McDermott: Hedge your bets

Scott McDermott’s weekly column about health and wellness

Any good investor or gambler knows that you need to “hedge your bets,” which means set things up to reduce your odds of failure, or increase your chance of success. Instead of picking one thing to place all of your money on, you pick several, with varying odds of success. Investors call it “diversifying.” In Vegas it reduces your odds of losing all your money (in theory).

I refer to it all the time in relation to fitness, because of one simple fact: being fit and healthy hedges your bet in favour of a long, healthy, awesome life. It is no guarantee of course. I have had several friends over the years who have lost the battle to cancer, but were super healthy in all respects. I also know people who eat terribly, smoke, drink, and do all manner of unhealthy things and are in their 80’s. There are always exceptions to the rule, and genetics play a large role, but for now, let’s forgive the 1 per cent exceptions and focus on the rest of us.

That said, it is true in every study ever done, that being fit and healthy reduces your chances of all manner of illness (unfortunately it doesn’t prevent you from hitting your head against a bridge on a bicycle – yah, I know).

Fit and healthy people have lower incidence of missed work due to illness ranging from serious to annoying.

Browsing the Canadian Medical Association Journals, I find article after article about this subject. For example: “Fit people have a reduction in chance of cardiac (heart related) death by 20 to 35%.”

Researchers took unfit people and helped them get fit and noted a 44 per cent reduction in risk of death from all causes. So wherever you are, start now.

Improvements were found in some groups with as little as one hour of walking per week as a start and with all of the beautiful paths we have around town, that seems very easy to manage!

Diabetes is on the rise and one of the biggest things you can do to hedge your bets is to exercise. High intake of all forms of sugar on a daily basis, combined with low activity result in the body defending itself. We become insulin resistant and type II diabetes takes over. Best way to manage? Eat well and exercise. I recommend you do that now, before you have to and enjoy the benefits. Researchers took high risk people for type II diabetes and had them eat right and exercise and dropped their risk by over 60 per cent in three – four years.

What about cancer? Again, there are no guarantees, but exercise hedges our bets by reducing things like colon cancer risk by up to 40 per cent and breast cancer by up to 30 per cent. I will take those odds.

Getting osteoarthritis can be reduced by resistance training (weight bearing exercise) by not only keeping joints mobile, but also by keeping bones strong. When we methodically stress the bones with weight, the body responds by keeping those bones strong. This avoids things like hip fractures as we age – a large cause of death in seniors.

Through dozens and dozens of studies the general consensus is that 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day is the magic formula, leading to the best reduction of risk.

When we exercise we increase good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), we increase circulation (reduce blood pressure), which improves blood flow and waste elimination through oxygen to the body. Our heart gets stronger and more efficient, we reduce the risk of injury doing daily tasks, and the body generally becomes more efficient, like a well tuned car. Depression and anxiety are helped by exercise, allowing people to reduce or possibly eliminate medication.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I am saying it will be worth it! Hedge your bets. Be fit and healthy and enjoy life!

Happy Training!

(Consult with your doctor before taking this, or any advice on your well being and medications.)

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