Dr. B is a naturopathic doctor in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of "Rules of Health," a comprehensive guide on healthy living.
Exercise is not about going to the gym every day and working out for hours. That is the picture that comes to the mind of most people when they hear the word ‘exercise’. Exercise means to exert a force or movement beyond our daily activities for the purpose of improving and maintaining good health.
Exercise has the following health benefits:
- More physical endurance, so you can accomplish more in your day.
- Better mood.
- Improved memory.
- A stronger more efficient heart.
- A stronger immune system.
- Stronger bones.
- An efficient insulin response.
- Better stress management.
- And a more restful deeper sleep, just to name a few.
The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing.
There is no saying anywhere that you cannot enjoy exercise. If you enjoy an activity, such as hiking, dancing, walking, skating, swimming or anything you do that raises your heart rate and elevates your breathing higher than normal then that is exercise. If you enjoy it you will do it more regularly and the whole point of any activity is sustainability and repetition to reap the health benefits. If you can do this activity 3 times a week for at least half an hour each time then you are on the right track. Studies have shown that even exercising for as little as five minutes at high intensity is beneficial. The goal here is to make movement a priority. Even less intense exercises such as Yoga and Tai Chi are beneficial for us especially if we lead stressful lives. So, find something you enjoy and do it regularly.
To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question.
The research on stretching is inconclusive. I would suggest that if you are concerned with maintaining range of motion for your joints then stretch after you finish your exercise routine while your muscles and joints are still warm and pliable. Never stretch before a workout while your muscles are cold as you could potentially do more harm than good. Also, keep the stretch for at least ten seconds and let it gradually release with your own body weight. Do not apply more force. The sensation should be of a dull pressure or pull. There should never be an intense pain when stretching, if there is, you are probably putting too much pressure or there might be a bigger issue. Make it a habit to stretch the muscles that tend to shorten the most like the hamstrings, calves, pectorals and the lower back muscles. Stretching regularly will also give you more control over your movements and help prevent injuries.
The best time to exercise.
The time of day you exercise is not as important. If you exercise at night and you can sleep like a baby afterward, then go for it. However, if it makes falling asleep difficult then don’t exercise at night. The best time to exercise is when you have the most energy during the day. If losing weight is your goal then exercising in the morning before breaking fast will tap into your fat reserves for energy and help speed up fat loss.
Be accountable to someone else.
For most people, doing an activity with someone else makes it more fun and keeps you more motivated. If loosing and maintaining a healthy weight is your goal then research has shown that being accountable to other people provides longer lasting results. Try to get someone you trust involved in your healthy weight goals. And if that person has similar health goals as you then that’s a bonus. Both of you can be accountable to each other and can help motivate each other. The other option is to hire a coach or recruit someone who has more experience with the health goals you are trying to achieve to teach you techniques that have worked for them and to keep you accountable and motivated.
Don’t weigh yourself too often.
Don’t only use the weighing scale as an indicator of health. How your clothes fit, how much energy you have in the day, how well you sleep, how good your mood is, are all good indicators that you are benefiting from exercise. Try to weigh yourself just once a week. Our weight fluctuates throughout the day and on a day to day basis. Pick a day of the week and time and stick to measuring your weight only then, you will get more reliable readings
Aerobic vs. resistance exercise.
Doing a mix of aerobic and resistance training is best. Aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, swimming, etc. strengthen the heart, build endurance and burn calories. Resistance exercises like yoga, resistance bands or lifting weights etc. will help strengthen the muscles which will improve insulin response, gain muscle mass which will burn more calories, provide better weight management with improved posture and balance. Get creative and change things up once in a while. It will keep things interesting and workouts more fun. Our bodies are very adaptive and will quickly adjust to any new strain you put on it, so challenge yourself and test your limits with caution, of course. Give your muscles and joints time to heal after a strenuous exercise. I would suggest alternating between upper body and lower body routines to give each muscle group at least 48 hours to recuperate.
Exercise outdoors whenever you can.
If you can have your physical activity outdoors you will benefit even more. Fresh air, sunlight, and nature are what our bodies need to recharge and re-balance, with the added benefit of cleaner air, vitamin D from sunlight and the calming effect of greenery. In the winter months, the colder air is denser with a higher concentration of oxygen and the cold temperature will make you burn more calories. Whether it’s the summer or winter, just know your own heat and cold tolerance levels when training outdoors, during extreme temperatures. Don’t put yourself in danger of hyper or hypothermia.
Don’t neglect proper nutrition.
Nutrition is a big factor in exercise but not in the way the fitness industry would like you to believe. Our bodies are very efficient at conserving essential nutrients and there is no need to mega-dose yourself on many supplements in the hopes of getting the most out of your exercise. If you are looking to add muscle mass, increase your protein consumption by 30%. Supplements like creatine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) help with muscle performance and recuperation for those who are training and need the extra help. If you have a balanced diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, good protein source, good fats, enough fiber and adequate amount of water then you are providing all the nutrients your body needs. If your diet is poor, I would suggest you improve that before you embark on an exercise routine to build your body. It’s like building a house with poor quality bricks and cement, it may look good on the outside but it won’t stand the strong winds.
Sit less, stand more.
Something phenomenal is happening in society since the dawn of the information age. Our western society has, for the most part, become knowledge workers instead of manual laborers. What this means is that people are sitting more than ever at work and have become very sedentary. The term sitting disease has been coined. Even at home people spend many more hours sitting either to watch television or surf the internet. Depending on which part of the world you live at, one stat puts it at an average 7.7 hours of sitting a day and another puts it at 13 hours a day. All this sitting is not helpful for your health. Too much sitting seems to have similar risks to smoking when it comes to heart attacks.
Knowing this, try to be aware of how much you sit. Do the following:
- Get up at least once an hour, walk around and do some light stretches.
- Whenever given an opportunity to sit or stand, choose to stand more often.
- Make movement a priority, for example, use stairs instead of the elevator or walk short distances instead of hoping in the car.
- All the movement in the day adds up, so keep moving, your body will thank you.
A few key points to remember
Have a plan and visualize your outcome. What do you want to achieve with exercise? Do you want to have more energy and better mood, improve your balance, lose excess weight, strengthen your bones, raise your good cholesterol, get fit or fit into that wedding dress? Our minds are powerful machines. Whatever your health goal, breaking it down into smaller achievable steps and visualizing the end result has been shown to help people achieve it more quickly compared to those who did not have a plan or use visualization as part of their process. Break your main goal into smaller achievable steps and set timelines to accomplish them. Be flexible with the timelines and your progress. You will have good days and bad days, which is part of life. Use it to your advantage. On the days when you have more energy get in a good workout and when you are feeling down don’t push yourself, relax and recharge. Don’t be upset with yourself if you didn’t achieve your goals within a set time frame as long as you are progressing in the right direction. Maybe, reassess and see where you could improve to see better results. Did you overlook something important like getting enough sleep every day to keep your metabolism strong and hunger pangs down, or did you eat more than your share of junk food these past few weeks? Keeping a journal or a phone app can help keep track of your activities and food intake which can be tremendously helpful when we have a million things to do every day and can’t keep track of it all. The benefits of exercise build with time, have patience, take it one day at a time and watch the magic happen.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Behzad Azargoshasb
MUHAMMAD AYUB on January 30, 2018:
This is article is very beneficial.