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5 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise

July 24, 2010 | 112,351 views
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U.S. News & World Report reveals five ways that exercise can enhance your brainpower and mood:

    people doing exercise
  1. It reverses the detrimental effects of stress. Exercise boosts levels of soothing brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Exercise may actually work on a cellular level to reverse stress's toll on your aging process.
  2. It lifts depression. Sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants.
  3. It improves learning. Exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors that help make new brain cells.
  4. It builds self-esteem and improves body image. Even simply seeing fitness improvements, like running a faster mile or lifting more weight, can improve your self-esteem and body image.
  5. It leaves you feeling euphoric. High-intensity exercise can leave you with a feeling of euphoria. Try running, biking, or swimming as fast as you can for 30 to 40 seconds and then reduce your speed to a gentle pace for five minutes before sprinting again.

Further, a new study by researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago have revealed impressive insights into why exercise is so good for your brain. In short, it appears that exercise lowers the activity of bone-morphogenetic protein or BMP, which slows the production of new brain cells.

At the same time, exercise increases Noggin, a brain protein that acts as a BMP antagonist.

According to NYTimes.com:

"The more Noggin in your brain, the less BMP activity exists and the more stem cell divisions and neurogenesis [production of new brain cells] you experience."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

For many people exercise is all about losing weight, and if this is what motivates you to get started, great … but just know that exercise is about so much more than that!

Yes, exercise will help you to maintain an ideal weight, and that's important, but that is only a mere side effect of normalizing your insulin levels. Did you know that regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp and ward off dementia? So long after you've stopped worrying about how you look in a bikini or muscle shirt, your commitment to physical fitness will show in your quick wit and mental acuity.

In fact, regular exercise, even initiated late in life, can help slow down the aging process altogether, so you'll be less likely to suffer from chronic disease or disability, and more likely to be fit and trim, agile, mobile and happy, even as you get older … and isn't that really what it's all about?

Exercise Triggers Your Brain to Produce New Cells

A lot of the latest research has been focusing on the role of exercise on your brain. To put it simply, as you age the stem cells in your brain tend to become less active and you produce fewer new cells, which means your mind gets slower and "older."

That is, if you do nothing about it.

The latest research is showing that by exercising even moderate amounts you can trigger processes in your brain that activate the division of stem cells and promote neurogenesis (the production of new brain cells).

This explains why most of the healthy, bright and mentally astute 80 and 90-year olds out there have probably been leading a healthy lifestyle for most of their lives, and are reaping the benefits as a result.

It's not about good fortune. It's about personal choices.

And have you heard the news about telomeres?

Physical Fitness is a Serious Anti-Aging Strategy

Telomeres are strands of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes that protect them from damage. The progressive and gradual erosion of telomeres leads to aging on a cellular level -- think of them as a kind of biological clock. In fact it may be the most accurate biological clock we have. Once your telomeres drop below a certain level you simply die of "natural" causes.

As telomeres shorten more, cell death occurs. These cell deaths are associated with serious disease and premature aging

The leading anti-aging research is on how to prevent telomere shortening and develop therapies to lengthen telomeres, as many experts believe that lengthening telomeres could actually turn the biological clock backward.

However, exercise has been associated with preventing telomere shortening, so it is clearly a very powerful anti-aging strategy.

Research indicates physically active people have significantly less erosion of telomeres than even healthy, non-smoking, but sedentary folks. Exercise activates the enzyme telomerase, which stabilizes telomeres, producing an anti-aging effect at the cellular level.

What Else Can Exercise do for You?

It's hard to stop talking about the virtues of exercise because there are just so many of them.

For instance, exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body.

The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack your body.

Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold or the flu right up through devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer.

Regular exercise also normalizes your insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Controlling your insulin levels and optimizing your vitamin D level are two of the most powerful steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk.

Physically active adults experience about half the incidence of colon cancer as their sedentary counterparts, and women who exercise regularly can reduce their breast cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent compared to those who are inactive.

If you're male, be aware that athletes have lower levels of circulating testosterone than non-athletes, and similar to the association between estrogen levels and breast cancer in women, testosterone is known to influence the development of prostate cancer in men.

In fact, when researchers measured the biochemical changes that occur during exercise, they found alterations in more than 20 different metabolites. Some of these compounds help you burn calories and fat while others help stabilize your blood sugar, among other things.

Essentially, being of a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a healthy feedback loop that optimizes and helps maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels through optimization of insulin receptor sensitivity.

This is the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing disease of all kinds, from diabetes, to heart disease, to cancer, and everything in between.

My Latest Exercise Recommendations: Make Sure You're Doing THIS

It is really important that you include a large variety of techniques in your exercise routine. You should be getting in not only strength training and aerobics, but also core-building activities, stretching and more.

But, I want you to know that there's actually a way to exercise that is FAR more effective than aerobic exercises like walking or running on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine for an hour, and it's called Peak Fitness.

Peak Fitness is a term I am coining to represent a comprehensive exercise program that includes far more than typical cardio training. The major change is that once or twice a week you do Peak Fitness exercises, in which you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds.

The program is adopted from Phil Campbell, the person who taught it to me earlier this year at a fitness camp in Mexico. He wrote the book Ready Set Go which details how these exercises for super fast muscle fibers can increase growth hormone.

Phil will also be teaching again at the Malibu Greta B's Fitness Camp this November. If this is something that interests you would definitely be worthwhile to consider attending.

Don't Waste Your Time Doing Loads of Inefficient Cardio

That may sound like a major conflict with everything you have read about exercise but let me tell you that I was a runner for over 40 years and logged in tens of thousands of miles. So I am telling you this from a perspective of having major personal experience.

I actually stopped all my running over a year ago and conventional cardio type training in the spring. Since I have been doing the Peak Fitness Exercise program I have:

  • Lowered my overall body fat from 17.4% down to 11.5%
  • Lost 12.5 lbs. while gaining 4.5 lbs. of muscle
  • Lost 2 12/16 inches off my waist
  • Gained 1/2 inch on my arms
  • Gained 1/2 inch on my legs
  • Gained 2 inches on my chest

Here's a series of before and after photos showing my progress, from May 2009, to July this year.

Before After


5/6/2009

7/14/2010


5/6/2009

7/14/2010


5/6/2009

7/14/2010


5/6/2009

7/14/2010

Let me strongly assure you that you simply will never see these types of results with simple cardio.

The key is to use strength training with Sprint 8 high-intensity workouts that will increase your growth hormone and help you cut off fat like a hot knife through butter.

Even though I gained 4.5 pounds of muscle this past year, nearly half of that has been in the last month when I started the Sprint 8 exercises. Similarly, a major percentage of the other improvements were only noted after I started the Sprint 8 exercises.

You must know that Sprint 8 is something you work up to as ideally you push yourself to your maximum heart rate (220-your age). This is very uncomfortable for nearly everyone and you really have to push your body very hard to reach it.

But the great thing about this is that you are only pushing yourself that hard for 30 seconds, and really the first 15 seconds are easy, it is only the last 15 seconds that are a challenge.

Also got my 24 hour urine growth hormone results back yesterday and it came back more than three times higher than the upper limits of normal for a young adult. Normal reference ranges are 1000-4000 and mine came back at 14,000. This is without taking any growth hormone or supplements to cause it to increase.

An absolutely amazing testimony to the effectiveness of Sprint 8 exercises.

How to do Sprint 8 Exercises

I hope my experience with this has motivated you to start the Sprint 8 program.

My recommendation is to use a recumbent bicycle for the exercise, although you certainly can use an elliptical machine or even a treadmill.

Just warm up for three minutes and then go all out as hard as you can for 30 seconds. The first repetition is usually pretty easy as your starting heart rate is low and you can do the entire 30 seconds without stress.

Since you only recover for 90 seconds your heart rate gradually continues to climb after every repetition so hopefully by the time you finish your last repetition it is at or above your maximum heart rate.

Remember to cool down for a few minutes after your 8th repetition.

It is important to note that the only accurate way to monitor your heart rate is with a monitor. It is simply too darn difficult to accurately measure your heart rate when it is over 150. I tried several times and overestimated my rate by 20!

So trust me, use a heart rate monitor and avoid deceiving yourself.

Sprint 8 Will Blow Your Concept of Exercise Away

It has been my personal experience that using this approach is far more effective than traditional cardio for a number of reasons, one of the major ones being that it can actually increase your growth hormone level.

In order to better grasp the benefits of Peak Fitness exercises, you first need to understand that you have three different types of muscle fibers: slow, fast, and super-fast. And only ONE of these muscles will impact your production of a vital hormone called HGH, or human growth hormone, which is KEY for strength, health and longevity.

Neither traditionally performed aerobic cardio nor strength training will work anything but your slow muscle fibers, which has the unfortunate effect of actually causing the super fast fibers to decrease or atrophy.

Power training, or plyometrics burst types of exercises, will engage your fast muscle fibers, but only high-intensity burst cardio will engage your super-fast fibers. They're 10 times faster than slow fibers, and this is the key to producing growth hormone!

The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you're going to be. And the longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will experience robust health and strength.

Many individuals choose to inject it, though it is a banned substance in many professional sports. I don't recommend doing this, as I believe the health risks and cost are in no way justifiable.

Ideally, you really want your body to produce it naturally, and the way you produce it is by exercising your super-fast muscle fibers.

There's No Time Like Now!

If you're still on the fence about starting an exercise program, there's no time like the present. I guarantee you it will make a major difference in your energy levels, self-esteem and probably your entire outlook on life. It is really that powerful.

And please don't use your age as an excuse, because no matter your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits for your health.

If you happen to be over 40, though, it's especially important to either start or step up your exercise program. This is the time of life when your physical strength, stamina, balance and flexibility start to decline, and exercise can help to counteract that.

I also can't stress enough the importance of using precision to develop your individual workout program. You need to make sure you're getting enough exercise to achieve all the benefits, but not so much that you injure yourself, and you need variety to condition and build your entire body and prevent boredom.

If you've been sedentary for any length of time or you're out of shape for some other reason, it is vitally important to get started with an exercise program -- but start small. One of the main reasons people don't stick with a workout program is because they go too hard, too fast and wind up with an injury, illness or simple exhaustion.

For tips on getting started, check out our new fitness site, Mercola Peak Fitness, which is a treasure trove of fitness videos and articles by Darin Steen, a world-class athlete, bodybuilder and personal trainer. It's a wonderful resource to help you become fitness savvy and make exercise a regular part of your life.