and there is no shortage of research to prove it. Based on collective facts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that: “The evidence is clear—physical activity can make you feel better, function better, and sleep better. Even one session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces anxiety, and even short bouts of physical activity are beneficial. Being physically active also fosters normal growth and development, improves overall health, can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases.”

Furthermore, according to a Harvard Health report, experts have confirmed that exercise can be used as a “first-line therapy” in helping to treat both physical and mental illnesses and is recommended in conjunction with other medical or pharmaceutical interventions. 


Motion is lotion 


Against a vast background of research, one of the most remarkable benefits of exercise is the effect it has on pain management. 


Discussing this in an interview with Dr Arie Michaeli, a Johannesburg based physiotherapist, he explains that doing certain types of exercises, specifically “isometric exercises,” i.e. static holds, “where there is a muscle contraction, but no actual movement of the joints, “can produce an analgesic effect.” This is due to the capacity of the muscle to release natural anti-inflammatories, “which fight inflammation and reduce pain,” he says, and is “equivalent to taking pain killers or anti-inflammatories but lasts longer.” 


When it comes to treating any type of pain that affects the joints, says Dr Michaeli; “I always tell my patients that motion is lotion.” From his experience in clinical practice, he says that not only does exercise reduce the intensity of pain, “it is the only approach that can halve the rate when it comes to the reoccurrence of lower back pain.”


In addition, since exercise helps with “lymphatic drainage” – i.e. the removal of wastes and excess fluid from the tissues in the body, “it has a positive effect on the immune system and supports the body’s own healing. Exercise also acts as a preventative against the onset of many chronic diseases” he affirms. 


Exercise prescription


Just as taking the right dosage of medication is critical to achieving its intended effect – the question is how much movement should you be doing daily to support your health and build resilience? 


According to the Mayo Clinic, “as a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight, maintain weight loss, or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more.” Also, try to limit sitting for hours on end, making a conscious habit of getting up and moving between tasks. 


Special cautions


As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can also be bad. 


It’s important not to overdo it either and to gradually build up your exercise tolerance, the same as one would do with taking any form of medication. This is for safety reasons such as preventing injuries and avoiding other side-effects of overtraining, e.g. excessive fatigue and psychological stress. Should you experience any pain or complications as a result of exercising, it’s best to consult with a physiotherapist. 




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