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Don’t wait to make a resolution to get moving: ‘Exercise is better than medicine’

zhen yanAs the New Year approaches, the unhealthy eating over the holidays catches up with all of us, and often, exercise is at the top of our resolutions.

A Virginia Tech researcher, Zhen Yan, says science supports the choice for more than just getting in shape.

“Exercise is better than medicine,” said Yan, a professor and director of the Center for Exercise Medicine Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “We need to start thinking beyond extending our lifespan and focus on extending our health span.”

He is referring to that period of life free from chronic illness, pain and disease.

Yan’s research provides scientific support for the role of exercise and its effect on mitochondria, which are critical to maintaining health. Yan has found connections between malfunctioning mitochondria and cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, cancer and cognitive decline.

Among his research findings:

  • Exercise can protect both muscles and nerves before surgery and restore blood flow for medical conditions such as heart attack or stroke.
  • Regular exercise can produce a powerful antioxidant that can reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with COVID-19.
  • Those who exercise during pregnancy may reduce their children’s chances of developing diabetes and other metabolic diseases later in life.
  • Resistance training leads to functional improvements such as balance, strength, mobility and glucose metabolism through muscle adaptation, insulin sensitivity and improved cellular turnover.

“Our body undergoes adaptations in response to exercise, not only to improve physical performance, but also to induce many other health benefits,” said Yan. “Physical activity and regular exercise are the best measures we have to promote good health and prevent disease.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.