And you know what? It’s good for your teeth and gums, too.
Yes, just like everything else you do to take care of your physical health, exercise supports good oral health. In one respect, it’s obvious. After all, your mouth, tongue, teeth, gums, jawbone and all are connected with the rest of your body – of course they’re going to be affected. Yet tell people that a good workout can help prevent gum disease, you’re apt to get a kind of amused, confused or “whatever” response. It just doesn’t seem to add up.
So let’s look at some numbers.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Periodontology looked that the effects of three “health-enhancing” behaviors on periodontitis, or gum disease. (Periodontics – which literally means “around the teeth” – is dentistry that specializes in the health of the structures that support the teeth, such as the gums.) The authors found that as more of these behaviors were followed, the less gum disease they found.
After controlling for age, gender, race/ethnicity, cigarette smoking, other tobacco products, education, diabetes, poverty index, census region, acculturation, vitamin use, time since the last dental visit, dental calculus, and gingival bleeding, a 1-unit increase in the number of the three health-enhancing behaviors was associated with a 16% reduction in the prevalence of periodontitis….Individuals who maintained normal weight, engaged in the recommended level of exercise, and had a high-quality diet were 40% less likely to have periodontitis compared to individuals who maintained none of these health-enhancing behaviors.
Another study from about the same time – this, published in the Journal of Dentistry – found that never-smokers who exercised regularly “were about 54% less likely to have periodontitis” than those who didn’t exercise. Former smokers who exercised had a 74% lower risk! (It didn’t do a thing for current smokers, though – the damage done by smoking presumably being greater than the benefit of exercise.)
And yet another Journal of Periodontolgy study showed lower risk of gum disease amongst the least obese and the most physically fit subjects. “This study,” concluded its authors, “suggests that obesity and physical fitness may have some interactive effect on periodontal health status.” One factor they share: inflammation, which physical activity reduces. (Indeed, we’re finding that inflammation is one of the key links between gum disease and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.)
Need more reasons? Here are 40.
Image by ecneralx, via Flickr