Exercise is the Best Medicine: Part 2

Obviously, I am biased towards exercise and the appropriate exercise prescription. I think this is one area we can all be better (myself included). So, when I saw this article I wanted to share it with everyone. This sums up a lot of what we feel and gives you a good background for why exercise should always be in the discussion for how to treat every illness. Last week we talked about the importance of exercise, now we will talk about how to do exercise correctly.

Exercise is the best preventive drug we have, and everybody needs to take that medicine.
— Jordan Metzl – Sports Medicine Physician Hospital for Special Surgery New York, New York

For Optimal Benefits, Make Sure You're Exercising Correctly

We have 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 for the sake of "exercising" will not achieve the benefits you seek. In fact it could cause serious injury, especially if you engage in strength training with poor form and no coaching. In terms of "dosage," it's important to note the changes in recommendations that have taken place over the past few years. While conventional aerobic exercise was long considered the "gold standard" of a good workout, research has refuted such notions.

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.

The reason for this is quite simple. High intensity interval training (HIIT) mimics the movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which included short bursts of high-intensity activities, but not long-distance running. This, researchers say, is what your body is hard-wired for. Basically, by exercising in short bursts, followed by periods of recovery, you recreate exactly what your body needs for optimum health. Twice-weekly sessions, which require no more than 20 minutes from start to finish, can help you:

  • Lower your body fat

  • Improve your muscle tone

  • Boost your energy and libido

  • Improve athletic speed and performance

  • Naturally increase your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH)—a synergistic, foundational biochemical underpinning that promotes health and longevity. Conventional cardio will NOT boost your HGH level.

The Importance of Non-Exercise Movement

Next, let's address the issue of non-exercise movement. We like to call this intermittent movement. This is the latest area of physical activity that's 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!

It appears that temporary vigorous exercise simply cannot compensate for the damage incurred by prolonged daily sitting. For example, in a recent analysis, 4 of 18 studies 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 study 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 or chest stretches for a minute or two.

Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills and Moving Heals, reveals why standing up is such an effective remedy. It's because when you stand up, your body acts against gravity. Sitting actually simulates a low-gravity type environment for your body, and your body deteriorates at a far more rapid pace in anti-gravity situations... Hence, the remedy is to continuously engage in physical movements, as this increases the forces of gravity on your body.

Simple everyday activities such as housecleaning, cooking, gardening, hanging clothes to dry, bending over to pick up a stray sock, reaching for an item on a high shelf, all fall within the spectrum of movements you would ideally engage in from morning until night.

Variety Is the Spice of Life and the Key to Optimal Health

In short, one of the keys to optimal health is to remain as active as you can, all day long. Whenever you have a chance to move and stretch your body in the course of going about your day—do it! That said, there's no doubt that an ideal fitness regimen requires a little more effort. Fortunately, you can accomplish the bulk of it through high intensity exercises, which require a minimal time investment—as little as 20 minutes, two to three times a week. As a general rule, I recommend incorporating a wide variety of exercises, including the following:

  1. Stand Up Every 15 Minutes: While not intuitively obvious, emerging evidence clearly shows that even highly fit people who exceed the expert exercise recommendations are headed for premature death if they sit for long periods of time.

  2. Interval (Anaerobic) Training: This is when you alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.

  3. Strength Training: 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 the rate of the reps.

  4. Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury, and help you gain greater balance and stability.

  5. Foundation Training, created by Dr. Eric Goodman, is an integral first step of a larger program he calls "Modern Moveology," which consists of a catalog of exercises. Postural exercises such as those taught in Foundation Training are critical not just for properly supporting your frame during daily activities; they also retrain your body so you can safely perform high-intensity exercises without risking injury. Exercise programs like Pilates and yoga are also great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.

  6. Stretching: Holding the stretch for one minute, making sure you stretch to about 40-50% of the muscle’s capacity (a light stretch), and always looking for the muscle stretch to diminish after the one minute hold are key items to remember. You can also use devices like the Power Plate, Foam Roll, and massage sticks to help you stretch.

Hope this helps you reach your exercise goals and gives you more incentive to spend some time today moving and exercising!