Continuing our Pillars of Health series this week, we are moving on to the subject of exercise. I don’t talk much about exercise. Honestly, when taking in the whole picture, exercise is third in line after mindset and nutrition. It made it onto my Pillars of Health list because, although your attitude and your diet are more important, you really do need to move every day. How you move is up to you.
The subject of exercise is nearly as divisive as diet among the fitness gurus online. All you want to know is what you should be doing and how often, and you get 15 different opinions about “The quickest way to get shredded abs”. Fitness bloggers who look like Amazon women give advice about how many hours a week you should be moving and what you should be doing as if they know you personally, Insta-yogis are doing crazy things on the beach, gyms are intimidating, group classes are cliquey, and home workouts are confusing. Where does that leave you?
Why Exercise is Important
First things first. Why do we need to worry about this at all? Excercise is necessary for healthy lymphatic function, cardiovascular health, and mitochondrial production–among many other things–like improved bone density, flexibility, muscle tone, increased EZ water–but for simplicity let’s just talk about the obvious.
Your lymph system flows upward through your entire body, picking up waste and delivering it to lymph nodes where it can be filtered. The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like the cardiovascular system, so the body needs to move to get the lymph to move. In this way, exercise is great for detox…and preventing cankles.
Most people know that exercise is good for their cardiovascular system (heart, arteries, veins). In a nutshell, the heart is a muscle and just like any other muscle, the harder it works the better it functions. Closely related is the pulmonary system (lungs). These two work together to pump oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. In order to keep them working in tip-top shape–which is necessary for a long health-span (life-span is how long you live, health-span is how long you are healthy)–you need to exercise regularly.
Mitochondrial function is a pretty popular topic in holistic health circles right now. Mitochondria are the energy-producing parts of the cell. They convert glucose (or ketones) into ATP which is what the body uses for energy. The more mitochondria you have, the more energy you are able to make. The more energy you are able to make, the better you feel, physically and mentally and the longer your health-span. How do you make more mitochondria? Exercise. This is how exercise gives you more energy.
You see, exercise puts stress on our bodies. Not the chronic, toxic type of stress that is killing us. Temporary, strategic stress is beneficial to all the areas mentioned above. When we’re subjected to controlled amounts of temporary stress, we are forced to get better. Healthy amounts of stress can even smooth out the negative effects that chronic stress has on our bodies. So, yeah, it’s pretty important.
What Type of Exercise Should You Do?
Fun fact: Did you know that the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps per day was started by the Japanese in an effort to get people excited about the Olympics? Then a pedometer manufacturer started promoting the idea to sell more pedometers, and there you have it…fitness advice straight from the place most health advice comes from. Marketing.
Here’s my take on exercise: Do what you like and what you can commit to doing on a regular basis. What do you like to do? Go do it. End of story.
As it turns out, short bursts of activity sandwiched between rest periods is more effective than endurance exercises (1). In this way, you can accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. This concept is called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). If you are short on time but want the best workout possible, HIIT is your jam. Read more about HIIT here.
Or go biking with your kids, running with your dog, golfing with your friends (without a cart), swim in the lake…Just do something. Walking is good for everyone. Take a walk around your neighborhood or in the park. One of my favorite things to do is hiking in the Black Hills near where I live (bonus: hiking in the forest is an excellent way to acquire new beneficial microbes, soak in nature, and get some fresh air and sunshine). If you like to dance try Zumba, sign up for a dance class, or get an app or DVD you can do in your living room. Try yoga, another of my favorites, or take a HIIT class, TRX class, Pilates class, or whatever is offered near you.
Ok, But What If I Can’t Find the Time?
Well, here’s the thing–time is one of those things you have to budget. Just like with finances, you can afford the things that you think are important. Think mindlessly scrolling through Facebook for an hour or binge-watching GoT is important? That’s what you’ll spend time on. Think going to the gym, or for a walk, or dancing for an hour is important? That’s what you’ll spend your time on. Which do you think will improve your health?
The most difficult thing about exercise is motivation. It is also hard to find the want to. Cocktail hour is much more fun. This is why finding something you like to do is important. It is also good to have someone hold you accountable. You don’t have to join an expensive gym, but many people find the membership motivating. “I paid for it, I might as well go.” Joining a group class can be motivating. Especially if you join with a friend. The simple fact that someone is expecting you to be there might help you show up. Signing up for a challenge can be motivating, too! What do you know, I happen to know of a challenge you can join right now.
A great piece of advice I heard the other day is: If you don’t feel like working out, go anyway and do the bare minimum. Just go to the gym and put the treadmill on 3. Commit to half an hour or even 20 minutes. Likely, after only a few minutes, you’ll decide that since you are there you might as well do your workout. No one ever regrets showing up and doing their workout. Ever.
If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!
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