By Dr. Michael Jacobson, D.O., M.P.H., CHM Medical Director
*Editor’s note: This information was published in the June 2023 issue of Heartfelt Magazine, CHM’s monthly magazine that provides CHM membership-related tips and tricks, medical advice from doctors, testimonies from CHM members, and more. Please refer to the CHM Guidelines and applicable web pages for the most up-to-date information regarding CHM membership, sharing eligibility, and ministry news.*
Recently, I was with my extended family on our annual ski trip to the mountains of Colorado. Several of us struggled with the over 11,000-foot altitude to our lodging. On my fifth night, after several days of acclimating, I suddenly found myself unable to catch my breath. Instead of resolving, it only got worse. It eventually combined with chest pain, nausea, and other symptoms, warning me of a potential impending heart attack.
I silently asked, “Could this really be happening to me?" The answer was, “Of course! Look how you’ve been taking care of yourself the last few years!" My discipline had degraded since my retirement form the military. My fitness, weight, and energy levels had deteriorated.
HHS Advisory Committee recommendations
According to Alex Azar II, former secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, about half of Americans have at least one chronic illness—and will die prematurely because of it—that better fitness could have prevented. This contributes to billions of dollars in unnecessary annual healthcare costs.
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report says, “Being physically active is one of the most important actions that people of all ages can take to improve their health. Physical activity fosters normal growth and development and can make people feel better, function better, sleep better, and reduce the risk of a large number of chronic diseases. Health benefits start immediately after exercising and even short episodes of physical activity are beneficial.”
How to be healthy
The report gives these recommendations for staying healthy:
- Move more and sit less. Some activity is better than none. For example, while shopping, intentionally park further away from entrances so that you can add more steps to your day. Take the stairs if you're able.
- Begin with lower levels of activity and gradually increase.
- Set a weekly goal of either:
- 150 minutes (e.g. 30 minutes per day, 6 days a week) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week for moderate-intensity (see below), or
- 75 minutes (15 minutes per day, 6 days a week) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity;
- Once you're ready for it, increasing these exercise times yields even more benefit.
- Spread aerobic (cardio) activity throughout the week.
- Do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups at least two days a week.
- Moderate-intensity activities
- Walking briskly (2.5 miles per hour or faster)
- Recreational swimming
- Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour on level terrain
- Tennis (doubles)
- Ballroom dancing/line dancing
- General yard work and home repair work
- Exercise classes like water aerobics
- Vigorous-intensity activities
- Swimming laps
- Tennis (singles)
- Vigorous dancing
- Bicycling faster than 10 miles per hour
- Jump rope
- Heavy yard work
- Hiking uphill or backpacking
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Exercise classes like vigorous step aerobics or kickboxing
- Lower risk of all-cause mortality
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Lower risk of stroke
- Lower risk of hypertension
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of adverse blood lipid profile
- Lower risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
- Improved cognition
- Reduced risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s)
- Improved quality of life
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced risk of depression, including postpartum depression
- Improved sleep
- Slowed/reduced weight gain
- Weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
- Improved bone health
- Improved physical function
- Lower risk of falls (older adults)
A happy ending
After struggling for several hours on that mountain in Colorado, I was transported in an ambulance to the closest hospital. I learned that my problem was primarily altitude sickness, that my heart had suffered no damage, but that I still needed further study with a CT Angiogram.
Today, I'm writing this from my home in Cincinnati, grateful to be alive and empowered with renewed motivation to resume a structured, accountable fitness program to regain the optimum health and fitness that I used to enjoy. With a wife, children and grandchildren, there are too many great reasons to take care of myself.
Physical ActivityGuidelines for Americans, 2nd edition (2018, HHS)