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Book Review: Healing through Exercise by Jorg Blech

April 13, 2009

We don’t move enough. And moving, even just a small amount each day, can drastically improve and enhance our lives. This is the basic premise of science writer Jorg Blech’s book, Healing through Exercise: Scientifically-proven ways to prevent and overcome illness and lengthen your life”, which I recently received from Da Capo Press.

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Blech has written about the profound effects that exercise has been proven to have on a number of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and chronic stress, as well as the effect that it has on our quality and length of life. Bottom line, we’ll be a whole lot healthier, happy, and far less likely to become ill if we stay active. Although we are told this time and again, the reason why this book is different is because it not only cites a number of studies that have been conducted to prove the benefits of exercise, but it also goes on at length to describe how our muscles function and the way in which they build up and repair, and how our brains are stimulated by exercising. While reading this book I learned about what happens to our bodies while we’re moving as opposed to what happens to them when we are at rest and how our metabolism can, to some extent, be controlled through exercise. Lifestyle habits are the biggest influence on our likelihood of contracting diseases: the way we age is 30 percent genetics and the environment determines the other 70 percent.

We are all fairly aware of how little exercise people in general get, but I was still shocked to see the statistics: “the World Health Organization has classified 60 percent of the world’s population as sedentary; 41 percent do not even have two hours of moderate exercise per week; 17 percent are completely inactive. It is estimated that 2 million people die from illnesses caused by lack of exercise… in the United States, treatment for sedentary citizens costs 75 billion dollars every year” (Blech 33). Furthermore, the United States spends $400 billion a year just to treat heart disease; one-third of all heart attacks likely wouldn’t even occur just from the person briskly walking for 2.5 hours a week.

In describing how we have evolved over time, Blech notes that hunter-gatherers burned roughly 1000 calories each day and they ate about 3000 calories worth of food (a ration of 3 to 1). These days, sedentary North Americans might eat a bit less food- roughly 2400 calories- but we only burn about 300 calories each day, leaving us with a ratio of 8 to 1. A huge difference, and certainly not for the better.

As well as comparing us to our ancestors, this book also looks at how we differ from animals. We are predisposed to be able to exercise and run for long periods of time; most animals are only capable of running for 15 minutes tops, but humans are built for endurance. We are supposed to exercise. Interestingly enough, when looking at how hard bed rest can be on our bodies, bears lose 23 percent of the muscle strength in their legs after hibernation: during the same period of rest, a human leg would lose an astounding 90 percent of strength. When doctors prescribe bed rest as treatment, it often does us far more harm than good because we are not energizing our muscles. Our body deteriorates when we do not use it.

Surgery and medication are both overused to an alarming extent as a way to treat illness and disease. One study showed that overweight Americans with type 2 diabetes reduced the prevalence of the disease by 58 percent just from walking for 30 minutes, five days a week and eating a low-fat diet, compared to another group who took the standard medication and reduced the prevalence of the disease by 31 percent. Even for those people who have chronic knee pain or hip injuries, surgery can often be completely avoided with some moderate exercise. When we think about how simple, cheap, and effective exercise is, it’s really devastating to learn that “every ten seconds, a person somewhere in the industrialized world gets a limb amputated because of type 2 diabetes” (40). I firmly believe that medication and surgery have an important place in our world, but I believe just as strongly that we overuse these forms of treatment far too much. Medication and surgery should not be relied upon as the answer to all of our problems; they should be the last resort when we have no other option. Living a healthy lifestyle with eating well and exercising regularly is going to have a greater impact on our immunity system and our quality of life.

Exercise also plays a big role in neurodegenerative diseases. Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s can be prevented from moderate amounts of exercise and it can actually even reverse the loss of brain structures. More than that, parts of the brain for aerobic exercisers have increased in size in areas related to mental deterioration.

The answer is obvious. Exercise is our best medicine and without it, our mind and bodies could break down very quickly. You can begin exercising at any stage in your life- the important thing is to just go out and do it. As Jorg Blech astutely states, “Being out of shape is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes” (64). I couldn’t agree more.

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24 comments

  1. Great book review!


  2. I truly support the philosophy of that book – exercise is definitely vital!! Thank you for reviewing the book and topic.


  3. amen to that! that was a fantastic post and great book! thanks for sharing and for you congrats! πŸ™‚


  4. This sounds like a great book. I will definitely add it to my list. I totally agree with the main idea – we NEED exercise. We just need it! Every day!


  5. Fantastic post!


  6. I am not surprise at the stats. My last job I was in a field office where we would walk all over the facility just doing our work. At my new job where I am surrounded by really sedentary people, I would say a good 80% are overweight. It is obvious to me at a glance who exercises and who don’t. I am afraid of the day when the dividing line between our population is between who is healthy and who is sick.


  7. I’m glad I exercise!!


  8. Excellent review, sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚


  9. -sigh- This guy definitely sounds legit.

    I am trying to get more active. Like, I work out 6 days a week, and I live in San Francisco, where a stroll down the block becomes a mountain-climbing spectacular, but I know that I sit around too much -grin- reading blogs ‘n such.

    Not a “solution” per se, but I want to get a Swiss ball to replace my desk chair.

    This book shall be added to my reading list.


  10. GREAT REVIEW Sagan…I’m actually looking it up on Amazon right now! Thanks for this!!


  11. I have never seen this book and, as always, loved your review.
    What struck me the most is that it seems as though the premise could have elicited a DUH! (too obvious) but the way he presented it etc. did not (does that make sense?).

    off to check it out.


  12. I totally agree: Exercise, Blech! Oh wait, that’s just the guys last name. πŸ™‚

    Seriously, sounds like an interesting book, thanks for the review!


  13. I’ve never heard of this book, but it does sound very interesting. And I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like without exercise – I would be so depressed! For me, I exercise just as much for the mental aspect than the physical. Great review, Sagan!


  14. Excellent review, Sagan! I’ll check to see if my local library has a copy of this book.

    I know first-hand how true it is that exercise can reduce the need for meds. Only six weeks after starting a more strenuous workout program, I had to have the dosage on my blood pressure medication reduced by half. I’m thisclose to coming off it for good! Exercise DOES make a difference!


  15. Which reminds me… I should get away from this computer now and go workout!! πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the review!


  16. Thanks for this great review! I think exercise heals and prevents illness. It’s a combination of the physical and mental effects, I think. Exercise just makes me feel so much better, it completely moves stress and bugs aside. It’s my medicine of choice!


  17. This article completely reinstates what i was just thinking. I’ve been very busy, but luckily it’s physical stuff i’ve been busy with, and i’ve managed to get cardio in on the days I’m not as active. Simply a little more activity in my daily routine has payed off. Thanks for all of your support/resources/reviews and more.


  18. Such a shame that a book that states the rather obvious truth about exercise and health is held with such reguard or even posted here. Are we that much of ignorant forms of human beings that this needs to be published rather than taken as common sense?


  19. you know it’s always the little forms of exercise i miss when things get outta control busy–walking to the store, or stores, a longer walk to work or to a friends… πŸ™‚


  20. Great review. Sounds like a book worth reading too.


  21. Exercise is good medicine. I get fewer colds, I think


  22. Jack- an excellent point. But I feel that this kind of book is really valuable for understanding the science behind what exercise does for our bodies, as well as to open our eyes with the stats. For people who refuse to think of exercise as the best medicine, I think it would be really great for them to read a book like this as it might change their perspective. And while most of the people reading this blog are already aware of how important and wonderful fitness is, I think we all know a couple of people who reach for the drugs as soon as they feel the slightest bit of pain or illness coming on… so this book can be used to persuade those people when we are unable to do it ourselves.


  23. when using desk chairs, i would always prefer to use wood instead of plastic desk chairs :”-


  24. exercise, healthy food and thinking positive is very important



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