By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
The benefits of exercise are so good that it’s one of the many things in this world that you can become addicted to. But, exercise is an addiction I wish more people “suffered” from.
Exercise has a lot to recommend it. In the short-term, a good workout boosts brain chemicals (called endorphins) that improve your mood. Exercising also burns calories and helps avert weight gain – which is critical as we get older.
Beginning in your mid-30s, you lose a third of a pound of muscle tissue each year, according to Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Physical Fitness at Tufts University in Boston. That muscle tissue is typically replaced with an equal amount of fat. Why? If you continue eating the same number of calories and fail to preserve or add muscle tissue by exercising, then the pounds pile on – as fat.
But it’s the long-term health benefits that really make lifelong exercise so rewarding.
Pump Up Heart Health with the Benefits of Exercise
It certainly isn’t hard to make a case for the benefits of exercise – especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. Exercise plays a powerful and effective role in the prevention and treatment of almost all types of heart disease and add years to your life.
Research shows that exercise helps prevent cognitive decline by increasing the number of small blood vessels in the brain as well as better blood flow. According to a Harvard study of over 11,000 men, regular moderate exercise can cut stroke risk almost in half. What’s more, people who exercise regularly over the long haul may be better equipped to prevent the buildup of oxidized-LDL – the kind of cholesterol that sticks to artery walls – compared to those who are active in short spurts.
Even something as simple as walking can improve your cardiovascular system. According to a large study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, women (ages 50 to 79) who walked 30 minutes a day, five days a week, reduced their risk of having a heart attack just as much as women who jogged, played tennis or did aerobics for the same amount of time. Both groups cut their risk by a third, regardless of age or weight.
Working out on a regular basis is especially important for women as they age. According to 12 years of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, regular physical activity protects against hip fractures in older women. And the more exercise, the better. Of 61,200 postmenopausal women, those reporting the most exercise from all activities had 55 percent fewer fractures than sedentary women.
Women who walked four or more hours a week at an average pace had 41 percent fewer fractures than women who walked less than one hour a week. The faster the pace, the lower the risk.
And it’s never too late to start. This study showed that less active women who became more active showed a big reduction in risk to bones compared to women who remained sedentary. But, that activity must be maintained to preserve benefits.
Aerobic Versus Strength
So, exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle – but which kind? Should you concentrate on cardio – walking briskly, jogging, swimming, spinning classes or elliptical machine workouts – or weights? The truth is, you need both – and you need to exercise at least five days a week.
To combine cardio and strength training, you can either look at your week or your workout as a place to mix it up. If you exercise six days a week, you could use three days for 60-minute cardio workouts and three days for 30 minutes of cardio plus 30 minutes of strength training. It’s always a good idea to schedule one day off so your body can recuperate.
What about stretching? Once upon a time, the experts insisted that you stretch before your workout. Not anymore! Stretching is an important part of any workout routine. It helps increase your flexibility and reduce your chances of injury. But stretching your muscles when they aren’t properly warmed up can result in a pulled muscle. It’s best to stretch the muscles you’ve used after your cool down – although if you have any chronically tight muscles, you may want to stretch those after your warm up as well.
When you do stretch, do each one at least once and hold for at least 15 seconds (more if you have time). Each stretch should feel good. If you feel any pain, ease up and go slower.
Shape Up With Supplements and the Realize the Benefits
While there aren’t any magic bullets that will automatically make you fit, there are some supplements that can help improve your exercise endurance and boost muscle. In one recent study, 11 triathletes experienced less inflammatory response after taking creatine supplements before a long distance competition.
More recently, another clinical trial by Canadian researchers found that combining creatine with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) enhanced the effects of strength training in older adults, helping to build both strength and muscle. As an extra bonus, CLA may improve insulin sensitivity.
What about post-exercise recovery? When you exercise – especially when you lift weights – you create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. Muscle is created during the healing process. You can speed healing – and muscle formation – with whey protein, a byproduct of milk.
The easiest way to get the benefits of whey protein is by enjoying a protein shake within an hour of two of exercising. Some benefits of whey protein have been demonstrated with as little as 20 grams per day. Athletes in training commonly use 25 grams of whey protein per day. Just make sure you don’t exceed 1.2 grams per 2.2 pounds body weight.
One Last Thing …
Staying motivated can be a real challenge when it comes to exercise. Arbitrary goals like losing weight or getting healthier might work for the first week or two. But for the long-term, you need something more concrete.
If your only goal is to lose 40 pounds, it will be a while before you get there. In the meantime, set daily, measurable, achievable goals that allow you to feel successful every day. Keep a weekly diary and set goals each day for what kind of exercise you will do, how long you will workout, and how hard you will exercise.
After you set your goals and write them down, you want to also chart your progress. Be sure to write down your daily achievements to compare to your goals. This will become extremely motivating as you see yourself meeting your goals. With consistent exercise, you will also see your workouts becoming easier and your ability to work harder and longer. This often happens faster than visible results on your body, such as weight loss or definition. Many people become frustrated and quit exercise right before big changes are about to happen, because they don’t see the results on their bodies. Seeing measurable progress on paper will keep you motivated while you work toward the bigger goals you have set for yourself.
And don’t forget to reward yourself. There’s no better way to sustain your motivation to get fit than immediate gratification. So, when you reach a milestone – adding another mile to your walking regimen or increasing the number of reps or weight during your strength training – treat yourself to that new book you’ve wanted to read, or splurge on a latte.
Research Brief …
If you live in a smoggy area, go fish. New research in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that taking fish-oil supplements every day may lessen the damaging health effects of air pollution due to oxidative stress. Exposure to high levels of particulates from car exhaust and industrial emissions raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke – and seniors are particularly susceptible.
Researchers in Mexico City gave 52 nursing home residents two grams of fish oil a day for seven months. Before the study, testing revealed that air pollution levels in the nursing home were just as high as it was outdoors. But, by the end of the study, the omega-3-rich supplements boosted blood levels of antioxidant enzymes and reduced oxidative damage in blood cells, which are both affected by pollution.
If you are a city dweller or are exposed to moderate to high levels of air pollution, protect your cardiovascular system by taking two to four grams of fish oil daily. Not only will this help shield your heart from unhealthy air, it can also help lower your cholesterol levels and thwart inflammation.
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