Exercise – One of the Four Pillars of Health

cycling on a beachWhen it comes to exercise, most of us simply don’t get enough. Our bodies are designed to move much more than most of us do. Every system in our body performs better when we have regular daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be complicated; Sit less, and move more. You can start that simply.

Besides allowing our bodies to work better and more efficiently, getting enough exercise sets us up for better health by ensuring that our weight and muscle mass stays in optimum range. The more muscles mass you have the more you need to eat to maintain this muscle (wthout gaining weight) and to keep going each day.  If you have more  lean muscle mass, you’ll also have more energy, and you will require more food to maintain your weight.  This is why once a person goes down the road of too little muscle mass (caused by not moving and exercising enough) it perpetuates an endless cycle of gaining weight and attempting to diet to lose the excess fat. Someone with less muscle mass just does not need as much food as one with more muscle mass. Proper nutrition is important (see the post on Diet and Nutrition), but you are never likely to lose the fat and keep it off unless you move your body more. More important than this, you will never have optimum health and vitality without exercise of some sort.

This concept does not have to mean expensive equipment and gym membership….if that’s your thing, but all means go to the gym but if it’s not something that feels comfortable to you that is not a problem. You can still get all the exercise you need without purchasing any equipment at all. The first step is just to begin moving more. It really starts that simply. Don’t let this be daunting for you. Walk more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, don’t park right at the door of the shops but make yourself walk a little further than usual. Move your body throughout the day in as many creative ways as you can think of. If there is an activity that you enjoy, do more of that as often as you can. Do you like to dance? Then let that be your exercise. What a fun thing to do, all by yourself! Pick out a few songs that make you want to move – clear obstacles out of the way in the room, and let yourself go. Love to play tennis, or wanting to learn? What a great form of exercise that is!  You can get on a bike and explore your neighborhood in a different way, take a walk around the block, go swimming (indoors or out, whichever is more accessible for you, go to a yoga class, or play an outdoor game with the kids. Exercise does not have to be difficult or dull. Begin to re-frame exercise in a way that is fun for you and you won’t have to force yourself to do it.  I also think it helps to think of exercise as a way of being good to yourself, of increasing your health and well-being and NOT as a way of looking better.

Once you begin, you may want to go a little further and add more into your daily routine.  If you are happy with the results you get long-term by increasing movement in your life, that’s great. If you have other health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, excess body fat (particularly belly fat), or want to bump up the benefits, then you may want to add Interval Training to your routine. A good time to do this is when you reach a plateau with your weight.  If you’ve never heard of Burst, or Interval Training, it’s very simple and there is lots of information you can read about it on the internet. Once the domain of elite athletes, Interval Training has become a powerful tool for the average person too. In a nutshell, all you do is sprint, climb stairs, jump rope, jog, etc. to whatever is your maximum effort (this will be different for everyone, depending on how fit you are) for the interval that you decide – there are different protocols for how long the “interval” of intensity should be. There is quite a bit of research that shows “burst” intervals of less than 15 seconds in length burns the most body fat. Then you rest for 30 seconds. You want to have several “bursts” – different protocols suggest different things – but the intention is to have at least 3 bursts, followed by double the rest time. Then you want to walk at a normal pace for 10-20 minutes. It’s that easy.

You may be thinking that if shorts bursts of 15 seconds of intense exercise is great at burning fat, then longer bursts would be even better, right?  But you’d be wrong. These short, less-than-15-second bursts tend NOT to increase lactic acid build-up in your muscles. The reason that is a good thing is because lactic acid can inhibit your muscle’s ability to burn fat as fuel. When lactic acid is not present, muscle cells can use fatty acids as fuel more readily. The end result is, you can burn fat much easier. (This is a simple explanation that is true, but there is a lot more to the physiology of Interval Training that is fascinating. Research it a bit if you want more science.) There are endless combinations of interval protocols which do different things, but shorter than 15 seconds is ideal for unlocking your body’s fat burning chemistry. And – here’s a bonus – it is less demanding on your body to do such short bursts! Win,win.

Longer intervals, or bursts, are appropriate too though, and may be better for normalizing blood sugar. The idea is always the same….You have a bout of high intensity, followed by a recovery period of 1.5 to 2 times the burst, and repeat this three to five times. Then, have a few minutes of lower intensity walking. Whatever you start with, my advice is to use a combination of different interval training workouts so your body doesn’t get used to what you are doing. Our bodies are cunning at adapting, so keep it guessing! The variety also keeps you from hitting a stubborn plateau.

If you’ve already been walking more as part of your exercise routine, you might incorporate short bursts of jogging into your regular brisk walks. If you’re less fit, perhaps you could alternate leisurely walking with periods of faster walking. For example, if you’re walking outdoors you could walk faster between certain mailboxes, trees, or other landmarks. You can make a little game out of it and easily implement Interval Training into your life painlessly and easily.

An expert on this time of exercise is Yuri Elkhaim. His posts are clear and very readable if you want to find out more about both the science behind Burst Training, and different training protocols.

 

 

 

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