Move or lose

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am

There are two types of people: those who exercise and those who don't.

Those who do say they enjoy increasing flexibility, strength and cardiorespiratory endurance, which makes sense.

These people also understand and - more importantly - feel how physical activity keeps them lean and psychologically better able to cope with life's challenges.

Those who don't exercise often rationalise that these incentives won't contribute to success, wealth and productivity. However, even though most people are involved in some sort of sedentary activity daily, such as running a business or organisation, reading, studying and so on, a sedentary life can lead to a premature death.

So, exercise offers the potential for a longer and better life. One of the foremost experts in health and fitness, Lawrence Golding, the founding editor-in-chief of the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal, last year wrote an article aimed at people who don't exercise.

Instead of regurgitating the usual motives for working out - losing weight and increasing self-esteem - he said exercise was one of the most effective methods of preventing heart disease because it lowered some of the risk factors associated with the illness. Called coronary risk factors by the American Heart Association, these include high blood pressure, high (total) cholesterol levels, stress and obesity (body fat levels).

Regular exercise is well accepted as a necessity for successful dieting and weight loss. And by eliminating excess body fat, blood pressure is lowered, as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US says blood pressure rates are doubled in the obese.

As for cholesterol levels, studies have shown that exercise not only raises the HDL cholesterol (the 'good' cholesterol that helps protect against heart disease), but also lowers the 'bad' cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoproteins that stick to artery walls).

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, heart disease claimed more than one million lives in the US last year, and Hong Kong's Department of Health says it's the second leading cause of death in the SAR (60 per cent of all deaths in 2002).

Yet Golding finds that people aren't alarmed by these statistics because they feel heart disease happens only to the old.

Health experts and scientists now know that heart disease starts to occur 10 to 20 years before the heart actually fails.

And although drugs and surgery have saved people's lives, these tend to be expensive reactive, not proactive, solutions. Health experts agree that, in order to reduce the incidence of heart disease, a lifestyle intervention programme - including diet and exercise - needs to start early.

A longer life should, hopefully, be enough incentive for people to start young.