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Dec 30, 2013 10:13 AM EST

Exercise Is The 'Best Preventive Drug' Against Many Health Problems

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Researchers have found that exercise is "the best preventive drug" for many health problems, USA Today reported.

Along with lowering the risk of heart disease, anxiety disorders and types of cancers, a recent study found that physical activity may be as effective as medication in preventing early death in people who have had heart attacks or strokes.

Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery, told USA Today that exercise can, in some cases, treat the most common diseases in America.

"Exercise is the best preventive drug we have, and everybody needs to take that medicine," Metzl, author of The Exercise Cure, said.

Timothy Church, physician and director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, added that leading an active life is "the most important thing you can do" for long-term health.

"Exercise strengthens the entire human machine - the heart, the brain, the blood vessels, the bones, the muscles," Church told USA Today.

The government recommends that people get at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging, USA Today reported.

The guidelines also recommend that adults do muscle-strengthening activities such as push-ups and lifting weights.

Only about 21 percent of adults in the nation meet the government's recommendations for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise, USA Today reported citing recent federal data.  Other studies indicate people are less active those statistics suggest. A study conducted by scientists at the National Cancer Institute found that fewer than 5 percent of adults in the United States get at least 30 minutes a day of "moderate -intensity physical activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes."

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