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Exercise Is Medicine For The Dental Professional

by Uche Odiatu DMD

“By age 35 exercise isn’t a should – it’s a must.” Dental professionals are like formula one high performance race cars. Certainly not your average second-hand sedan. They need the best fuel. The best nutrition. The best tires. And top of the line support in the race of dental practice life.

What is one powerful strategy to service the dental professionals 600 muscles, 206 bones and 350 joints? Regular physical activity. Exercise is truly a key player in the primary prevention of a mind blowing 35 different chronic medical challenges, a key factor in emotional well-being and foundational for mental clarity.

Exercise has many positive effects on your physiology. But in a nut shell, it reduces inflammatory mediators, increases antioxidants, increases health boosting the short chain fatty acid butyrate in the colon and prevents gut barrier dysfunction (1). In lay person’s terms? It puts out the fires of chronic inflammation, it helps purge the body of metabolic waste and boosts the health of your GI tract and its resident microbiome. With the findings from the first phase of the Microbiome project being interpreted, scientists are proclaiming that the human microbiome ought to be considered an organ due to its far-reaching influence on mood, metabolism, immune function and cognition. And these 100 trillion strong single celled organisms love movement. Regular physical activity actually increases the diversity of the species which in turn boost our digestive power and overall vitality (2)

Do I have your attention? This is my goal. I am attempting to shake the racetrack. Only 16% of a national survey showed that people exercise on a regular basis. Because people overestimate three things in life: their height, their income and their exercise frequency I deduced it was more like 8% of the adult population have a regular exercise habit. Research has shown adults have never sat this much in human history. 70% of our waking time is spent sitting. It completely shuts down out physiology; encourages glute amnesia (the butt muscles have forgotten to fire), supports sarcopenia (a word form Greek origins that means poverty of the flesh), weakens the immune system, diminishes circulation and makes for poor breathing.

Muscle-wasting is deadly in what it means is happening to you…poor muscle degeneration – apoptosis or cell death from massive reactive oxygen species infiltration from inactivity (3). Can you imagine a Lamborghini sitting in a musty garage unused, slowly becoming run down and obsolete from decades of lack of use?

There are many consequences of a physically inactive existence. Prolonged sitting or what exercise physiologists call “unbroken periods of muscular unloading” is a common modern position directly related to chronic disease and higher mortality even after controlling for a regular workout habit. If the endocrine function of muscle is not stimulated through regular exercise, it causes serious malfunction of a number of several organs (4). And breath is the stuff of life. How we handle oxygen is key for overall vitality. Full diaphragmatic breathing is the most basic demonstration of excellent CORE muscle physiology. Any pathology or dysfunction contributes to compensation in other muscles and in the long-term injury – to the overused muscles and joints involved (5).

Is practice life stressful? Dental professionals need outlets and strategies to manage and process the challenges of dentistry. Toxic levels of stress erode the connections between the billions of neurons in the brain. Chronic depression shrinks key areas in the brain (6). The hippocampus – where short term memory is processed- is one of the most vulnerable areas to chronic stress activation. Of course, spending time in nature, having optimal time management, enjoying a regular spiritual practice, counselling, journaling all work to help to help stick handle the challenging turns on the road of practice life. But there is nothing like exercise to get the 100’s of positive chemical messengers released from hard working muscles to attenuate the stress response. People who are fit have the physiological privilege of being able to stay still in the eye of the storms going on around them. They truly do enjoy an elevated sense of emotional well-being that their sedentary counterparts don’t have an “all access pass.”

“I want to cement the idea that exercise has a profound effect on cognitive ability and mental health.”- John Ratey MD Harvard professor Medical School

Do you have to wait until you have pecs like Dwayne the ROCK Johnson or shoulders like Serena Williams before the benefits start rolling your way? A single session of resistance training has the unique ability to improve your emotional state (7).

There is also growing scientific evidence for the enhancement of cognitive ability and mental clarity after a single acute exercise bout (8). And there are brand new findings that exercise boosted cognition has the ability to translate into long term enhancement if the work outs are habitual.

Weak muscles can double your risk of dying reported an international team of British researchers. Even people who are overweight but if they have built or maintained their strength enjoy a longer life expectancy. Two major studies in the British Medical Journal 2014 showed that muscular strength is a very accurate predictor of mortality – even with adjusting for several other confounding factors

Studies in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2011 showed people who ran around for as little as 30 min increased circulating immune cells in their bodies by fifty percent. Dental professionals need a strong immune system to face the large numbers of patients who sneeze and cough on us and to stay healthy with the steady stream of aerosols we face each day. A regular exercise habit has been theorized to help the immune system to be efficient. It defrags our immune system or removes stale out worn programs – memory cells – that slows down out response time to combat disease.

And you thought exercise was all about looking great for your dental school reunion or for taking better pictures for your office Facebook page. The benefits of a regular exercise program go far beyond simple esthetics. Take care of your chassis, get your body moving again and begin to feel what it is like to get behind the wheel of a million-dollar formula one high performance race car body.


(1) Exercise Sport & Sci Rev 2017 (2) Gut Journal 2014 (3) Exer & Sp Sci Review April 2017 (4) Med & Science in Sport & Exercise 2012 (5) National Strength & Cond Assoc Journal Vol 34 no 5 Oct 2012 (6) Spark © 2007 John Ratey MD (7) Journal of Strength & Conditioning Assoc Vol24 no 8 2010 (8) American College of Sports Med Journal 2012

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