by Charles Poliquin
Exercise is medicine. It has the power to transform your life for the better, but not just by enhancing your physical beauty. The true value of exercise transcends aesthetics. Not only does it keep your physiology youthful, exercise also has the following unbeatable benefits:
• Strengthens all the tissues in the body
• Cures metabolic diseases
• Accelerates recovery from diseases such as cancer
• Helps prevent injury and pain
• Improves brain function and learning
• Prevents memory loss and brain degeneration linked to Alzheimer’s
• Extends lifespan
• Improves sleep and reduces stress
• Enhances mood and reduces risk of depression
• Improves heart function and lowers blood pressure
• Enhances coordination and reaction time
• Optimizes reproductive health and libido
• Reduces the side effects of puberty and menopause
Regular exercise is even associated with having a higher income.
With all these benefits, it’s unbelievable that the vast majority of the population is not taking advantage of this simple, yet effective method for improving their well being!
The reason for our inaction is influenced by many factors too abundant and complicated to begin to address in this article. Yet, possibly the greatest factor in our failure to benefit from the therapeutic effects of exercise is our lack of skill.
Too many people don’t know what to do or how to do it. This article will give you eleven unbeatable benefits of exercise so as to convince you to learn how to train.
#1: Resistance training strengthens all tissues in the body.
It builds muscle, bone, and connective tissue. Mobility is enhanced, metabolism is accelerated, and reduced risk of injury and joint pain are reduced.
When most people hear the word “exercise” they generally think of running, cycling, and other aerobic forms of movement. These all count as exercise and are accordingly beneficial. Yet, the definition needs to expand because some of the greatest benefits of exercise come from resistance forms of exercise.
Everyone knows resistance training is the most effective way to build muscle:
For example, a study of men who had no training experience found that by lifting weights 3 times a week for 16 weeks with a hypertrophy program, they gained an average of 3.5 kg of muscle. They also reduced body fat percentage by 0.6 percent.
Average muscle gains from training may not be quite as robust, but it is still well worth the effort. Gains vary depending on training experience and effectiveness of the program, but most untrained people can expect to gain 1.5 to 3 kg of muscle over a 4-month period.
This increase in muscle mass is enormously beneficial: Muscle mass is a primary predictor of survival with cancer, it’s associated with longevity and lower disease risk, and increases your immune system. Having muscle is also your best defense against gaining fat.
Resistance training is also the best activity for building bone:
Retired elite athletes have much lower risk of developing osteoporosis than the general population. One study found that ex-athletes who regularly did heavy strength training as part of their practice had the strongest bones and lowest fracture risk of all people surveyed.
You can see how effective lifting is for building bone in a study of female college athletes in sports that included softball, basketball, volleyball, and track. They experienced an average 2 percent increase in bone mineral density over the course of a season due to the combination of time spent in the weight room and regular sport practice.
Lifting heavy things also builds connective tissue for better joint function:
In the same way that loading the body with weights builds bone it also builds tendons, collagen, and ligaments. There appears to be one difference: connective tissue gets stronger from loaded movement whereas bone responds simply to holding the heavy weight.
For instance, it’s well known that eccentric exercise increases tendon strength and size. Collagen and ligaments grow stronger by doing full range-of-motion exercises with moderately heavy loads. Deep barbell squats are one of the most effective exercises for increasing strength of the connective tissue that supports the knee joint.
#2: Exercise improves brain function, learning, and memory.
Both resistance and aerobic exercise have been found to improve brain function, though the distinct effects appear to be somewhat different depending on exercise mode. A recent study found that endurance exercise leads to release of a hormone called irsin that boosts expression of a “brain-health” protein called BDNF that acts in the part of the brain that is involved in learning and memory.
BDNF promotes the development of new nerves and synapses. The effect can be seen with a study that found that 6 months of aerobic training allowed older individuals to score better on recall, reaction time, and spatial memory tests that consisted of remembering a list of 15 random words and the location of dots on a computer screen.
This study also found promising results from a group that did resistance training, although overall the best results were in the aerobic exercise group.
Another recent study found that light exercise helps young people learn new material. Casually cycling on an exercise bike or walking on a treadmill has been found to be more effective for creating robust memories than more vigorous exercise.
That’s not to say more intense training can’t aid memory or brain function, just that light exercise appears to be most beneficial for stimulating certain chemicals in the brain that aid memory formation.
#3: Exercise cures metabolic diseases.
Exercise and diet interventions are at least as effective in treating type II diabetes as any single pharmacological agent.
A review of exercise interventions on various markers of metabolic disease came to the following conclusions:
• Light-intensity leisure time physical activity throughout the day can maintain insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar control, making it a first line of defense for the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
• Interval training is particularly effective at both moderate and high intensities for treating metabolic disease via fat loss, improved insulin health, and better glucose control. For instance, ten 1-minute intervals at 60 to 80 percent of peak power have produced significant benefits.
• Resistance exercise is most effective at improving insulin sensitivity. When training leads to gains in muscle, it enhances blood sugar management because this allows for greater storage reserves of muscle glycogen (basically, there’s more space to store blood sugar so it doesn’t turn into fat). Use training intensities of 50 percent or greater.
• Combining weight training and aerobics appears to be the most efficient strategy for treating diabetes: Lifting builds lean mass and enhances metabolic rate, while improving insulin signaling. Aerobic exercise improves the cells sensitivity to insulin giving the combination a potent effect.
• For those with full metabolic syndrome, low to moderate-intensity exercise (40 to 80 percent of maximal) in either a steady state or interval fashion is recommended depending on preference. Resistance training at a minimum intensity of 50 to 55 percent of the 1RM is suggested. Avoid training aerobics and weights on the same day.
#4: Increase your income simply by exercising regularly.
Possibly the most surprising benefit of workout out is that you are likely to earn more money if you exercise regularly. A large study of more than 5,000 twins from Finland (twins were used to control for unobservable genetic and family confounding factors) found that those who exercised more earned more money over a 15-year period. Physically active participants had incomes 14 to 17 percent higher than less active twins.
Researchers believe exercise enhances a person’s performance at work by improving their perseverance when facing obstacles. It increases their desire to partake in competitive situations. Goal oriented behaviors and higher self-esteem has been linked to exercising, and of course, the cognitive boost we get from exercise may play a role as well.
#5: Vigorous exercise protects you from the negative physiological effects of high stress.
Abundant studies show that regular exercise is protective against stress. For example, one marker of chronic stress is the length of something called telomeres that are at the ends of chromosomes. The length of your telomeres is inversely related to lifespan—the longer your telomeres, the better.
Exercise protects them. People who exercise regularly and experience chronic psychological stress have longer telomeres than those who don’t exercise but are under comparable amounts of stress.
The one exception is that if you exercise too much or too hard, it can have the opposite effect. Training all-out two or even three times a day for months on end will flatten the bodies autonomic nervous system, leading to a blunted ability to respond to stress. This is not a problem for the vast majority of the population, but if you find your training is stressing you out, remember, it’s just exercise.
#6: Exercise improves sleep and is extremely effective at reducing insomnia.
We talk a lot in the training and body transformation world about the need for sleep to get results. But, it goes the other way as well. Regular exercise significantly improves sleep quality and reduces the amount of time it takes to go to sleep.
There’s some evidence that moderate intensity training is better for improving sleep than high-intensity workouts. Moderate aerobic exercise was found to be most effective at treating insomnia and reducing sleep anxiety in older people.
In this study, high-intensity aerobic training was also tested but was not as beneficial. Ultimately, the best choice is whichever exercise mode you enjoy and elicits the least psychological stress.
#7: Train to lift depression—it works for clinical depression, a suppressed mood, and to relieve depression linked to disease.
We all know that training can make us feel good once we’re done, boosting our mood even if we aren’t depressed. The benefits of exercise on well being go far beyond that though.
Both resistance and aerobic exercise modes have been found to be as effective for reducing symptoms of depression as antidepressants. Studies show that choosing which mode of training to do depends on what your goals are, the type of social support you have, and resources such as if you know how to lift or have access to a trainer.
Meanwhile, in people recovering from a serious illness or a heart attack, it appears that combined low-to-moderate intensity training is most effective. The combination of resistance and aerobic exercise provides variety and improves multiple physiological systems to encourage trainees to feel better physically and mentally.
#8: Exercise improves reproductive health and boosts libido.
Exercise is especially effective at improving reproductive health and libido in people who are overweight or have diabetes because of how it balances hormones, boosting low testosterone and optimizing the cortisol curve.
In men, both resistance and aerobic exercise support reproductive health, but resistance training may be more beneficial because of how it improves body composition, building muscle mass and reducing body fat.
In women, studies suggest a similar benefit from weights because the muscle gains from resistance training have been found to improve estrogen metabolism.
The key for both genders is to not overdo it. It’s well documented that extremely high-volumes of intense training, particularly endurance, can have a negative effect on fertility. Both men and women can suffer from too much training, but females appear to be more susceptible to infertility from exercise
#9: Interval-style and resistance training reduce risk of heart disease.
In simple terms, heart disease occurs when not enough oxygenated blood reaches the heart. Exercise is very effective at reducing both your risk of developing heart disease and the progression of heart disease once you’ve got it because it improves the function of many inter-related systems in the body that influence heart function.
The typical form of exercise used for heart health is steady-state endurance exercise, but studies suggest that intermittent forms of training are more effective. A series of studies from Canada found that a cycle protocol of ten 1-minute intervals at 80 to 90 percent of peak power output with 1-minute rest significantly improved heart health via multiple functions in the body.
Intervals were more effective than endurance exercise and they have been found to have a higher adherence rate, possibly because they require less total training time (20 minutes plus a warm-up compared to 40-plus).
Many people may be turned off by the idea of “high” intensity exercise for people with heart disease, but consider that high is relative to the individual. Heart disease patients are not going to be competing with athletes, but with their own capacities. Use a heart rate monitor and other tools for monitoring training intensity.
#10: Resistance training is more effective than aerobic exercise for improving blood pressure—a fairly high volume and moderate intensity is best.
Studies show that to improve blood pressure, both in diabetics and healthy people, you can either go higher in intensity or higher in volume, but you need to get a decent amount of work done.
For example, circuit training for 50 sets using a load of 70 percent of the 1RM was more effective than a higher volume of circuit training with a 40 percent of the 1RM load. Both resistance workouts reduced blood pressure more than aerobic training.
#11: Resistance training is therapeutic for people recovering from cancer and other diseases.
Many people will be surprised to hear that exercise is appropriate for people recovering from disease. In fact, it is therapeutic and rejuvenating!
Recent studies suggest that efficiency is critical for people recovering from serious diseases: The goal should be to apply an effective exercise dose in as little time as possible, especially if a patient is suffering from general fatigue. Benefits include increased muscle mass, reduced inflammation, better mobility, and greater strength and power.
Eccentric exercise in which you lower the weight slowly and raise the weight forcefully is indicated because it is a high force, low perceived exertion mode that is superior for building muscle and improving coordination. Use brief exercise bouts with low volume for people special conditions.
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