I’m not sure if it was Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac, or someone else who said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” None-the-less, this universally recognized truism makes sense in any field.
In the field of health and medicine it is important to differentiate between true prevention and early detection. That’s not to say that early detection isn’t worthwhile, just that there is a difference between taking steps to lessen your chances of pathology and trying to catch these pathologies as early as possible once they have arisen.
What makes prevention so attractive is the bang you get for your buck. Researchers are generally excited, as they should be, when a new drug or therapy increases survival rate by any percentage. These percentages, however, are usually miniscule in relation to how dramatically lifestyle choices like eating whole foods and being active affect your chances of developing life threatening conditions in the first place.
Obviously, not all lifestyle choices have huge impacts on your health and longetivity, but some do. It makes sense to put our effort where there is the biggest chance of return. Renowned strength coach Dan Johns often answers questions about more obscure supplements by saying, “If you’re not flossing your teeth, don’t talk to me about these supplements.”
According to the Real Age site, flossing your teeth increases your life expectancy by six years! I believe the reason for this is twofold. Most importantly, flossing helps prevent poor dental health that leads to inflammation, which in turn is a cause of cardiovascular disease. Secondly, flossing regularly maximizes your chances of keeping your teeth for a lifetime and therefore allows you to continue to be better nourished.
As great a habit that flossing may be, however, it still doesn’t compare with the two biggest factors for preventing premature mortality which are activity levels and the closely related VO2 Max. VO2 Max refers to the highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and used by the body during intense exercise. Simply put, the greater one’s VO2 max, the greater their level of cardiovascular fitness.
In doing a Med Search on the subject, I came up with pages of studies linking increased activity and high cardiovascular fitness with decreased incidence of a multitude of diseases as well as premature mortality itself. One researcher summed it up in the introduction to his study, “Studies have consistently demonstrated an inverse relationship between VO2max values and risk of all-cause mortality.”
In plain English, the better cardiovascular shape you are in the longer you can be expected to live. Regardless of your age, weight, cholesterol numbers, glucose sensitivity, any lab results you can think of, or your current level of fitness, if you improve your level of fitness you decrease your chances of premature death. Period.
If you are currently quite out of shape, we can put this in a positive refrain. There is lots of room for improvement. Most any activity that gets your heart rate increased will improve your VO2 max. Get started today with walking and you are on your way, no pun intended.
If you are already exercising regularly, good for you. You can further improve your cardiovascular fitness by adding High Intensity Interval Training once or twice a week to your mix. While those who are deconditioned can improve their VO2 max by most any means, at some point exercising longer will increase your cardiovascular endurance but it won’t further increase your VO2 max.
As much as I have studied nutrition in general and supplements in particular, I am convinced that there is no supplement that comes close to the health benefits of exercise. If you are serious about prevention, you can’t find any truer preventive medicine, with no side effects, than simple exercise. And don’t forget to floss.