MDs, researchers, scientists have long claimed exercise works like a miracle drug. Now they have proof. Cover of Sept 12 issue of Time

The article which just hit newstands starting with recent evidence gathered by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a genetic metabolic neurologist at McMaster University in Ontario is cited for his research with mice who have chronic disease which speeds aging. His studies show remarkable evidence regarding the impact of exercise. An excerpt from the article:

"That’s remarkable news, if you’re a mouse. And though there are obvious differences between rodents and humans, Tarnopolsky has seen something similar happen in his ill patients. “I’ve seen all the hype about gene therapy for people with genetic disease”–Tarnopolsky treats kids with severe genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy–“but it hasn’t delivered in the 25 years I’ve been doing this,” he says. “The most effective therapy available to my patients right now is exercise. Tarnopolsky now thinks he knows why. In studies where blood is drawn immediately after people exercised, researchers have found that many positive changes occur throughout the body during and right after a workout. “Going for a run is going to improve your skin health, your eye health, your gonadal health,” he says. “It’s unbelievable.” If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.”

"So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, courtesy of the protein BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration."

"Next year the NIH will launch its six-year, $170 million study with a group of about 3,000 sedentary people, ranging in age from children to the elderly. They will start an exercise program and then donate blood, fat and muscle before and after they exercise. Scientists will then examine samples for clues to how the body changes with physical activity. A control group that doesn’t exercise will also be tracked for comparison.

As part of the study, researchers will do the same experiment in animals to get tissue samples from places like the brain and the lungs that would be too dangerous to obtain from humans. “It’ll be a tremendously enormous data set,” says Maren Laughlin, program director for integrative metabolism at the NIH, who is also a lead on the new study. In the end, the researchers think they’ll be able to identify every single molecule in the body that’s tweaked or turned on by exercise.

This kind of study–its size, its rigor, its aims–is a first, and experts are hoping it will give doctors the evidence they need to start treating exercise like the miracle drug they’ve long thought it to be. “If you think of exercise as a true form of medicine, which it is, it’s not good enough to just look at a patient and say, ‘You need to do more exercise,'” says Bamman, director of the Center for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “That’s no better than handing someone a bottle of pills and saying, ‘Here, take a few,'” with no other explanation.

"In addition to the heart, muscles, lungs and bones, scientists are finding that another major beneficiary of exercise might be the brain. Recent research links exercise to less depression, better memory and quicker learning. Studies also suggest that exercise is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, which is second only to cancer as the disease Americans fear most, according to surveys.

Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain for the better, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, courtesy of the protein BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. “I always tell people that exercise is regenerative medicine–restoring and repairing and basically fixing things that are broken,” Bamman says.

I am excited about the news that the prestigious NIH is sponsoring a study to offer conclusive proof for the value of exercise.

23 Replies

  • John Pepper's Parkinson's Disease Journey Through Exercise

  • THANKS for posting this Roy! John Pepper has had an amazing journey!

  • I just met him and attended his event very interesting

  • There are 4 more sessions in the Bay Area please if you live in the Bay Area

    try and attend the event

  • Thanks! I would attend but I am on the wrong coast - Florida, Tampa Bay area.

  • Hanifab, how did the event benefit you? Was it mostly offered as an encouragement to people to practice this kind of walking? (Nothing to sneeze at, encouragement is precious.) Or, did it offer details and information in addition to what John Pepper has written in his book?

  • Thank you, RoyProp, for posting this encouraging video.

  • Good article p-oui, I guess saying what we have been hearing for some time. What I find a mystery is why athletes get Parkinsons if exercise really does regenerate lost neurons. It must be more than exercise that reverses PD. Exercise is getting more research and different types have differing effects but there is still a lot more to learn!

  • the error is in the autonomic system perhaps. concentrating compensates?

    pd caused by all kinds of damage, mechanical like case of boxers, chemical like case of drug abuse...but you know all this better than me

    I think the organic damage is evident....dead neurons so I guess it becomes all organic damage, which came first organic damage or metabolic? two distinct categories of pd just musing.

  • Here's the thing. When I got diagnosed Parkinson's was a movement disorder. Being 46 I was going to kick it's butt. I worked out harder than I ever had before. I would spend an hour on a treadmill, running, jogging, doing spins while spinning 3 golf balls in my hand, walking forwards and backwards on a incline. I would push myself to make sure that after an hour I had gone at least 6 miles. After that I would spend an hour building my core. Stand on one leg while holding the other at a 90 degree angle, put my arms straight out parallel to the floor, put 2 - 10 pound weights in my hand's and do 180 degree spin's at the waist. 6 years later it takes a trained eye to even spot that I have Parkinson's.

  • Just bragging.

  • No actually the problem is that exercise does not rewire your brain for non motor symptoms, which in my opinion sucks way worse.

  • Hal, at least you have an 'active' imagination. There are some recent studies documenting the impact of exercise on altzheimers (sp?) and the non motor symptoms associated with that disease such as memory and I believe mood. You might find those studies of interest. They look very promising.

  • I am going by personal experience. In 6 years my Dopamine has not changed, which I contribute to exercise. It took 200 mg of Zoloft and Alprazolam to walk me back to normal. But that is just me. I have never been to an intervention because I was dyskinesia(ing) all over the place. (that would be funny if the powers that be said, "Hey Micheal, we have noticed you have been doing a lot of useless moving lately and we feel......."

  • Great to hear

  • Hikoi, I am glad you like it and, indeed, I also would like more substantial research here. Parkinsons is a mystery on many levels it seems but I don't read exercise as a cure or a way to reverse the disease (though I would love that it were true). Rather than a panacea, I read the results with exercise trials and experiments as a way *possibly* to prevent the onset of disease, not a guarantee that one won't get disease - even if you are an athlete. Evidence though is mounting - some would say overwhelming - that exercise *can* slow the onset and slow the progress of the disease. I am excited to think about the future for any and all ways we can stop or slow progression of PD.

  • Why more research. We are a Country (USA) of sit on our ass and push keys on a computer. We just need to get up off our asses and start walking, or running any thing will do. We could cut our health care cost in half.

  • Bailey, I am not a clinician but I spent my entire career in healthcare and I believe that at least insurance companies have figured out this much: if they get everyone exercising, they pay less medical bills in reimbursements. Thanks to Obama, we are moving to a different form of healthcare reimbursement in the US, away from procedure based payments to "performance" based payments. In other words, doctors and hospitals will get paid not for performing tests and procedures but for making people better. I am betting they might even start incentivizing patients to exercise. These are all good things.

    Why do we need more research? For reasons that relate to awareness and validation which will impact reimbursements and care plans. First, to validate what we believe is true so that we can make exercise more of an RX than just a "you should exercise". Second, we could benefit from understanding more precisely what is working when we exercise. For example, I never did cardio before I was dxd like I do now, but I understand it is a real cardio workout that is beneficial. I do that now and I am positive I see benefit. Of course, strength building is also important but I would personally like to understand better where I would get the most benefit and fine tune my workouts to maximize the benefit I get for PD. This NIH study is game changing in my mind because it will provide credence to a lot of questions that linger for some about the value of exercise - especially for managing a serious disease, not just for general health. If exercising means you take less drugs, wouldn't that be a good thing?

    I guess I am saying I agree.

  • One country and probably many others have been actively promoting exercise since 1998.

    Green Prescription is a referral given by a doctor or nurse to a patient, with exercise and lifestyle goals written on them.

    The term, used by health practitioners in New Zealand draws parallel to the usual prescriptions given to patients for medications, and emphasises the importance of exercise in improving their condition, and not relying on drugs.

    The green prescription is written after discussing the issues and goals in the consultation

  • Hikoi, Thank you for sharing that, it is so amazing to hear that this is already working in other countries. Wish the US will catch up soon!

  • I wonder if we exercised throughout the day, maybe 5 minutes every hour or 10 minutes every 2 hours, etc., if we could keep these incredible exercise benefits going all day long. Has anyone ever tried anything like that?

  • Heart song, I love this question, this is exactly what I hope more research will tell us. I also feel excited about the NIH funded clinical study that is coming up and hope that we learn a lot from this. As for myself, I have not tried this but I really do love the idea of experimenting with multiple exercise sessions throughout the day versus one long one.

  • I also wanted to mention that if you go to the time article they also reference studies that were done doing short high-intensity workouts and the incredible benefits that can be derived from even a very very short workout. Also, some of the fit bit or exercise monitoring watches now monitor how much you were moving each hour emphasizing the importance of simply moving around every hour versus sitting for multiple hours in a row. Interesting stuff !

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