Pictured below are two life-long friends and retired doctors. They spent their entire professional lives taking care of people, offering sound medical advice to keep others healthy. Funny, although both are in their mid-90s, they’re still doing it. As they would depart company, one would encourage the other by saying, “KEEP MOVING!” They other would respond, “KEEP EATING!”

This is the first of a two-part series on successful aging. Although the next article will be about the importance of eating, this article will focus on the importance of moving. Moving, aka exercise, has scientifically been proven to: (1) improve overall health and lifespan; (2) help prevent dementia; and (3) treat mental health issues like depression and anxiety.  

So, once again, dear old dad (aka “Doc”) is absolutely right. A sedentary lifestyle (aka, couch potato, aka, sitting disease) has been linked to a wide range of health problems such as obesity, depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. It can also raise your risk of premature death. And the more sedentary you are, the higher your health risks are.

A recent study from Finland (2022) found that men and women who got up and moved
were SUBSTANTIALLY HEALTHIER than the “couch potatoes.” Just moving around a little more often, whether by strolling gently or fitting in some exercise. “The goal is to be sitting less,” said Matthew Buman, a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, who studies movement and metabolism. (Source: **Washington Post,** Sept. 14, 2022)

The same article states that the World Health Organization and other experts advise us to work out moderately for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week. A brisk walk counts as moderate exercise. Substantial scientific evidence shows this half-hour of exertion strengthens our health, spirits and life span.

The CDC says that walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits. Walking does not require any special skills. It also does not require a gym membership or expensive equipment. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms.

Dr. Ronald Matsunaga (right) and Dr. Yep Wong

Thirty-year cancer survivor James Templeton wrote in the Templeton Wellness Foundation blog that he beat Stage IV melanoma cancer using natural therapies. “If you want to add good, healthy years to your life, make a commitment to walk at least 30 minutes a day. Movement and exercise were a key factor in my healing from cancer, and still play a big part in my life today.”

He continued, “Just 30 minutes fully activates the lymphatic system, triggers the anti-aging process, turns on DNA repair, increases circulation and mobility, improves sleep, and lifts your mood by giving you the same endorphin release as high-intensity exercise without the strain to the body. Once you get started, you can get addicted to it, but it’s a healthy addiction — your body’s way of telling you what it needs to thrive.”

“You’re never too old to start moving and improve your health and mood. It’s remarkable how you lose stiffness and increase mobility with just yoga-type stretches and deep breathing. You don’t need to do any of the trendy, strenuous workouts; walking is natural to our bodies and doesn’t require a recovery time,” says Templeton.

According to the CDC website, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week. If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 25 minutes a day for six days (resting on the seventh).

“If you’re unable to do the recommended 150 minutes a week, you may be tempted not to bother getting off the couch. But that would be a mistake, because research shows that even small amounts of exercise give you a longevity boost,” says William E. Kraus, M.D., past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. (Source: AARP, “How 11 Minutes of Exercise Can Help You Live Longer,” Nov. 30, 2021)

A 2020 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that just 11 minutes a day of “moderate-to-vigorous” activity significantly lengthened the life spans of people who spend most of their day sitting. In another study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who exercised a little but didn’t meet the physical activity recommendations were still 20% less likely to die in a 14-year period than those who did no activity at all.

My bowling friends will be glad to know that Dr. James O’Keefe, director of preventive cardiology at the St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, recommends shooting for 30 to 55 minutes of physical activity a day, and prioritizing activities you can do with others. He says, “For overall well-being and longevity, interactive sports, where there is some camaraderie, are best.”

If better health and a longer life isn’t motivating enough to get you off the couch, here’s a second reason — WALKING REDUCES RISK OF DEMENTIA. A new study finds that older adults who got in just under 10,000 steps a day — 9,800, to be exact — were 50% less likely to develop dementia. Even those who racked up 3,800 daily steps saw a 25% reduction in risk (Source: AARP, Jan. 30, 2023).

The findings, published in JAMA Neurology, add to a growing body of evidence that physical activity is just as important for the brain as it is for the body, and that more accessible exercises, such as walking, may be able to get the job done. They also discovered that speed matters. In fact, walking at a faster pace resulted in benefits “above and beyond” the number of steps achieved.

Physical activity impacts the brain in a variety of ways. For starters, it can improve sleep and reduce feelings of anxiety, both of which can influence the health of your brain. It can also reduce inflammation, which may play a role in the development of dementia, and improve blood flow to the brain, according to the Cleveland Clinic notes.

What’s more, researchers have linked exercise to improved brain structure, including increased thickness of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking, language and memory. In fact, short bursts of moderate to intense activity — just six or seven minutes a day — can benefit memory and mental processes like planning and organizing, a study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests.

“It’d be great if we can all get close to 10,000 steps, but that’s a quite a lot,” says Makoto Ishii, M.D., a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. According to the Mayo Clinic, most Americans take between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. “But maybe if we can increase the rate and make it this very purposeful kind of power walking for shorter time periods even, that might be even more beneficial,” Ishii adds. “I think it provides a lot of evidence that physical activity is important, especially as we get older.”

“I think this reinforces recommendations that we can make to people that walking, in and of itself — and brisk walking, preferably — is likely to be beneficial,” says Ron Petersen, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, who was not involved in this latest research.

Lastly, a third reason to get up out of the couch is that exercise is one of the best ways to TREAT A RANGE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. A new study (published February 2023) in the British Medical Journal’s British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that exercise — not pharmaceuticals (i.e., drugs) — should be the first choice for treating depression, anxiety, and distress for most patients.

Anxiety is the most common problem — and seems to be becoming more pronounced among children and younger adults — while depression poses the greatest burden to normal life function. The Australian researchers discovered that exercise provided the best results when used for treating depression. More specifically, exercise was 150% more effective than pharmaceuticals or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

It was also better than psychological consultation or “talk therapy.” In fact, exercise was shown to reduce depressive symptoms by 42% to 60%, whereas talk therapy and pharmaceuticals only reduced symptoms between 22% and 37%. Exercise was shown to be the best treatment for both anxiety and depression, even though pharmaceuticals are the most commonly recommended treatment for both.

Every kind of exercise worked. The numerous studies looked at many types and schedules of exercise, and they all worked — doing any movement regularly (including dancing, walking, and yoga) was a big improvement over doing nothing. The researchers, however, also found that short, intense bursts of exercise worked best. HIIT — “high-intensity interval training” — has become a trend in recent years.

But for older people, a simple daily walk of 20 to 40 minutes was also found to be particularly effective. While going for a walk, unlike doing a short, intense exercise burst, may not seem as glamorous or result in breaking a sweat, it is a better option for people who can’t safely do intense exercise. And those who took a daily walk greatly improved their mental health with this moderate, regular activity.

Other recent research has shown that playing ping pong (table tennis) can help people suffering from Parkinson’s disease and that daily low-intensity physical activity (in the form of 10,000 or more steps, which is the equivalent of almost five miles) is actually associated with increased total brain volume and with less brain aging compared to people who exercised less or did not exercise at all.

In conclusion, most of us don’t need to wait for our doctor to “greenlight” your new exercise regime. Turn off your TV, lace up your sneakers, and hit the ground running, or walking. Either way, your body and your brain will thank you. And, as dear old Dad would say, “Keep moving!”


Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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