In the same way as we can't just eat one kind of food, we can't stick to 'just' one form of exercise. In this article, Jon Barron of The Baseline of Health Foundations explains why you need to commit to multiple forms of exercise. Running or going to the gym every day and working out with weights every day won't cut it. You need it all: cardio/aerobic exercise, strength training, weight-bearing exercise, stretching, breathing, and balance. Also read our comments on how yoga measures up, and how you can vary up your practice to get the full complement of exercise.
by Jon Barron or staff member at The Baseline of Health Foundation
Many people take up exercise to lose weight, but the importance of exercise goes far beyond obesity. Exercise impacts almost every aspect of health. It can help you live longer, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol; reduce the risk of diabetes and of many cancers, including colon and breast cancer, reduce depression and anxiety, and enhance overall well-being and energy. To get these benefits, you need to make sure you get all the basic forms of exercise regularly. Let's take a look at each of these and what you can do to make sure your exercise regimen gives you the full benefits.
By definition, cardio/aerobic exercise is brisk physical activity that requires the heart and lungs to work harder to meet the body's increased oxygen demand. Aerobic exercise promotes the circulation of oxygen through the blood. The key part of the definition here is the word oxygen. The defining aspect of aerobic exercise is that it is of sufficient intensity to force the heart and lungs to work harder, and yet of low enough intensity to facilitate adequate oxygen transfer to the muscle cells so that no buildup of lactic acid is observed. Another way of looking at aerobic exercise is that it involves repetitive movement of large muscle groups (such as your arms, legs, and hips) with all of the needed energy supplied by the oxygen you breathe. When you're aerobically fit, your body takes in and utilizes oxygen more efficiently to sustain the repetitive muscle movement. Benefits include:
- Improved heart and lung function
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased blood supply to muscles and improved ability to use oxygen
- Increased HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
- Decreased triglycerides
- Reduced body fat and improved weight control
- Improved glucose tolerance and reduced insulin resistance
- Enhanced immune function, which means
- Increased resistance to viral and bacterial infection
- Increased resistance to cancer
- Lowered blood sugar levels and reduced risk of diabetes
- Longer life expectancy
There is a world of aerobic exercise to choose from. Choose one or two that you enjoy and can easily pursue. There's running, jogging, and fast walking. Biking (either road or mountain), and swimming are also good. If you belong to a gym or have home equipment, there are treadmills, elliptical trainers, spin cycles, and rebounders with more being invented and marketed all the time. Just pick one or two that you like, can do easily, and are willing to do.
Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Different yoga styles differ widely in how much aerobic exercise you get. A gentle yoga practice, and even a moderate practice, will not offer any of the benefits of aerobic challenges. On the other hand, more rigorous forms of Vinyasa yoga, Power Yoga as well as Ashtanga Yoga can offer plenty of aerobic activity, particularly when done at a fairly brisk pace. To vary up your yoga practice to get more aerobic exercise, include 5 to 10 sets each of Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B. You will be huffing and puffing in no time!
Strength training involves the use of weights or some other form of resistance to build muscle and increase strength. Its benefits include:
- Increased muscle strength
- Increased tendon and ligament strength
- Reduced body fat and increased muscle mass
- Better balance
- Lower blood cholesterol
- Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
Contrary to popular opinion, strength training is not just for young people. Studies have shown that people in their 70's and 80's can experience strength gains of as much as 180% in just a few weeks!
What kinds of strength training options are available? Again, as with aerobics, there is a world of choices. There are free weights, stacked weight machines, and Nautilus circuits at the gym. There's resistance training as found in Soloflex and Bowflex machines and push/pull resistance as found in the Delta Trimax machine. Then there's Pilates equipment and the Total Gym that use your own body weight as resistance. Any and all can work. Choose one that works for you and that you can do easily and are willing to do regularly.
It's worth noting that weight training is the ultimate way to burn calories fast. A pound of muscle burns up to nine times the calories of a pound of fat. In other words, strength training increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while sleeping or sitting. The trick is that muscle is active tissue. That is, it requires a lot of energy just to maintain itself. In fact, every pound of new muscle you add to your body will burn about 60 calories per day. Adding just 10 pounds of muscle to your body, will burn off 62 pounds of fat over the next year even while you are sleeping! And it will continue to do so the next year…and the next.
Editor’s Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up?—Strength training is most commonly done using external weights. But in many yoga postures, particularly standing postures, you can get similar benefits, using the weight of the body to build increased muscle, tendon and ligament strength, and enhance postural support.
Please note, however, that if you simply come into a yoga posture and hold it for a while, the main strength training your muscles will receive is isometric training. This mainly strengthens the muscle at the specific joint angle at which the isometric challenge occurs, but it may not strengthen the muscle throughout its full range of motion. To optimize strength training, add a Vinyasa component to your practice, and/or practice coming in and out of standing yoga postures several times, to challenge the muscles through their full range of motion.
Weight Bearing Exercise
Weight bearing exercise is actually a subset of certain aerobic and strength training exercises. It is exercise in which you force your body to support weight (your own included) while exercising. Studies have shown that weight bearing exercise can help slow down the rate of bone loss and osteoporosis, and therefore reduce fractures. How does it do this? First, weight-bearing exercise directly stimulates bone formation. Then, it strengthens muscles that in turn pull and tug on bones. This pulling action actually causes the bones to become denser and stronger. Weight-bearing activities at any age benefit bone health. Studies have shown that even people in their 90's can increase bone mass with weight bearing exercise.
The best weight bearing exercises are: weight-lifting, jogging, hiking with a back pack, stair-climbing, step aerobics, racquet sports, and other activities that require your muscles to work against gravity. Swimming and simple walking don't do the trick. One exceptionally useful form of weight bearing exercise is rebounding. The act of rebounding makes use of g-forces, just like astronauts training in a centrifuge. Rebounding can actually achieve momentary g-forces of 3.5, which means that the bones of a 150 lb person will momentarily have to bear 525 lbs. of weight on each bounce. That's a lot of weight bearing.
Note: the benefits of weight-bearing exercise are site-specific. This means that you strengthen only the bones used directly in the exercise. In other words, it's a good idea to participate in a variety of weight-bearing exercises. To maintain the bone-building benefits, the exercise needs to be continued on a regular basis.
Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Standing yoga postures offer plenty of weight-bearing challenge, and early research indicates that the weight-bearing challenge of yoga might even be sufficient to counteract the bone loss of osteoporosis. Dr. Loren Fishman, a frequent presenter at YogaUOnline.com, is doing pioneering research in the effects of yoga for osteoporosis with very promising preliminary results.
Stretching is the step child of exercise, with more lip service paid to it than actual practice. Stretching though is crucial to good health. The usual benefits cited include:
- Reduced muscle tension Injury prevention
- Increased range of movement in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
- Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)
Think for a moment of the opposite of stretching tightness and restriction. By definition, you are talking about constriction in muscles and soft tissue. Tightness and constriction mean reduced blood flow to that muscle and soft tissue, a reduced supply of nutrients to the area of tension, and reduced removal of metabolic waste from those areas. Areas that are tense and constricted, then, are breeding grounds for illness and organ dysfunction. Now tie in the whole concept of traditional Chinese medicine which says that all disease results from restrictions in the flow of energy in the body and the resulting energy imbalances that creates, and you can see that stretching is not just an issue of feeling good; it is essential for maintaining optimum health.
How Does Yoga Measure Up? According to Barron, yoga is probably the best stretching exercise there is, be sure to include long holdings in seated postures to increase flexibility. On days you don't practice yoga, do 5-10 minutes of simple stretching after your daily exercise routine as part of your cool down time.
Proper breathing is topic worthy of its own newsletter, but for now, let's just focus on the advantages of resistance breathing. The concept is simple: putting a device in your mouth that restricts (in a controlled manner) your inhalations and exhalations, which forces your lungs to work harder. This, in turn, strengthens the muscles that makes your lungs work and increases their capacity. There are a number of such devices widely available on the internet and in health magazines. They tend to run $20-40. The investment is well worth it since this type of exercise can significantly improve the strength of your respiratory muscles and increase your lung capacity.
How much of a benefit are we talking about? Studies have shown that these devices can increase breathing endurance by close to 300%. Considering how fundamental oxygen is to health, it's not hard to see the short and long-term health and performance advantages of doing so.
Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Can you say Uyaji breathing? A.k.a. Ocean Sounding Breath, Uyaji pranayama offers natural, comfortable resistance breathing with an added calming and meditative quality. Many types of Pranayama also improve the strength of the respiratory muscles and increase lung capacity.
One other key aspect of exercise is balance. Why? Because like all other physical abilities, it diminishes with age unless we consciously exercise it. Is that a bad thing? Only if you fall down and break your hip or wrist. Here's a simple balance exercise you can do daily. It takes just a couple of minutes and will produce quick improvement.
Stand while holding for support, with one hand, the back edge of a chair set beside you. Bend the leg nearest to the chair at the knee 90 degrees so that your knees are still together and the foot of the bent leg is projected out behind you.
Get used to balancing on the one leg while holding the chair.
Then turn to the other side and do the other leg.
Once you can comfortably balance like this:
- Try taking your hand off the chair and balancing on the one leg without support from the chair.
- As you get more comfortable doing this, try to stop using your arms for balance and pull your hands in, palms together in front of your chest, like in a Far East prayer position.
- This will force the act of balance to the muscles of one leg.
Once you can comfortably balance like this, try closing your eyes and holding the pose for 30 seconds.
How Does Yoga Measure Up? If you really want to improve your balance, many yoga poses are specifically designed as balance poses, utilizing arms, legs, hips the entire body, in fact. For best restuls, be sure to include at least 2-3 balancing yoga postures each time you practice.
Bottom line: Exercise fundamentally changes every system and function in your body. If you don't move you die. Keep at it, and have fun.
Material originally published at www.jonbarron.org. Copyright © 1999-2011. Baseline of Health® Foundation
Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
All rights reserved worldwide.
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