Survival of the fittest – are you fit and healthy?

We are what we repeatedly do.

-Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC)

On July 1, we proudly celebrated Canada’s 143rd birthday. My brief research tells me that the first settlers came to Canada over 400 years ago. I also discovered that First Nations have inhabited this beautiful land for over 2000 years. In all this nostalgia, on July 1, my wife and I quietly celebrated our 25th anniversary of our settlement in Medicine Hat. This is the longest I have lived in one city. This says a lot about the wonderful people of Medicine Hat and surrounding areas.

In the last 25 years, much water has flown through the South Saskatchewan River. We are now 25 years older and our family has grown from two to four. My children say I am getting shorter as I get older. I guess this may be true or it may be relative as these days most children are taller than their parents. But one thing for certain is that as I get older I find my abdominal girth gets bigger. My struggle to stay fit and healthy is an ongoing battle. It becomes harder as I get older. And this may be true for most people who care about their health.

There are many things I do to stay fit and healthy. Two basic foundations are healthy diet and regular exercise. For the next few columns, I hope to do a lot of research on various aspects of exercise and share that information with you. I think that is going to be an interesting exercise in itself – pun intended! I will see if I can get my abdominal girth to where I want. That is a good challenge.

As we get older, we are going to face two major health hazards – cardiovascular diseases and physical weakness. Our looks will change. We will be overweight, walking around with some difficulty carrying extra 20 to 100 pounds on us. That will be no good for our morale, nor for our backs, hips, knees, ankles and feet.

For the most part, our survival depends on how fit we are. I have an editorial piece from New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM 2002) titled, Survival of the Fittest – More Evidence, which recounts Charles Darwin’s 1859 published theory of evolution as an incessant struggle among individuals with different degrees of fitness within a species. Now, after almost 160 years later, research supporting the concept of survival of the fittest are strong and compelling, says NEJM editorial.

There is plenty of evidence, unequivocal and robust, showing relation of fitness, physical activity and exercise to reduced mortality overall and from cardiovascular causes and reduced cardiovascular risk, says the NEJM editorial.

It is obvious that healthier people, that are people who have no physical or mental illness, are physically fit and live longer. What is exciting is that there is evidence to show a person with or without cardiovascular disease who is less fit or less active, can improve his/her survival if the person increase the level of fitness or physical activity. A program of regular exercise can improve fitness by 15 to 30 per cent within three to six months. Isn’t that exciting?

This begs us to ask the next question: what is the dose (total energy expended per week) and at what intensity (the energy requirements per unit of time for a given activity) I should exercise to achieve a specific health benefit? We will look into that and many more questions in the future columns. For now, generally speaking, it is recommended that all people adopt a physically active lifestyle and, specifically, that all adults engage in moderately intense physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most – and preferably all – days of the week, says the NEJM editorial.

Stay tuned for more exciting information on this subject next week.

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