Expert Insights: Exercise is one of the best forms of preventive medicine

Expert Insights: Exercise is one of the best forms of preventive medicine

While you probably already know that exercise has health benefits, most people are unsure of what steps to take to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle

Fall sports are back! On Sunday, thousands will be pouring into Acrisure Stadium to watch top-level athletes compete in the sport they love. These athletes are no strangers to exercise and are often in peak physical condition, providing them with great health benefits.

Exercise, in fact, is one of the best forms of preventive medicine. And while the thought of starting an exercise program can be daunting, it is important to remember what you are striving for is progress, not perfection.

I will provide you with some basics to begin an exercise program and improve your health. This information is not intended to turn you into a Mountaineer or Steeler but rather to improve your overall health, step by step.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, losing only 5% to 10% of your weight has been associated with decreases in hemoglobin A1c (what's tested to determine blood sugar levels) up to 1% in those with type 2 diabetes and decreases in LDL-cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") by 12 mg/dL. Numerous studies have also shown exercise can improve depressed mood and can even prevent premature mortality from 13 cancers.

While you probably already know that exercise has health benefits, most people are unsure of what steps to take to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle. Note that if you have any significant medical history or concerns about your health, discuss your interest in activity with your primary doctor or a health professional.

Each training session should consist of a warmup, exercise and cool down. Working on stretching and flexibility can help reduce musculoskeletal injury during exercise, with special attention on flexibility at least two to three days per week.

While there are many options to consider for exercise prescriptions, I prefer the "FITT" method, which breaks things down by frequency, intensity, time and type. Individualized recommendations, however, can be found for all age and disease types. For example, recommendations may change for individuals with heart failure, previous heart attack, asthma,

COPD or stroke, so it is important to discuss your exercise habits with your primary care provider.

Changing up your activities to keep exercising fun and fresh is important. Get creative! Go for a walk one day, a bike ride another. Or even pick up a new sport such as pickleball.

Here are some best exercise practices for those looking to lose weight or improve their general fitness:

Frequency: 5 days/week

Intensity: Initially moderate and progressing to vigorous

activity. Moderate activity should be 40-59% of your heart rate reserve, or HRR, which is calculated by subtracting resting heart rate from heart rate maximum. (Heart rate maximum can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220.) Vigorous activity is 60% of HRR

Time: 30 min/day or 150 min/week, increasing to a goal of 60 min/day or

300 min/week

Type: Repetitive activities such as walking, cycling or swimming.

Small lifestyle changes can also provide more exercise, such as taking the stairs at work and parking at the far end of the parking lot to increase the number of steps in your day.

Strengthening exercises should also be added to any exercise regimen for maximal health benefits. My FITT recommendations for strengthening and weight loss include:

F: 2-3 days/week

I: 60-70% your maximum weight and gradually increasing as able

T: 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each muscle group worked

T: Resistance machines or free weights

Remember in weightlifting, form is important to gain the most benefit from each lift, rather than just the amount of weight used. This will also help prevent injury from lifting.

Make sure to work all major muscle groups as well. For example, you may focus on your arms and chest on Monday, core and back on Wednesday, and legs on Friday. Although tempting, never skip leg day and never ignore an entire muscle group.

Exercise is a pillar of weight loss, but it's not the only important lifestyle consideration. Ultimately weight loss requires an energy deficit; in other words, your body needs to spend more energy than it's consuming. This is why, in addition to exercise, a healthy diet is vitally important. Although everyone varies, a general intake recommendation of approximately 1,200- 1,500 kcal/day for women and 1,500-1,800 kcal/day for men will result in an energy deficit. Many types of diets have been shown to assist with weight loss, but I encourage talking to your health professional about what may work best for you.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and if you pair that with exercise, you'll gain health benefits that you can and cannot see. You don't have to do the same type of exercise every day. Get out and move, find a new sport or activity and bring your friends along to build a healthier you!

Scott Meester: M.D., WVU Medicine Emergency Medicine physician and team physician for West Virginia University and Glenville State University