Plant-based Lifestyle

How Can I Achieve Optimal Health?

Secret #2 - Exercise

There are eight secrets that build your foundation for optimal health. Before I reveal Secret #2 to you, you might want to check out my article on an overview of the Essentials for Optimal Health covered in the acronym NEWSTART. You’ll find it right HERE.

E stands for Exercise. It’s been said, “If you don’t move it, you’ll lose it!” This is very true in terms of what we do with our bodies. In fact, exercising might be about as close as we can get to a true fountain of youth! A sedentary lifestyle is a direct route to an early grave. Inactivity just kills us…S-L-O-W-L-Y…..

Moving our bodies is probably the most important thing we can do for health after nutritional choices. Although large amounts of exercise can partially offset the effect of poor nutritional choices, several studies have demonstrated that food choices do have a greater impact on our health than even large amounts of exercise over years. But to really optimize the healthful impact of good nutritional choices you want to also pay attention to what you are doing to get adequate exercise. Let’s take a look at what the benefits of exercise are, how much we need, and what kinds of exercise are important.

Benefits of Exercise

One of the primary benefits of exercise is its positive effect on circulation of the blood in the body. It has been said that “Perfect health depends upon perfect circulation”. The truth of this statement is being shown over and over by science. Because the only way for oxygen to make its way to body tissue cells is through the circulation of the blood, and every cell depends on a high quality, regular supply of oxygen for health, at a very basic level our very life depends upon our circulation. Anything that improves our circulation will also improve our health. Exercise of our large muscle groups through walking, jogging, swimming and other aerobic exercises increases the need for oxygen in the muscles and our heart speeds up to accommodate the increased demand. Doing this on a daily basis increases the efficiency of our heart muscle thus improving cardiac health. This is important in a culture where every second person dies of heart and vascular diseases. Exercise also lowers our blood pressure and resting pulse, thereby reducing the workload on the heart and blood vessels.

Endurance training has been shown to have very positive impact on cardiovascular health. Here are some of them:

  • Increase in levels of HDL, the healthy cholesterol
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Increased insulin sensitivity (good for controlling blood sugars)
  • Reduced tendency of the blood to clot.
  • Lowers LDL, the bad cholesterol

Exercise also strengthens our bones. It helps us to retain calcium and other minerals important for healthy bones. This is especially true of weight-bearing exercises like walking, for the leg bones, and weight lifting for upper body strength. In fact, a study by the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) showed that women could increase their bone mass by 2-3% a year through exercise alone.

Exercise just makes us feel good. It increases our production of endorphins which are natural pain killers and mood elevators. Just 10 minutes of exercise has been shown to increase positive moods for more than an hour. In fact, outdoor exercise is one of the most powerful tools to combat depression, a common and disabling malady in Western societies. In studies of lab rats it was found that rats that exercised regularly had lower levels of damaging protein in stress-related parts of their brains, they released lower levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine, and recovered more quickly from infections.  Exercise helps to decrease levels of circulating stress hormones, thus being a powerful antidote to anxiety and the chronic stress levels much of us are living with.

Regular exercise is also a tool for helping to maintain desirable weight levels. It burns fat and builds muscle. It also blunts the appetite by temporarily increasing blood sugar levels as it promotes the release of glycogen stored in the muscle cells. This effect is particularly important for diabetics who can keep blood sugars from spiking after meals by 15-30 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise right after meals.

The healthy fatigue of our muscles after an exercise session also contributes to higher quality sleep at night and improves our immune system performance.

How much Exercise is Enough

We need a minimum of 2-3 hrs of aerobic exercise a week spread over at least 5 days, with at least two days of weight bearing type exercise for the legs and arms. If you are trying to control blood sugars or lose weight, you will want to look at a minimum of an hour a day, 6 days a week. This can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood. For positive health benefits, aerobic exercise should be brisk and continuous for at least 15-20 minutes. Most people can work up to this goal. Maximum benefits will come from 30-60 minutes of daily active exercise. It’s always a good idea to check with your health provided before starting on an exercise program if you have not been exercising at all to be sure it is appropriate for you. If you are trying to lose weight or are trying to control blood sugars, maximum benefits will come from increasing your exercise time to one hour each day. This hour can be divided into 2 or 3 sessions if you wish.

Best Kinds of Exercise

All of the above benefits of exercise can be experienced from plain, simple, walking! Walking is the ideal exercise as it is inexpensive, safe, nearly everyone can do it, you can adjust your speed and start and stop when you want to. With increasing fitness you can gradually add speed and time. If you have hip, knee, or foot joint problems that make weight-bearing exercises difficult, swimming can be a great alternative which provides the aerobic benefits with little joint stress. Those with some types of knee problems may find that bicycling may work well for them. Gardening and yard work can also provide high quality exercise. Golf also works, but only if you leave the carts behind and carry your own clubs!

Best practice recommendations are currently to do aerobic exercise (makes your heart rate go up) for at least 30 minutes three times a week. Alternate this with 30 minutes of strength and flexibility training three times a week.  Of course, the best exercise is whatever you are willing to do and will enjoy on a regular basis year around. Maybe having an exercise buddy can help you on the motivational front.

What about bad weather?

I happen to live in northern Michigan which is subject to fairly long, cold winters but have learned that there is really very little “bad” weather, only bad clothing! The secret to all-weather exercise in colder climates is making the valuable investment needed in hats and scarves, gloves, leggings or long johns, warm socks and waterproof, insulated shoes or boots. Layer your clothing so you can take off some layers as you warm up. If there is truly a blizzard raging outdoors, stationary bikes, trampolines, rowing machines, treadmills, or simply walking or jogging in place can all be done indoors.

If your challenge is a very hot climate, try doing your exercise early in the morning before things get too warm, and wear loose, breathable clothing that allows you to sweat and wicks moisture. One hundred percent cotton clothing can be very helpful here. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and avoiding drinks with any caffeine (they cause your body to lose water).

Getting Motivated

Have you ever tried to start an exercise program and couldn’t stick with it? Then try the 10-step Exercise Program. This is the world’s easiest exercise program! All you need to do is make a commitment to the first 10 steps of a daily walk. That’s it. You get out and take those steps every day. Once they’re behind you, you can turn around and go home, if you wish. Doing this eases you past those difficult first steps and gets you up and going. Once you get going, most people will finish the entire walk. This also keeps you in the habit of exercising even when you can’t manage your full routine. You might be sick, or traveling, yet in almost every situation you can manage 10 steps. In this way you can maintain the exercise habit even when you can’t exercise. That’s important if you want to enjoy the benefits of fitness for the rest of your life. I love the promise found in God’s Word in Isaiah 40:31 –

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Move and be healthy!

 

References:

How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger

Proof Positive by Dr. Neil Nedley

Health by Choice, not by Chance by Drs. Hans Diehl and Aileen Ludington

Journal of Bone Mineral Research, September 1995

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