Take a second to imagine what a stack of 1 billion dollars looks like, you can even google it if you'd like. It is a substantial amount of money, enough to fill 10 pallets stacked to the height of a person.
Now, try to imagine what $511 billion dollars looks like. Can you? I can't. Yet, that is the amount of money the United States pharmaceutical market made in 2019, a $75 billion dollar increase from 2018. This astounding number comes from the fact that prescription drugs in the U.S. are among the most costly to get in the world, AND that we as a nation are one of the most unhealthy in the world¹.
Now imagine that there is a drug that would cost you nothing financially to take and is in never-ending supply.
You've already guessed what it is thanks to the title of this article, it's exercise, and it is so powerful that when regularly "taken" you could throw out your Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix, Crestor, and whatever else resides in your medicine cabinet.
Brain Hypertrophy: both amazing and possible
For the non-fitness nerds amongst us, hypertrophy is the scientific term for 'swoll', 'buff', 'jacked', so in other terms, it is the growth in size and (as a result) the strength of a muscle.
It is fairly obvious that with frequent exercise, particularly resistance training, your muscles begin to hypertrophy, but did you know that this can actually happen to your brain as well?
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki summarizes the PSA-style point in her Ted Talk, The brain-changing effects of exercise, in that exercise is a "miracle drug" for your body and mind.
As a neuroscientist, she became very intrigued on how exercise affects the brain and summarized an enormous amount of research into four main points, which we will dive into below.
Prepare for your mind to be blown (pun intended)!
"Exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain today." - Dr. Wendy Suzuki
The Big 4
Negative Side Effects
For more side effects, most of which are hilarious, check out this article by "Greatist".
The Question Everyone is Asking: how much?
This is a fair question being that your pharmacist lays out a detailed time table for your prescription. According to recent research, the minimum amount of exercise needed isn't much. This does not need to involve heading down to the local gym, it could include activities as simple as aggressively vacuuming your house and rearranging your living-room furniture. See the graphics below for recommendations by age.
Get Your Office Active
You would think that sitting around at your desk more leads to greater work output, but the opposite is actually true. The average American workplace is becoming increasingly more sedentary.
In 1950, 30% of Americans worked in high-activity occupations. By 2000, only 22% worked in high-activity occupations. Conversely, the percent of people working in low-activity occupations spiked by 14% in that same 50 year period, jumping from 23 to 41%.
Ironically, this decreased physical activity leads to presenteeism, which is being physically at work, but mentally somewhere else; and absenteeism, having to take leave from work due to illness or injury. Both presenteeism and absenteeism obviously contribute to lower work output levels (ACSM, 2018).
Perhaps you work in a company that has recognized the direct and indirect costs of inactivity, and has created a few workplace initiatives to combat this.
Some examples may include bike to work programs, worksite wellness initiatives, treadmill or standing desks, or paid workout time. Did you just say paid workout time? Heck yeah I did. Why aren't more companies doing this?!
How You Can Help be the Change
The ultimate goal is that you and your fellow co-workers want to be healthy for yourselves, not for the benefit of your company, although it's great that they may reap the benefits of your health commitment.
At my former job, one department organized a "Transformation" contest in which the person with the biggest weight loss at the end of 3 months would win a pot of money that they all chipped in to.
No incentive from HR, just good, friendly, competition to improve each others health.
Come to find out, this is a rather common practice in many companies, one such being Draper, Inc. who created not only a 10 week weight-loss challenged dubbed "Dump Your Plump", but its own Wellness Park that includes a one-fifth mile track, workout stations, ping pong, and volleyball courts.
Other great option would be to check out the Sweat Collector Challenge. Challenge #3 is specifically geared towards increasing your daily exercise by 30 minutes.
What Other Companies Have Done
Google is an excellent example of a company who actively wants to improve the health of its employees, so much so that it has its on research and development team on the subject. The workplace is pimped out with a slide, ping-pong tables, nap pods, swimming pools, and even LEGO stations.
Motley Fool, a company that specializes in stock analysis, gives all of its employees access to free personal training sessions and wellness consultations as well as 50% reimbursements on race fees. This has skyrocketed wellness engagement in the company to around 86%.
Zappos, like Google and Motley Fool, employe a wellness coordinator, who has created free fitness classes, nap rooms, marathon reimbursements, and reduced gym memberships.
Their coordinator, Kelly Maher says, "It's about getting people to want to do things voluntarily, not forcing them. Success programs are the ones that get team members energized versus forcing it on them."
There is one thing, that when regularly prescribed to, can have you scooping all your prescription drugs into the trash.
We know this is exercise, which could not only keep us out of the doctors office, but save us billions of dollars in money spent on pharmaceuticals.
Imagine a world in which insurance companies aren't helping cover the cost of your prescriptions and surgeries, but instead help cover the cost of gym memberships, race or school sport fees, or even absorbing some, if not all of the cost of personal training.
In the meantime, you can find accountability with people who spend most of your time with, like co-workers, family, friends, and so forth, can help you start building positive habits in regards to exercise.
Test the waters a bit and see if you can be a trend setter at your work, or even at home, by starting or joining a challenge or getting more people on board with being active.
It benefits both you, them, and your company! A true win win.
¹Mikulic, M. (2020, November/December). Topic: Pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/topics/1719/pharmaceutical-industry/
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). (2018) Schools and workplaces. Retrieved March 2nd, 2018 from https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/support_page.php/schools-and-workplaces/
Suzuki, W., Dr. (2018, February 28). The brain-changing benefits of exercise. Lecture presented at TED Talks Daily.
Rothfeld, L. (2015, May 15). 7 companies with amazingly unique wellness programs. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://mashable.com/2015/05/15/unique-corporate-wellness-programs/#Un5v9n4v6EqR
DeNoon, D. J. (2018). The 10 Most Prescribed Drugs: Most-prescribed drug list differs from list of drugs with biggest market share. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/drug-medication/news/20110420/the-10-most-prescribed-drugs#2