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7 Benefits of Exercise (and Why Weight Loss Isn't One of Them)

Dr. Mercola

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In a recent study, researchers took a group of sedentary, overweight men and women and over 18 months trained them to run a marathon. The men lost just a few pounds, and the women in the study averaged no change to their weight.  One reason may be that people tend to increase their caloric intake as they increase their exercise; diet and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to weight loss.

But exercise by itself has many benefits, of which Lifehack lists a few:

Increases your energy levels: The more energy you use, the more you have.

Improves the quality of your sleep: Exercise helps you get to sleep more quickly, and improves the sleep quality as well.

Helps combat chronic disease: Exercise helps improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and has been linked with delayed onset of dementia.

Improves your mood: Exercise promotes positive brain chemistry.

To see the other three benefits they list, and what they had to say about them, you can click on the link below.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The featured article lists several solid benefits of exercise. As many of you already know, I've been passionate about exercise for 43 years, so this is a topic close to my heart.

Now, I've written numerous articles praising exercise as a means to shed excess weight, however, there are certain factors that will determine your success in using exercise for weight loss, and aerobic exercise (such as running marathons) is typically not going to be very helpful. I'll explain why, below, and why using aerobics as your primary or only form of exercise may actually be a waste of time in general...

To build on the list of benefits created by Lifehack, here I will present seven more; including the kind of exercise you need to employ in order to shed those excess pounds.

Exercise is a Powerful Anti-Cancer Strategy

According to a 2000 study published in the British Medical Journal, which explored the relationship between exercise and cancer, exercise affects several biological functions that may influence your cancer risk. These effects include changes in:

Cardiovascular capacity Energy balance
Pulmonary capacity Immune function
Bowel motility Antioxidant defense
Hormone levels DNA repair

At that time, more than 200 population-based studies had linked exercise to your risk for cancer, particularly cancer of your:

Bowel Breast Endometrium
Prostate Testes Lung

More recently, a 2009 study showed that men with stronger muscles from regular weight training are up to 40 percent less likely to die from cancer. These findings suggest that muscle strength is just as important as staying slim and eating healthy when it comes to offering protection against deadly tumors.

One of the primary reasons exercise works to lower your cancer risk is because it drives your insulin levels down. Controlling insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risk. It's also been suggested that apoptosis (programmed cell death) is triggered by exercise, causing cancer cells to die.

Unfortunately, many public health guidelines still focus only on the aerobic component, and this limited activity can lead to imbalances that may actually prevent optimal health. This is why it's so important to maintain a well-balanced fitness regimen, that includes not just aerobics, but also strength training, stretching, and most importantly, high-intensity interval training (which I'll discuss next).

Exercise Increases Growth Hormone Production, IF Done Properly

Human growth hormone (HGH) is often referred to as "the fitness hormone." The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you will be. Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what's called "somatopause," at which point your levels of human HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age. The longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will experience robust health and strength.

Many choose to inject it, for this very reason, though it is a banned substance in many professional sports. I do not recommend injecting HGH however. I don't believe the potential side effects and the cost are justifiable.

Fortunately, your body produces it naturally when you exercise your super-fast muscle fibers, and this is one of the primary reasons why I'm so excited about Peak 8.

"Peak 8" is a term I coined for the kind of high-intensity exercises that promote HGH production. I've previously discussed how to properly perform Peak 8 in great detail, but to summarize the key concept: there are three different types of muscle fibers: slow, fast, and fast 2A (super-fast), and different types of exercises engage one or more of these groups of muscles. In order to naturally increase your body's production of HGH, you must engage your fast 2A muscle fibers.

Total Video Length: 0:22:17

Power training, or plyometric burst types of exercises will engage your fast muscle fibers. However, only high-intensity burst cardio, such as Peak 8 exercises, will engage your fast 2A fibers and promote HGH. Traditionally performed aerobic cardio only works your slow muscle fibers, and can actually impede natural HGH production by causing your fast 2A fibers to atrophy from lack of use. Peak 8 can be done with or without exercise equipment, although I prefer using a recumbent bicycle. Here are the key principles:

  1. Warm up for three minutes
  2. Then, go all out, as hard as you can for 30 seconds
  3. Recover for 90 seconds
  4. Repeat 7 more times, for a total of 8 repetitions
  5. Cool down for a few minutes afterward by cutting down your intensity by 50-80 percent

For more details, see my previous article Flood Your Body With This "Youth Hormone" in Just 20 Minutes, which includes an interview with fitness expert Phil Campbell who taught me these principles.

Want to Lose Weight? Choose the Right Exercise!

I want to address the claims that exercise is ineffective for weight loss. One of the reasons why people continue to struggle with their weight despite engaging in regular exercise is because they're not doing the right kind of exercise! Several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session. This has been shown to hold true even when the session is not done at an extremely high intensity. Ergo, if you want to lose weight, cancel your hour-long treadmill sessions and replace it with high-intensity interval training instead!

An added bonus: you can cut the duration of your exercise session in half. Yes, one 2007 study showed you can burn more fat exercising for 20 minutes than for 40 minutes!

In their trial, women either exercised for 20 minutes, alternating 8 seconds of sprinting on a bike with 12 seconds of exercising lightly, or exercised at a regular pace for 40 minutes. After exercising three times a week for 15 weeks, those who did the 20-minute, alternating routine lost three times as much fat as the other women.

The researchers believe this type of exercise works because it produces a unique metabolic response. Intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which allow more fat to be burned from under your skin and within your muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation is thought to drive the increased weight loss.

 Exercise Slows Down Your Aging

As mentioned above, human growth hormone (HGH) is a major factor that drives your aging response, and I just explained how to maintain your HGH production well into your senior years. However, exercise also has other 'anti-aging' effects. Numerous studies have shown that regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and osteoporosis, which are all common ailments associated with advancing age.

But even more exciting is the recent research into telomeres, and how they affect the aging process.

One anti-aging theory is that if you can control the aging process inside your cells, you should be able to control your rate of aging. Telomeres are located at the tip of each "arm" of your chromosomes, which are inside the nucleus of each of your body's cells. Researchers have discovered that each time your cells divide, these telomeres shorten. Once your telomeres have been reduced to about 5,000 bases, you die of old age.

Now, this telomere shortening process cannot be affected or stopped by exercise. However, the process can be accelerated by an unhealthy lifestyle. Obesity, lack of exercise, psychological stress, and smoking, all cause production of free radicals that speed up cellular turnover and telomere shortening. Therefore, it stands to reason that exercise plays an important part in the prevention of aging, particularly in the prevention of premature aging!

Exercise—A Potent Ally against Virtually ALL Chronic Disease

You've probably heard me say this before: exercise can help fight virtually all chronic disease.

But how?

The answer lies in its ability to normalize your insulin levels. Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body loses its sensitivity to insulin, which results in excess blood sugar. This in turn has long been linked with a host of diseases, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Insulin resistance is also a potent factor in the vast majority of all chronic diseases.

The increase in insulin-related diseases is largely due to the excessive consumption of fructose and carbohydrates in the average American diet, combined with a lack of exercise.  For more information on insulin's effects on your health, I recommend reading through Dr. Rosedale's classic and highly informative insulin lecture.

Exercise Increases Grace and Flexibility, and Can Offer Potent Pain Relief

Some claim that frequent exercise can have a harmful effect on your joints, but according to a 2009 review of studies on the relationship between regular exercise and osteoarthritis (a degenerative joint disease), that fear is completely unfounded. On the contrary, the evidence points to exercise having a positive impact on joint tissues. If you exercise sufficiently to lose weight, or maintain an ideal weight, you can in fact reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Now, if you've already developed osteoarthritis in your knee, you'll want to incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh, and stick with non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming and bicycling.

Certain forms of exercise are also known to ease back- and other musculoskeletal pain. Exercises that can be particularly helpful include stretching, resistance training, and swimming.

My new approach now is Pilates, which I started a few weeks ago. I do one-on-one training with a certified instructor who is obsessive-compulsive about doing the exercises properly, and I really enjoy it and look forward to the changes it will produce in my core strength and flexibility.  Yoga is another excellent exercise that many people use and enjoy. If you don't know where to begin, I have plenty of free tools on my web site to help you get started. My beginners' exercise page includes plenty of tips and guidelines, as well as links to other helpful information.

The Benefits of Increased Muscle Mass

It's unfortunate that so many, especially women, tend to avoid exercises that will increase muscle mass, because carrying more muscle has many health benefits, including:

Improved blood circulation Increased metabolism Increased bone density
Increased energy Decreased body fat Improved posture, range of motion and functionality of your body

Strength training is in fact recommended for both men and women of all ages, including seniors, and children as young as six years old. Muscle retention is one of the most critical elements of human fitness, as skeletal muscle plays key biological roles in keeping you strong, functional and healthy. Besides allowing you to move, your muscles also participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, protecting you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Muscle wasting due to lack of adequate exercise, disease or aging, leads to the loss of physical capacity, loss of physical shape, and increased risk for chronic disease.

Aside from conventional strength training, high-intensity interval training (such as Peak 8 exercises) will also promote muscle building. As fitness expert Ori Hofmekler explains in this previous article, researchers have found that intense speed- and push/pull drills trigger a mechanism in your muscles that actually promotes muscle growth. So these kinds of exercises eventually lead to increased muscle size, even though you're not lifting weights.

Even More Health Benefits of Exercise

In truth, there are so many health benefits from exercise; you could fill several books' worth. Here are several more:

Boost your IQ and think clearer Lower your blood pressure Fight off a cold Manage arthritis Lower your risk of heart disease
Cure insomnia Fight depression Cut cholesterol levels in men with type 1 diabetes Boost your sex drive, and prevent impotence Promote health during pregnancy for both mother and baby

If none of this motivates you to take the first step toward implementing a regular fitness regimen, I don't know what will!


Juy 13, 2011