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Exercise to Improve Your Body and Your Brain

Finally -- Your Source of True Health Information That Will Change Your Life

Streching Exercise

Thanks for coming to Mercola.com, your destination spot for the truth about how you can improve your health with natural approaches.

There are hundreds of thousands of pages of FREE content on this site, I have over 20,000 pages on exercise alone but here are a few of the top pages that will help you get a good perspective on healthy exercise

You can use my search engine to find the answers to all your health questions. But for now why don't you enjoy some of the highlights of articles I have previously written:

Exercise is a critical component of good health, especially as you age. Exercise will help you:

  • Sleep betterLose weight, gain weight, or maintain weight, depending on your needs
  • Improve your resistance to fight infections
  • Lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes
  • Help your brain work better, making you smarter.

The key to obtaining the benefits of exercise is to find a program and stick to it. Of course, it is useful to have a guide, and toward that end I offer the recommendations below -- and an exercise table you can print out and use to help you track your progress.

Key Points to Remember When Exercising

Listen to your body.

You must be careful with your exercise as if it is done improperly it may actually worsen your health.  So, if exercise worsens your symptoms, modify your program or, if need be, stop.

Group Exercise Because even though your body desperately needs exercise to improve, you will only get worse if you violate your current limitations. So you may have to start with as little as one or two minutes a day, and work your way up from there. As your energy and health improve, you will be able to tolerate larger amounts of exercise, which will lead to weight loss and increased energy.

Exercise is simply one of the most powerful tools available to drop your insulin levels, and elevated insulin levels are one of the primary drivers for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and weight gain. It is my belief that properly performed exercise is far more powerful for controlling these symptoms than any drug yet developed.

It helps to hire a personal trainer who can guide you through the specifics of a good exercise program. If you do use a personal trainer, please be aware that many don't understand the nutritional principles discussed on this site, and it is useful to ask them to read the nutrition plan to understand the path that you are on.

Be consistent.

Research has shown that to lose 10 percent of your body weight, and keep it off, you need to exercise for one hour, five days a week. This level of exercise is only required if you are overweight, as you have an accumulated an exercise debt that must be "repaid" to regain your health.

So not everyone needs this amount of exercise. In my experience, those who are overweight, have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or are diabetic do benefit from this high level of exercise until they are able to normalize their health challenges.

Start with walking if you are overweight.

Most heavy people start with walking, and that is an excellent choice as it is low-risk and inexpensive. If you are starting out in poor shape, slow-paced walking will produce benefits, but if you are starting out in better condition, you will need to walk faster and/or farther to see any results.

Regardless of your starting level, the more vigorous your walking pace, the more dramatic the conditioning effects will be. When walking for exercise you should walk at a steady pace that is fast enough to cause your heart rate to rise.

The major problem with walking, however, is that many people become fit relatively rapidly but don't increase the intensity of the workouts as they raise their fitness level. Once you become comfortable with a routine, it is important to increase the intensity in order to continue benefiting.

Once you get in shape, you'll need to walk for more than two hours to achieve significant health benefits. Therefore, once you reach that point, it may be wise to choose a more vigorous activity such as jogging,an elliptical machine, sprinting, or strength training, instead of merely walking.

For more information on walking for fitness, see my articles "The Power of Walking," and  "Walk Your Way to Better Health."

Increase your intensity regularly.

Ideally you should exercise at an intensity that makes it somewhat difficult to talk to the person next to you. This prevents you from having to measure your pulse or use a heart-rate monitor.

If you can comfortably talk to the person next to you, you aren't working hard enough to produce the benefits you need to lose weight. However, if you are breathing so heavily that you cannot carry on a conversation at all, then you are exercising too hard and need to cut back a bit.

Using this simple technique as a guide will assure that you're constantly increasing your intensity as your fitness level increases.

Do anaerobic training!

There is abundant new scientific evidence, like this 2007 study, that clearly demonstrates there are enormous benefits to interval-type training. I now firmly believe that although endurance cardio training is important, it really needs to be part of a more comprehensive program that includes short bursts of activity at very high intensity, individualized for your specific fitness level.

The new evidence suggests that this may actually provide MORE protection against heart attacks than long durational aerobic type exercises.

Another major benefit of this approach is that it radically decreases the amount of time you spend exercising, while giving you even more benefits. For example, intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which allow more fat to be burned from under your skin and within the exercising muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation increases weight loss. So, short bursts of activity done at a very high intensity can help you reach your optimal weight and level of fitness in a shorter amount of time.

It would be wise to have clearance by your physician if you are not in good shape before embarking on a program like this. However, you could start simply by walking and progress at your own pace.But this is a technique that should help nearly anyone who uses it.

Try running.

RunningIf you feel ambitious you can advance to running, which is my personal favorite -- I have been a runner since 1968. It is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to stay healthy; the only equipment required is a good pair of shoes. Please read my article "How to Go From Sedentary to Running in Just Five Steps" for simple step-by-step instructions that can help turn you into a runner.

If you do decide to run, please recognize that most shoes will not last more than six months. If you use them longer than six months you will increase your risk of injury.

One of the downsides of running is that you must depend on the weather to cooperate. You can always use a treadmill, of course, but that adds the expense of a health club or the equipment for your home. If you are elevating your program to this level and will invest in equipment, I believe that an elliptical machine is, for reasons explained below, far superior to the treadmill in providing an optimal aerobic exercise experience.

Try an elliptical machine.

Elliptical machines are generally less expensive and far quieter than treadmills and provide a complete lower body workout by rotating the use of the different muscle groups on your legs. However, you will have to be sure to use the elliptical that can incline throughout various levels. Some models have a fixed based and handles that allow you to exercise your arms, but I believe it is more helpful to exercise the different leg muscles as they are much larger than your arm muscles.

For more information about the benefits of an elliptical machine over a conventional treadmill, please see my article "Ellipticals Run Ovals Around Treadmills."

You may not realize it, but exercise has been clearly shown to reduce cancer rates, by lowering insulin levels, increasing immune function and antioxidant defense, and optimizing your hormone levels and DNA repair.

Incorporate strength training to optimize your health benefits

Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program.

Weight TrainingA study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise confirms that for the average person exercising by resistance training, the number of repetitions (the number of times a muscle or group of muscles is used to lift a weight) is not of major importance; a single set of repetitions was found to be almost as effective in maintaining fitness as three sets. The ACSM -- the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world -- and the U.S. Surgeon General have also been recommending a 1-set exercise program for some time.

Incorporating a simple 1-set, 5 to10-minute weight lifting routine into your daily program will definitely improve fitness, and is a practical, obtainable goal for most people. There are some key concepts to keep in mind, however, as not just any set of weight training will do.

You need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild. More is clearly not better here.

As long as you're consistently doing the cardiovascular portion of your exercise program, such as using an elliptical machine, you won't really require leg training exercises as you're already working out your leg muscles sufficiently. This will help keep the time spent on resistance training down to well under ten minutes.

For more in-depth information on setting up a strength training program, please review My Recommendations for Weight Training.

Exercise correctly to optimize weight loss

If you are going to use exercise for weight loss, consider a weight bearing exercise. It has been my experience that non-weight bearing exercises, like swimming and bicycling, are not as efficient or effective for weight loss. You will typically need to exercise four times as long in these activities to receive the same benefit of running or using the elliptical. Since most of us are seriously pressured for time, these exercises become less practical.. Additionally, to maximize your weight loss efforts, make sure you include high-intensity interval exercises in your program (see segment on anaerobic training above) and strength training.

Swim, but avoid chlorinated pools

Swimming is one of the best exercises on the planet, working all your major muscles, but it poses the challenge of exposing you to the large amounts of chlorine that are in most swimming pools.

The chlorine in most pools is readily absorbed through your skin and can contribute to major disruptions in your biochemistry. Your body is very good at metabolizing many things, but dioxins (a byproduct of chlorine) and other organochlorine compounds aren't included. Even if you are exposed to very low levels, dioxins accumulate in your body. The cumulative effects of dioxin in humans have been linked to:

  • birth defects
  • cancer
  • reproductive disorders
  • immune system breakdown

However, you still have the option of swimming in the lake, river or ocean depending on the temperature of the water.

Try bicycling, but be aware of safety measures.

BicyclingIf you decide to bicycle for health, study all bicycle safety measures and be aware of the high risk for serious injury compared with other exercise options.

Men who take up cycling should take special precautions to choose the right bicycle, as men are prone to problems ranging from genital numbness, erection problems, soreness and skin irritation in the groin area. The proper fit -- including the correct level of pedal resistance and saddle height -- is important. A properly padded saddle, along with bike shorts, can also help to reduce your risk of sexual problems. For more information on this issue, please see my article "Hidden Dangers of Riding a Bicycle."

Always, of course, wear your helmet.

Stick with it!

The fact that we need to exercise is not news to anyone. For those who don't exercise, it's not a matter of understanding its benefits, but  more so finding the motivation to start -- and stay -- on a program. The big breakthrough is that we now have techniques like EFT, a form of psychological acupressure that can facilitate your ability to start and successfully stick with a long-term exercise program. You can go to my free EFT manual to learn how to use this incredible tool.

The Take-Home Message

Don't rely solely on cardio. You will need to incorporate interval-type training, along with strength training to develop a far more rounded and comprehensive exercise program. You may also want to integrate something to promote flexibility and core muscles, such as yoga, which has been proven particularly beneficial if you suffer from back pains.

When you engage in cardio-type exercises, make sure you do it intensely enough so that it's difficult to carry on a conversation. If you can't talk at all, you need to tone it down, but if conversation is a breeze, you're going too slowly to generate the aerobic benefits that exercise is capable of doing.

To help you keep track, you can print out this daily exercise table. I find that keeping this schedule someplace visible (on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or desktop at work) is an extremely motivating way to stick to your routine.

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