Exercising can save lives, but fewer Virginians are doing it | Virginia

In late September, Richmond resident Denise Davis noticed she had trouble finishing an otherwise routine walk without stopping to use her inhaler.

The 60-year-old knows plenty of people who have health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes and don’t do much about them. But that’s not her style. She threw herself into her exercise routine, lost 16 pounds in a month and now finds she can leave her inhaler at home.

Davis is one of many who takes Terrica Woolridge’s free weekly class through Sports Backers’ Fitness Warriors program at the Robinson Theater in Church Hill. Many have stories just like Davis’ — once exercise became part of their routine, they not only feel better, but they find they use less medication as well.

“[Participants] tell me, ‘I couldn’t go up the stairs, but now I can,’ or, ‘My arthritis isn’t as bad,’ ” Woolridge said. “You don’t have to look at the scale, that’s not the only detector of your health. How’re you sleeping? How’re you feeling?”

New research suggests that Woolridge’s line of thinking is right. Beyond the effect on the waistline, regular exercise saves lives.

A University of Virginia study recently published in the scientific journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine suggests that an antioxidant that muscles develop during exercise might protect the body against multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, which is often developed in those who have experienced severe trauma or sepsis.

The syndrome involves the immune system essentially turning against the body and attacking vital organs. It kills up to 80 percent of patients who develop it.

The study — which was conducted in mice — was done by Zhen Yan, a U.Va. researcher who hopes his work will make people more aware of exercise’s tangible benefits, thus creating more incentives for people to be physically active. What better incentive to exercise than knowledge that it could very well save your life?

“That’s one of the [problems] with society, we know little about prevention, we know little about interventions like exercise, therefore people do not see the value enough to motivate them,” he said.

He supports the recommendation of several professional societies, such as the American Diabetes Association, of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a day.

“We have a huge…

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