Those isolated, long-lived peoples discovered by Weston A. Price had to do hard physical labor to eat, had to walk briskly up and down steep terrain to get anywhere. But today, few North Americans output very much physical energy in process of daily life or work. Not only cars, but all of our modern conveniences make it possible to live without ever breaking into a sweat. We pay for this ease; it costs us a significant degree of health.

Exercise has many benefits when combined with excellent nutrition. It creates an overall feeling of well-being that can not be created by diet alone. Exercising temporarily makes the heart beat faster, increasing blood circulation throughout the body right out to the tips of your fingers and toes. This short-term elevated flow of blood flow brings increased supplies of oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body, facilitating healing and repair. Without revving up your engine every day many of the body's systems never get the sludge burned out of them and never perform optimally.

Exercise also changes the metabolic rate so your body burns more calories–not only while you are exercising, but also for a 24 hour period following exercise. This maintains a healthful body weight into old age, or helps to lose weight. Most people find that exercise in moderation does not increase appetite, so that it is possible to consistently burn more calories in a day, and gradually reduce weight if that is desirable. It is necessary to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound of weight. Most forms of exercise allow you to burn 300 to 600 calories per hour at a moderate pace which would be achieved by doubling the resting pulse. Without even considering the weight-loss benefit of achieving a raised metabolism, an hour of daily exercise continued for a week or two dependent upon the type of exercise and pace should lead to one pound of weight loss if the caloric intake is held constant.

The flip side of having a higher metabolism is rarely appreciated but is extremely important. Recall the basic equation of health: Health = Nutrition / Calories. Exercise permits a person to eat somewhat more while not gaining weight. If the food is nutrient rich, the body has a chance to extract more vitamins, more minerals, more amino acids. The person who remains slender by rigidly reducing their food intake to near starvation levels may lack vital, health-building nutrition.

And only exercise moves lymphatic fluid. The blood is pumped through the body by the heart, but the lymphatic system, lacking a heart, requires muscular contractions to move from the extremities of the body to the central cavity. The lymphatic system picks up cellular waste products and conducts these toxins to disposal. Frequently, people with rheumatic aches and pains or other generalized muscular discomforts physicians like to give Latin diagnostic names to can give up taking pain pills if they will but begin exercising regularly. Only when they begin moving their lymph can they begin to detoxify properly.

There is another benefit from exercise which is not to be ignored, and that is that it gives the person a chemical sense of well being. It actually will help to emotionally boost up people who are chronically depressed and make them smile. After a good workout, especially one done outside, everything seems brighter, more positive; whatever was bothering you somehow just doesn't seem like that big of a deal now. I am not making pro-exercise propaganda. This is not a figment of the imagination. An exercising body really does make antidepressant neurochemicals called endorphins, but only after about 45 minutes to an hour of aerobic workout.

Endorphins are powerful, with painkilling and euphoric effects equal to or greater than heroin, but without any undesirable side effects. If chemists could learn to cheaply synthesize endorphins I'm sure that millions of people would want to become addicted to them. Because I make such a point of getting in my workout every day, my husband has accused me of being an endorphin junkie, and he is right! I admit it, I'm really hooked on the feeling of well being I consistently get from any sustained exercise. I defend my addiction staunchly because it is the healthiest addiction I know of.

I have also been accused of carrying exercise to extremes, and I admit to that also. For a few years I trained for Ironman triathlons. I now think doing ironman distances is immoderate and except for a few remarkable individuals with "iron" constitutions, training that hard can only lead to a form of exhaustion that is not health promoting. I have become much more sensible in my "old" age, and in recent years have limited my participation to the Olympic distance triathlons. I was on the Canadian team at the World Championship in 1992, and intend to do it again in 1995. I do not find the Olympic distance exhausting, in fact I think it is great fun and truly exhilarating. I get to see all these wonderful age group competitors from all over the world who look and feel fantastic. It does my soul good to see a group of people aging so gracefully, not buying into the popular notion that old age is inevitably disabling, depressing, and ugly. Sport brings a degree of balance to my life after spending so much time in the presence of the sick. I plan to maintain my athletic activities into old age, barring accident or other unforeseen obstacles to fitness.

To maintain basic fitness it does not matter so much what form of exercise is chosen, as long as it is not damaging to the skeletal system or connective tissues. Many people are unable to run due to foot, knee, hip, or back problems, but almost everyone can walk. Walking outside is better than inside on a treadmill, and walking hills is better than walking on flat ground. Exercise machines such as stationary bikes, cross country ski machines, and stair steppers work well for a lot of people who live in the city, especially in the winter, or for those who hate exercise. Whatever you choose to do, it is important to at least double the resting pulse for 30 minutes no less than four days a week. This is the absolute minimum required to maintain the health and function of the cardiovascular-pulmonary system. If your resting pulse is 70, you must walk, jog, ski, bike, swim or what have you, fast enough to keep the pulse at 140 beats per minute for at least 30 minutes.

I have a strong preference to exercising outside in isolated places where there is only me and the forest, or only me and the river. Running along logging roads in the hilly back country, or swimming in the green unpolluted water of a forest river is a spiritual experience for me. It is a time to meditate, to commune with nature, and to clear my mind and create new solutions. The repetitive action of running or walking or swimming, along with the regular deep breathing in clean air, with no distractions except what nature provides is truly health promoting. Sharing these activities with friends or family can also be great fun and some of the best in social interactions. It is one of my favorite ways of visiting with people. I don't expect other people to be as enthusiastic about exercise as I am, but I do hope that everyone will make an effort to be minimally fit as an ongoing part of their health program into old age.