Dr. Mercola’s Guide to Fitness

You know exercise is good, but did you know how many ways it benefits your body? If you are like many, you spend the majority of your time indoors,1 being sedentary.2 And, you probably do not engage in exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.3

There are several reasons for this, including not having enough time or energy, not being athletic, or not having enough energy and time left over after dealing with various life circumstances such as illness and disability.4 Some also theorize that another reason most people don’t exercise is because in the beginning, exercise may be uncomfortable.5

Others say they need to be motivated to get started, or just don’t find exercise fun or exciting.6 Thankfully, these concerns all have uncomplicated solutions when you want to enjoy the satisfying and refreshing benefits of simple exercises. Each type of exercise offers a unique advantage to your health, including some of the benefits outlined below.

How exercise benefits your health

Researchers are still discovering some of the exciting ways exercise benefits our entire being.7 This is why the new exercise destination site at Mercola.com was developed — to give you exactly what you need to take control of your health. Below are just a few of the ways you may prosper from exercises you can do at home, outdoors or at the gym. Exercise:















Reduces your risk of heart disease — A 15-year study found replacing sedentary activity with just 30 minutes a day of light activity reduces your risk of death from cardiovascular disease.8 Exercise helps reduce blood pressure and improve muscle function and strength, including that of your heart.9

Helps insulin sensitivity — Research has found those with diabetes and low cardiorespiratory fitness are at increased risk for overall illness and death;10 exercise helps protect against that by improving your insulin sensitivity.11

Improves mood — Physical activity may effectively prevent depression,12 enhance your mood and lift your spirits.13

Improves cognitive skills — Regular activity increases the size of the brain’s hippocampus, the area responsible for verbal memory and learning.14 While important at every age, research also demonstrates cognitive improvements are enjoyed by young adults too, including executive function and increased cortical thickness.15,16

Affects mitochondrial biogenesis — Mitochondrial function is vital to your overall health. Exercise enhances mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle17 and your brain.18

Strengthens bones and muscles — Weight bearing activities make bones and muscles stronger,19 reducing the potential for osteoporosis.20

Improves sleep — One review of the literature found sleep and exercise were interrelated as one exerted a positive effect on the other,21 and moderate aerobic exercise may increase the amount of deep sleep you enjoy.22

Reduces stress — While the exact mechanism for experiencing a reduction in stress has not been identified,23 researchers have demonstrated exercise does reduce anxiety and stress, potentially in part from enjoying a “time out” from daily worries.24

Improves digestion — While doctors have been recommending exercise for years to help reduce constipation,25 researchers now find exercise also contributes to positive changes in your gut microbiota, which may provide benefits to your health and help in the prevention of disease.26

Get an energy boost — As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week over six weeks may help improve your energy levels and help you feel less tired.27,28

Raise self-esteem — In a study of 264 adults, researchers found physical activity was directly and indirectly associated with self-esteem.29

Reduces overall risk of death — In one literature review, data confirmed that regular exercise is effective in the prevention of chronic disease and premature death.30

Reduces the risk of falls and disability — Falls are a significant cause of disability in the elderly,31 and exercise plays an important role in prevention.32

Strength training supports joints and brain function

Strength training is foundational to good overall health. It helps prevent the natural loss of skeletal muscle that may happen with sedentary behavior or advancing age. Increasing muscle mass also helps boost your metabolism33 and prevent damage to your joints. Inactivity and muscle loss increase the potential of damage to large joints that may lead to arthritic changes and pain.34,35

Exercises that build strength in your large muscles help support your joints. Exercise also does not contribute to joint deterioration.36 Resistance training does help slow plaque formation in the brain and positively impacts your cognitive function.37

Benefits also include reducing the signs of aging and increasing the potential to remain independent as you age. Bone and muscle loss are compounded by a sedentary lifestyle that many in the western world have been living for more than a decade. Weakened muscles and a brittle bone structure are a recipe for disabling falls.

Doing strength and resistance training at the gym offers an opportunity to use free weights or a weight machine. However, if you don’t have the time or resources to go to the gym, the Guide to Exercises has a number of weight bearing exercises you can try at home to accomplish some of the same goals. Additionally, some inexpensive equipment may increase the variety and benefits.

High intensity interval training in nine minutes a day

In just minutes each week, researchers have found those participating in high intensity interval training (HIIT) may significantly improve their health. The benefits from HIIT are largely due to the impact it has on your cellular mitochondria, responsible for producing energy in your cells.38

Your aerobic fitness39 is determined by measuring the amount of oxygen your mitochondria consume as you push yourself to an anaerobic threshold, or the limit of your aerobic capacity. This measurement is called your VO2max.40 The lower your VO2max due to sedentary behavior, the higher your risk of chronic disease.41

HIIT triggers mitochondrial biogenesis by reversing age-associated declines in mitochondrial health.42 Improvements in your VO2max depend on how well your mitochondria adapt. One literature review found VO2max increases with interval training.43

In one study of elderly participants, the researchers pitted three types of exercises against each other and a control group. They found that HIIT exercises were the clear winner.44

Another strategy to traditional HIIT training is the Nitric Oxide Dump, which I demonstrate in the video below. In the beginning, it’s best to start out without using any hand weights and add those later as your fitness improves. Although aging is inevitable, you may affect your biological age by making strong lifestyle choices. The end result is improved cardiometabolic health.



Staying flexible affects body and mind

As you design your exercise program, it’s important to include flexibility. Unfortunately, this is usually the most neglected element in a program.45 The benefits of being flexible include improving your posture, increasing mental relaxation, reducing muscle tension and soreness and reducing the risk of injury.

As people age, they tend to become less flexible. Sometimes this may be a result of inactivity, but flexibility is also impacted by your age, gender, shape and activity level.46 Activities that improve flexibility also help prevent back pain and balance problems.47

Additionally, flexibility helps you achieve a full range of motion, which in turn improves your athletic performance and your balance.48 The regular practice of yoga is one of the simplest ways to achieve greater balance, flexibility and improve your health.

Yoga is a low-impact exercise combining flexibility and strength training, and helping to lower your risk of heart disease, which improves body mass index and lowers blood pressure and heart rate.49 If you don’t have time for the yoga studio three times a week, consider learning poses on the Guide to Exercises site and doing them in the privacy of your own home.

Core and Foundation exercises help prevent lower back pain

Core exercises and Foundation Training are important contributors to reducing your potential for experiencing lower back pain and other chronic pain issues. Foundation Training involves the use of structural movements to help realign your posture, focusing on your core muscles. The exercises train your posterior chain muscles50 to work together, thus reducing your risk of lower back pain.

Foundation Training was developed by Dr. Eric Goodman51 after being told spinal surgery was his only option. His program teaches you how to optimize your posture and reduce your risk of injury by moving your body the way it was designed to. The program uses incorporates movements to help you move and breathe better, and does not require a gym membership or any type of specialized equipment.

Your core muscles, those surrounding your abdomen and back, can also be worked through the use of Pilates, kettlebell exercises or simple body weight exercises, such as the plank. Each of these may be done at home or at your favorite gym. They are important in helping to get to the root cause of many types of physical pain, which typically is triggered by improper posture.52

As you teach your body to work against gravity in the way it was designed, you’ll do more than build core strength but will also experience less pain and a greater ability to go about your daily activities. To this end, you’ll be able to find video demonstrations of many of these types of exercises in the Guide to Exercises.

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