By Dr. Mercola
Exercising is one of the most important actions you can take to optimize your health. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most neglected areas of health. Excuses abound—the most common of which is probably "not having enough time." But many also fall into the self-defeating pattern of thinking they're "a lost cause."
Perhaps you believe your size is preventing you from exercising or that it won't make a big difference. Or maybe you have a handicap, or feel like you're too old or frail to exercise.
Whatever your excuse might be, I'm sure by the time you finish this article, you may be ready to change your tune.
The video above, featuring 29-year-old bodybuilder Adelfo Cerame, who is also a T12 paraplegic, should be enough to shake most people out of the doldrums. Talk about letting nothing stand in your way to be the best, and the fittest, you can be! Adelfo also writes weekly blog posts for SuppVersityi, sharing his personal insights with others.
But he's certainly not the only role model out there. Below, I will highlight several inspirational spokespeople for living an active lifestyle—regardless of your age, size, current fitness level, ability, or disability.
Do Kids Belong in the Gym? You Bet!
There were once doubts that strength training held any benefits for children. But more recent research confirms that children and teenagers can safely increase their muscle strength with regular workouts and that fears of injury are largely unfounded. In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends that kids strength-train two to three times a week under professional supervision. Research has shown that kids do not run any greater risk of being injured from strength training than they do from any other sport or physical activity, and the benefits of strength training during youth and adolescence have far-reaching health benefits, including:
- Increased bone density
- Decreased body fat
- Improved physical performance, which reduces risk of injury when playing sports
- Improved motor performance skills
Strength training and high-intensity interval exercises can also help children maintain a healthy weight. Childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades, and lack of exercise, along with a nutrient-deficient diet too high in fructose and carbs, are the primary culprits. But as this young spitfire states, failing to take responsibility for your health—and for that of your young children—is another major factor.
You're Never Too Old to Start Exercising!
Exercise becomes increasingly important with age; not less so. And fortunately, there's plenty of evidence showing it's never too late to start. If you don't believe me, take a look at Ernestine Shepherdii, who began her bodybuilding career at the age of 71! Now 75, she's fitter than she's ever been, and serves as an inspirational role model for people of all ages.
Other inspiring examples of the motto that "age is just a number," include:
- Jack LaLanne, who was the picture of fitness well into his 90s
- Tao Porchon-Lynch, who is winning ballroom dance competitions and teaches at least 12 yoga classes a week at age 93
- Lew Hollander, who became the second 80-year-old to complete the Ford Ironman World Championship, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon
- Allan Johnson, who at age 80 still competes in rodeo competitions, and
- Sensei Keiko Fukuda, the first woman to ever earn the title of tenth-degree black belt in Judo, which she did at the age of 98! iii
You're Never Too Fat or Too Handicapped to Exercise
In 2008, I reported on the story of David Smith, who at 630 pounds had all but lost hope of ever being able to turn his health around. But, with the help of Chris Powell, a fitness correspondent for a local news broadcast called Good Morning Arizona, David lost a remarkable 401 pounds in a mere 26 months—again proving that if you have the will, you can truly accomplish just about anything.
Your body and your health can—indeed must—change as you start implementing the correct lifestyle changes.
The following video features Arthur Boorman, a disabled veteran of the Gulf War. His injuries had put him on a downward spiral for 15 years, and his doctors had told him he'd never be able to walk unassisted again. Due to his injuries, he couldn't perform high impact exercises, but one day, he came across an article about yoga, and the rest, as they say, is history... If you've ever doubted the transformative power of a low impact exercise such as yoga, I urge you to take a look at this video. It's a truly remarkable story. Not only did he rapidly start losing weight, he also gained tremendous strength, balance and flexibility—to the point he proved his doctors' prognosis wrong by walking unaided in less than a year!
Another extraordinary role model that just might make you reconsider any "woe is me" type attitude is Aimee Mullins. Born without fibula bones, both of her legs were amputated below the knee at the age of one. Today, Aimee is an accomplished professional athlete, breaking the speed record at the 1996 Paralympic Games. She's also an actress, model, and passionate activist for sports, women, and the next generation of prosthetics. As the TED Talk introduction of her states, "she redefines what the body can be."
This is a Flash-based video and may not be viewable on mobile devices.
The Remarkable Health Benefits of Exercise
Being physically active causes a beneficial ripple effect that typically starts off with a reduction in weight. Your body is in fact designed to operate best when it's at an ideal weight, which will vary slightly from person to person.
Carrying around extra pounds will inevitably increase your risk of developing just about every chronic degenerative disease there is, and exercising creates the opposite effect—helping you reduce your risk of disease and increase your chances of living longer. This is because the underlying cause of excess weight is typically an unhealthy diet paired with insufficient exercise, which leads to surging insulin and leptin levels that eventually results in insulin resistance. And insulin resistance is a primary underlying cause of most chronic diseases.
Exercising sets into motion a beneficial feedback loop that leads to ever greater levels of health, while lack of exercise makes your health spiral downward and opens the door to disease and premature aging. Health benefits of exercise, many of which are the direct result of normalizing your insulin levels, include:
The More You Put Into it, the More You Get in Return
In a meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology last yeariv, a total of 22 studies were evaluated to determine the impact of exercise on mortality of nearly one million people. It clearly showed that if you are currently living a very sedentary lifestyle, the mere act of incorporating some light to moderate activity, five days a week, can significantly reduce your mortality rate. Those who engaged in moderately intense activity a full seven days a week further reduced their risk of death, from 19 to 24 percent.
The smallest health effect, however, was seen in people who limited their exercise to just walking, so although it's better than nothing, if you're physically able I strongly recommend you consider including a few other modes of activity to boost your benefits.
The problem with using walking as your primary form of activity is that for most people it simply is just not intense enough to induce a training response. In most cases, even if you're out of shape to begin with, your body will quickly adapt to your walking routine and will require a greater challenge to reap the most benefits. If you are seriously out of shape, very overweight, or recovering from illness then it certainly makes sense to use walking. However, even in these instances you'll want to make sure you incorporate intervals of 30 seconds or so in which you are walking really fast. The goal is to get you out of breath with a higher level of intensity.
Anyone Can Incorporate this Amazing, Efficient and Effective Exercise Technique
Incorporating high intensity exercises such as those included in my Peak Fitness program can make a world of difference in the least amount of time possible. It will also provide health benefits you cannot achieve with other less intense forms of exercise. I've written about the benefits of high intensity interval training on many occasions, so for more details, please review this previous article. In the following video, I demonstrate the principles of this form of exercise, which will help you get the most out of the time you spend in the gym.
Getting Back Into the Groove
If you're just getting back into exercising, you'll need to work your way up slowly. Trying to do too much at once can lead to burnout and make you less likely to continue your program. For example, you might try walking interspersed with periods of fast walking to incorporate the Peak Fitness ideology. Then, as your body grows more conditioned, you can increase to a higher intensity workout.
Also keep in mind that it's best to vary your exercises to cover all the facets of the Peak Fitness program, which includes:
- High-intensity interval training
- Conventional aerobics
- Strength training
- Core exercises
Remember to keep it fun! Do something you enjoy... Taking your fitness routine outdoors can also add some incentive, and spending time outdoors is typically an invigorating experience in and of itself. Google can help here, as it has launched a feature that makes finding local bicycling trails easy.
You Can Do... ANYTHING!
Sometimes all you need is a bit of inspiration, and I hope you've gained some from the many examples featured above. More often than not, the limitations really are all in your head—not in your body.
As you remove the emotional resistance that is keeping you from exercising, and plan regular workouts to fit into your schedule, you'll have an easier time sticking to your exercise routine. And the more you exercise -- and therefore the more benefits you experience -- the more addictive it becomes.
I will conclude this article with one of the most inspirational characters I've ever seen. Nick Vujicic was born without arms and legs, but even without any extremities, he's found the will and the way to live a full, active life.
So truly, if all of these people can do it... what's holding you back?