By Dr. Mercola
Exercise is so important for good health that researchers have recently declared it the "best preventive drug known."1 Exercise affects your entire body—from head to toe—in beneficial ways. This includes changes in your muscles, lungs, heart, joints, bones, and brain.
By working out regularly, you can positively influence conditions ranging from psychiatric disorders and heart disease to diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, not only do many fail to get sufficient amounts of exercise, but those who do exercise may be doing it incorrectly.
Drop These 6 Bad Habits from Your Workouts
I've often equated exercise to a drug from the perspective that they both need to be wisely prescribed in order to optimize your health. Simply doing random exercises at the wrong intensity or frequency, just for the sake of "exercising," will not achieve the benefits you seek. So, in order to reap the full rewards of exercise, make sure you are not using the six common habits that may actually hinder your results.2
1. Working Out for Long Periods at a Moderate Pace
Conventional aerobic exercise performed for long periods at a steady, moderate pace was long considered the "gold standard" of a good workout, but research has refuted such notions in recent years.
Instead, high-intensity interval training (which requires but a fraction of the time compared to conventional cardio) has been shown to be FAR more efficient and effective, compared to longer, slower cardio workouts.
In fact, exercises such as long distance running have been shown to be among the worst forms of exercise, in terms of health benefits. There are many versions of HIIT, but the core premise involves maximum exertion followed by a quick rest period for a set of intervals.
My Peak Fitness routine uses a set of eight 30-second sprints, each followed by 90 seconds of recovery done after a proper warm up and followed by a cool-down period.
When you use HIIT, the elliptical machine is a very useful exercise tool, although you can also do HIIT using a recumbent bike or even without any equipment at all (using exercises such as push-ups, burpees, and jumping squats, for example).
Ideally, you'll want to perform HIIT exercises two or three times a week for a total of four minutes of intense exertion. You do not need to do them more often than that, however. In fact, doing it more frequently than two or three times a week can be counterproductive, as your body needs to recover between sessions.
If you want to do more, focus on making sure you're really pushing yourself as hard as you can during those two or three weekly sessions, rather than increasing the frequency.
The video below is a few years old now, but you can get an idea of the intensity used. I have modified my application to only doing it twice a week. However, the intensity is identical. The other change is that I now breathe through my nose. I discuss more of the benefits of Buteyko breathing in a recent article.
Please note that this video is a few years old and Dr. Mercola has since incorporated Buteyko breathing.
It's important to have a plan when you workout, which should include what exercises you're going to do and for how long. If you find that you end up spending two hours at the gym but spent just 15 minutes of it exercising, you're probably "lollygagging" for a good deal of the time. As CNN reported, having a plan in place will help you to avoid unproductive wandering:3
"This means no wandering around, no texting in between reps. Come with a set workout to complete, limiting your water breaks to specific points in your circuit for a designated amount of seconds."
3. Too Little Strength Training
Many ignore strength training when devising their exercise plan, thinking they don't want to "bulk up." But gaining more muscle through resistance exercises has many benefits, from losing excess fat to maintaining healthy bone mass and preventing age-related muscle loss as you get older. In fact, strength training has a beneficial impact on at least 10 biomarkers of aging (which are the things that tell you how old you would be if you didn't know how old you were). This includes the following:
Strength and muscle mass (which results in greater balance, as you get older) Body composition Blood lipids Bone density Cardiorespiratory fitness Blood pressure Blood glucose control Aerobic capacity Gene expression, and telomere length
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. You can also "up" the intensity by slowing it down. For more information about using super slow weight training as a form of high intensity interval exercise, please see my interview with Dr. Doug McGuff.
4. Hydrating with Sports Drinks
For most average exercisers and athletes, sports drinks are a waste of your money, as they are loaded with refined sugars, artificial colors, and chemicals. If you exercise for 30 minutes a day at a moderate to high intensity, fresh, pure water is the best thing to help you stay hydrated. It's only when you've been exercising for longer periods, such as for more than 60 minutes, in the heat, or at extreme intensity levels where you are sweating profusely, that you may need something more than water to replenish your body.
Besides plain water, coconut water is one of the best and safest options to rehydrate after a strenuous workout in which you are sweating a lot (about a quart of water or a two-pound weight loss on the scale). Coconut water has a powerhouse of natural electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, and is low in sugar but still pleasantly sweet.
Depending on how much salt you've lost through sweating, you might even add a small pinch of natural Himalayan salt to your glass of coconut water. One study in 20074 found sodium-enriched coconut water to be as effective as commercial sports drinks for whole body rehydration after exercise, with less stomach upset.
5. Doing the Same Exercises Over and Over
When you find an exercise that works, you may be tempted to stick with it. Don't. Switching up your workouts will ensure your muscles continue to be challenged and prevent plateaus in your fitness growth.
This doesn't mean you have to abandon your favorite moves entirely, just alter the intensity, frequency, or technique so that it prompts muscle confusion, which will help you build more muscle and increase fat loss. For instance, varying your grip while doing pull-ups will accomplish muscle confusion, as will using mid-range motion (instead of pulling yourself all the way up, stop about half-way, and hold for a few seconds).
6. Doing It Alone
A workout buddy can help keep you accountable, rev up your motivation and simply make exercising more fun. That said, be sure to select your workout buddy with care. If your exercise ally is more interested in talking or ends up being a frequent no-show, then they're not doing you any favors. You may be better off hiring a personal trainer if you can't find a suitable workout friend.
A Fitness Essential Many People Neglect: Movement Interruptions While Sitting
Movement interruptions while sitting, or intermittent movement, are gaining a lot of attention, and for good reason. Studies have repeatedly found strong correlations between prolonged sitting or inactivity and reduced life expectancy—even if you exercise regularly! For example, a recent analysis of 18 studies5 found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least.
An earlier study6 that highlighted much of the recent evidence linking sitting with biomarkers of poor metabolic health, also found that total sitting time correlates with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other prevalent chronic health problems—even if you exercise regularly. The answer, fortunately, is quite simple. You simply need to make sure you move your body more often.
Simply standing up from a seated position has been found particularly effective at counteracting the ill effects of sitting. This is something I seek to do every 15 minutes while I am sitting. I set a timer to remind me. When the timer rings, I get up and do some simple hamstring, hip, or chest stretches for a minute or two. I am testing a variety of different ones and hope to report on them later this year.
Last year, I also interviewed Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, on this topic. In the video below, you can learn more about her groundbreaking research, which reveals why standing up is such an effective remedy for too much sitting.
Bringing Your Workout Into the 21st Century
Been a while since you've exercised? Are you new to it entirely? Please don't feel intimidated! Getting started is simple: just start moving. If you're very out of shape, a daily walk is a fine starting point. But as that grows easier you'll need to kick your activity up a notch (or three). One of the easiest, and most fun, ways to do so is by embracing technologies that allow you to use your smartphone or tablet as a fitness tool.
Many of you reading this already have and use smartphones and tablets. What you may not have access to is a gym, personal trainer, or any type of exercise equipment. For little or no cost, you can access countless workouts via free or low-cost apps, allowing you to get a fabulous workout you may not have otherwise had, which is one of the most productive, and least dangerous, uses for these devices.
There are tens of thousands of health apps available, so I recently highlighted my two favorite fitness apps, plus eight additional free options, you can use to get started. It's all about taking control of your health, and this is one empowering way to do so. On a side note, when using fitness apps, your phone or tablet can be kept in airplane mode to minimize any wireless electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure (while still allowing you to access its amazing computer power).