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Why To Exercise Today: I'm Scared Not To

Confession: I haven't been posting these "Why To Exercise Today" pieces for the last week or two because I haven't been exercising, and so felt sadly uninspired. I tweaked my knee so badly that I had to go down stairs like a toddler, landing on each step with both feet before moving on to the next one. "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" is what I sounded like as I descended.

Now, after a few days of rest, the pain is gone but so is my new habit of working out five days a week instead of my former three. And frankly, I'm demoralized. I'm afraid of doing the high-impact workouts that make exercise fun — the running and step aerobics. To add to my frustration, I've been searching and searching fruitlessly for studies that demonstrate that you only lose a little bit of fitness when you miss a week or two of exercising. That's what I really want to hear right now. But no luck.

Still, you have to get back on the horse sometime, right? Already, writing about all the health evils that exercise helps us avoid has changed my attitude forever: I have to keep exercising because, with what I now know, I'm too scared not to. Latest case in point: A study out of Boston University that found that in obese mice, moderate exercise may help improve immune system damage linked to some of the most prevalent diseases, including heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. Really, what more does it take to get back on the hamster wheel?

The study itself was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From the press release:

Diet and exercise restore immune function in obesity

Boston University scientists say that moderate daily exercise and dietary control might reverse immune dysfunctions found in people with obesity.

Overeating and a sedentary lifestyle are well-known risk factors for obesity, which is linked to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, gum disease, certain cancers, and asthma.

Research has suggested that a change in immune function is a predecessor to all these diseases and researchers at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) have previously shown that obesity causes immune defects that make it hard to fight infection.

Until now, little was known about how diet and exercise affects immunity in obese people.

Researchers worked with diet-induced obese mice in four groups:

• lean mice on a standard chow diet
• obese mice on a high fat diet
• obese mice on a high fat diet on a moderate exercise plan for four weeks, and
• obese, high fat diet mice given moderate exercise and a four-week standard chow diet

Moderate daily exercise and dietary control dramatically restored immune function. Obese mice saw damaged cytokines—signaling molecules that help immune cells talk to each other—repaired and an improved ability to fight gum disease as measured by bone loss.

This program aired on March 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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