Over the last couple of months, we have published eight articles devoted to the subject of exercise. Since we have covered a lot of territory, I thought it might be helpful to summarize the key highlights.
1. We Need to Move More
In our first article, “Cracking the Exercise Code,” we explain the difference between ‘exercise’ and ‘physical activity.’
- Exercise is all about increasing physical fitness through adjustments in duration, frequency, and intensity of movement.
- Physical activity refers to the general level of movement you expend every day— for example, gardening, walking to work, or playing ball with the kids.
We do not necessarily need to exercise.
However, we all benefit from physical activity.
It’s all about moving. Throughout the day. Naturally.
In a comprehensive Blue Zones study, which examined the habits of the world’s eldest people, it was noted that while many of the study’s participants did not necessarily ‘exercise,’ they were very physically active. “The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. Every trip to work, to a friend’s house, or to church occasions a walk.”
We do not need a lot of physical activity to get its positive effects, but the more active we are the more health benefits we get. A minimum of 30-60 minutes of low to moderate activity a day, five days a week seems to be the sweet spot.
2. Exercise Is Not Enough—You Need to Eat Right Too!
It is important to stress that while physical activity contributes to our health, it is not a cure for all health problems.
In terms of risk factors for death and disability, physical inactivity ranks fifth and sixth (respectively) while the biggest risk factor by far is an unhealthful diet.
In the end, if you exercise and still eat poorly (or smoke), your health will be seriously compromised in the long term.
Diet trumps physical exercise when it comes to your overall health.
In our second article entitled “Connecting the Dots Between Eating and Exercise,” we dived deeper into the topic of how physical activity is an important complement (but never a substitute) for your diet.
If you are following a low-fat, whole food, plant-based lifestyle, you are already halting the progression of cardiovascular disease and reducing plaque — with your diet alone. In other words, you are already (more than) halfway there.
Physical activity is then the perfect complement.
And always remember that no amount of physical activity can ever counteract the negative effects of a poor diet.
3. Take 10,000 Steps a Day
So knowing that ‘moving’ more is great for us, what is the best way to integrate more physical activity into our lives?
One idea is to aim for 10,000 steps a day.
The 10,000 steps goal is a solid one and is associated with important health benefits including lower blood pressure, enhanced mood, and reduced risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
The best part about it is that you do not have to go on long walks every day! You can accumulate your steps through a variety of ‘non-walking’ activities: household chores, playing with the kids or simply walking to work.
This quick chart shows how many minutes of various physical activities you need to do to reach 3,000 steps.
4. Stop Sitting
We sit too much.
In fact, 60 percent of people worldwide spend more than three hours a day sitting down. On average and across all countries, we sit a whopping 4.7 hours a day.
Many experts consider sitting to be the ‘new smoking.’ Not surprising, given the fact that from 2002-2011, oversitting contributed to 433,000 deaths each year!
Prolonged periods of uninterrupted sitting are seriously bad for our health; study after study shows that too much sitting increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic disorders and premature death.
Furthermore, you cannot ‘cancel out’ the ill effects of siting just by following a daily exercise regimen. That is because time spent sitting is “independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level.”
When you sit for long periods of time, crucial, health-promoting physical processes slow down and stall. You disrupt enzyme production and insulin effectiveness. You increase your risks of a variety of chronic diseases.
When you move (or simply stand), you kick start all these stalled processes back into action. A few minutes per hour of moving versus sitting can significantly reduce your risks. For example, if you replace just two minutes of sitting each hour with a gentle walk, you can lower your risk of premature death by 33 percent.
So spend less time sitting. Cut down TV time. Stand up or walk while you work by using either a standing or treadmill desk. Take 5-10 minute walking breaks every hour.
5. Get Fit Fast
HIIT is short for high-intensity interval training.
The concept of HIIT is to do brief bursts of highly intense exercise in just a few minutes and it is a scientifically proven way to get the equivalent of a longer, more moderate workout in a very short period of time.
HIIT is time-efficient, flexible, simple, and accessible.
And you can apply the HIIT principle to virtually any aerobic activity from running and biking to swimming and jumping rope).
The health benefits of HIIT are making it an extremely popular exercise option.
A recent scientific study showed that as little as 60 seconds of strenuous exertion (as part of a 10-minute workout) could improve health and fitness as much as 45 minutes of moderate exercise!
6. Get out That Yoga Mat
Dating back 5000 years, yoga is one of the oldest exercise traditions on the planet. Rooted in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is a total mind and body workout, which blends strengthening and stretching the muscles with deep breathing and meditation.
The health and relaxation benefits of yoga are the stuff of legend. Aside from being an excellent low-impact way to get fit and flexible, yoga can boost cardiovascular health, eradicate chronic lower back pain, control stress and anxiety, encourage better eating habits, and reduce insomnia.
Running is an exercise classic; it is easy, accessible and great for your health.
Researchers recently reported that running as little as five minutes a day at slow speeds can significantly lower your risk of dying prematurely from all causes and cardiovascular disease.
This finding confirms what we saw with HIIT—that a little bit of vigorous exercise can be incredibly beneficial for your health.
Furthermore, running is good for the brain. It promotes brain health by helping it make BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein which scientists like to call ‘miracle gro’. BDNF helps brain cells grow and thrive while strengthening synapses that connect those neurons.
8. Exercise Does Not Help You Lose Weight
In our last article, we ask the question what is more important when it comes to losing weight: exercise or diet?
While most of us believe exercise is most important, studies clearly demonstrate that DIET is the absolute essential factor in weight loss.
The numbers speak for themselves. Never have we exercised more. And never have we been more obese.
To tackle the growing epidemic of obesity, we need to focus on the real culprit, which is our diet and over consumption of calories.
If you are looking to lose weight, you need to pay attention to what you put in your mouth. The best route, therefore, is to eat a wide variety of whole food, plant-based foods that are naturally low in calorie density.
What you eat matters a lot more than your workout regimen. Exercise is a beautiful complement to diet and should definitely be integrated into your life. However, be sure to embrace exercise for its powerful health benefits rather than its ability to help you lose weight.
We trust you enjoyed our 8-part exercise series.
From HIIT to yoga and running, physical activity has a lot to offer and is an important pillar to any healthful lifestyle.
In tandem with eating a health-enhancing, whole food, plant-based diet, it is time for all of us to get moving more!