Exercising and Being Active 

 

Regular physical activity is important in achieving and maintaining optimal health. We all know this, but sometimes we're not always the best at exercising on a daily basis. The first thing I want you to realize is that you do not need to exercise 4 or 6 or 8 hours a day to achieve optimal health. People who do this are called professional athletes, and I guarantee you that you'll actually be in better overall health in the long term than these athletes if you incorporate all aspects of this website—adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet and making positive lifestyle choices.

Exercising should be fun and safe. If you're not having fun then you're probably not going to continue to be physically active. So engage in activities that you like to do, and you'll not only be enjoying yourself but also getting the secondary health benefits of exercising. The main thing to concentrate on is that you're moving your body, using your muscles, and getting your heart rate up regardless of what activity you choose to do. Being consistent and exercising regularly is far more important than how intense you make your workout. The more you make exercise a habit the more health benefits you'll see.

Before starting any exercise program you should talk to your physician to determine if you are healthy enough to begin such a regimen. You may need to concentrate on eating healthy first if you have a severely debilitating medical condition in order to get to a point where you can take on an exercise program. Everyone should proceed slowly when starting out on a new exercise program and then work your way up over a period of several weeks to reach your maximum level. This will ensure that you avoid any undesirable injuries.

Exercising has a multitude of health benefits including:

  • Improving heart disease, kidney disease, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and reducing obesity.1-5
  • Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and death from stroke by 11%-19%.6
  • Staying active will also increase your energy level and improve your sleeping patterns.7,8

Another interesting fact about exercise is that it's been proven to slow down the aging process. This was shown in a study published in the journal Circulation in 2009 which showed regular exercise increased the activity of telomerase.9 Telomerase is a naturally occurring enzyme in your body that repairs telomeres at the end of your chromosomes. Telomeres are strands of DNA that determine how fast your cells age, and, therefore, how fast you age. Another study conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues revealed that a comprehensive lifestyle program which included regular exercise, along with a healthy plant-based diet, had the same beneficial effects on telomeres as the Circulation study just mentioned.10 The take-home message in all of this is that when you stay active you stay young so move your body every chance you get!

Now that you know all about the benefits of exercise, let's discuss exactly what you need to do to make this happen. There are a few different components that make up the term "exercising". Exercising can be broken down into—aerobic exercise, strength/resistance training, and flexibility/stretching exercises. It is important to incorporate all three to achieve optimal health. Let's talk about each category below.

 

Aerobic Exercises

The CDC and the American Heart Association both recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week (average 30 minutes daily for 5 days per week). If you don't have time to do a 30-minute workout then don't worry. You can achieve the same results by breaking it up into three 10-minute intervals throughout your day. You should exercise at a pace that gets your heart rate up to at least 40%-80% of the maximum heart rate recommended for your age group.

Below are a few aerobic activities that are really good forms of exercise and relatively easy on your body:

  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Elliptical machines
  • Swimming
  • Washing your car
  • Biking
  • Playing tennis
  • Playing with your children or pets

 

Flexibility/Stretching Exercises

Stretching and flexibility exercises are vital to your exercise routine. They help avoid unwanted injuries by allowing your body and muscles to warm up. You should, at a minimum, perform these exercises prior to your strength/resistance training and aerobic activities. It would also be helpful to perform a few simple stretching exercises after you're done with your workout.

You should perform most stretches for about 20-30 seconds. Repeat each stretch three to four times. You should only be feeling a mild discomfort when performing these exercises, otherwise you may be increasing your risk of injury by pushing yourself beyond this point.

Below are a few sites that will aid you in stretching exercises:

 

Strength/Resistance Training

Strength training is a form of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction. This helps build strength, build muscle tissue, and increase anaerobic endurance. To learn more about the health benefits of strength training and obtain tips on starting out please read my article below:

Strength Training - Growing Muscles While Benefiting Your Health

The CDC recommends at least 2 days per week of strength training exercises. This would be comprised of activities such as weight lifting, using resistance bands, push ups, sit ups, and anything else that works to strengthen your muscles. You should do at least 8-10 different exercises, working different muscle groups each workout (arms, legs, chest, back, etc.).

It's recommended that you perform 8-12 repetitions per activity, making up one set. Do 1-3 sets per activity, make sure to rest for one to three minutes between sets. Doing more repetitions will increase your muscle tone. On the contrary, doing less repetitions and using more weight/resistance will increase your muscle mass. Make sure you are using the proper form while performing these exercises to prevent injury. It might be wise to get a personal trainer for a few sessions while starting out.

 

References:
1 Madden KM, Lockhart C, Potter TF, Cuff D. Aerobic training restores arterial baroreflex sensitivity in older adults with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Clin J Sport Med. 2010 Jul;20(4):312-7.
2 Kwon HR, Min KW, Ahn HJ, Seok HG, Koo BK, Kim HC, Han KA. Effects of aerobic exercise on abdominal fat, thigh muscle mass and muscle strength in type 2 diabetic subject. Korean Diabetes J. 2010 Feb;34(1):23-31. Epub 2010 Feb 28.
3 Chen PY, Huang YC, Kao YH, Chen JY. Effects of an exercise program on blood biochemical values and exercise stage of chronic kidney disease patients. J Nurs Res. 2010 Jun;18(2):98-107.
4 Meex RC, Schrauwen-Hinderling VB, Moonen-Kornips E, Schaart G, Mensink M, Phielix E, van de Weijer T, Sels JP, Schrauwen P, Hesselink MK. Restoration of muscle mitochondrial function and metabolic flexibility in type 2 diabetes by exercise training is paralleled by increased myocellular fat storage and improved insulin sensitivity. Diabetes. 2010 Mar;59(3):572-9. Epub 2009 Dec 22.
5 Stefani L, Maffulli N, Mascherini G, et al. Exercise as prescription therapy: benefits in cancer and hypertensive patients. Transl Med UniSa. 2014 Dec 19;11:39-43. eCollection 2015 Jan-Apr.
6 Diep L, Kwagyan J, Kurantsin-Mills J, et al. Association of physical activity level and stroke outcomes in men and women: a meta-analysis. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2010 Oct;19(10):1815-22.
7 Ward-Ritacco CL, Adrian AL, O'Connor PJ, et al. Feelings of energy are associated with physical activity and sleep quality, but not adiposity, in middle-aged postmenopausal women. Menopause. 2015 Mar;22(3):304-11.
8 Kredlow MA, Capozzoli MC, Hearon BA, et al. The effects of physical activity on sleep: a meta-analytic review.
 J Behav Med. 2015 Jun;38(3):427-49.
9 Christian Werner, MD; Tobias Fürster, MD; Thomas Widmann, MD; Janine Pöss, MD, et al. Physical Exercise Prevents Cellular Senescence in Circulating Leukocytes and in the Vessel Wall. Circulation. 2009 Dec 15;120(4).
10 Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, Weidner G, Epel E, Kemp C, Magbanua MJ, Marlin R, Yglecias L, Carroll PR, Blackburn EH. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2008 Nov;9(11):1048-57. Epub 2008 Sep 15.