Best Future You – Harnessing Your Body’s Biochemistry to Achieve Balance in Body, Mind, and Spirit
My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.
Chapter 8 – Perform Your Best
Phase 4 – Fitness (especially lean body mass)
Participating in moderate exercise on a regular basis can reduce body fat, build muscle and bone, improve mental and emotional function, stimulate the immune response, and reduce appetite. Being physically active can also offset some of the destructive effects of chronic cellular stress. No drug can do all that! In terms of improving your general sense of well-being, exercise generates the production of dopamine and serotonin, both of which are “feel-good” anti-anxiety and anti-depression chemicals that are produced in the brain and are responsible for the well-known “runner’s high” that can help control the stress response. For example, Duke University researchers have reported that exercise (thirty minutes per day, three to four days a week, for four months) is more effective than prescription antidepressants in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.
One of the most important factors when it comes to exercise is your purpose for doing it: The “reason” you should be physically active has less to do with directly burning calories and losing weight (although those may be nice side benefits) and more to do with the fact that exercise can act as a “hedge” against the tendency for stress, sleep deprivation, aging, and poor diet to upset the body’s biochemical balance. Many people tend to overestimate the rate at which exercise can burn calories. They fail to realize that you would have to run a half mile to burn off every Oreo you eat and almost 90 minutes to burn off the calories in a Big Mac! So although it is true that exercise does burn calories, its primary value as part of your strategy for reducing cellular stress lies in its profound effects on restoring biochemical balance by modulating levels of cortisol, testosterone, growth hormone, serotonin, and other biochemical compounds in the Four Pillars of Health.
You might be wondering whether a “best” type of exercise will improve biochemical balance. In reality, the best form of exercise is anything—as long as you do it! You simply need to get out there and move your body for at least three to six hours each week (thirty to sixty minutes per day, six days a week). I know that many people claim they are “too busy” to exercise. In fact, being “too busy” is the most common excuse for not exercising. If you buy into that excuse, you need to accept the fact that your biochemical balance will never reach optimal levels and your cellular stress will be higher than it needs to be—simple as that. So I invite you to take a minute to think about all the things on which you regularly spend thirty to sixty minutes each day—television, newspapers, Internet, etc.—and then ask yourself if investing that same amount of time in your health and in how you feel and look and perform is worthwhile. If you commit to an exercise program, I promise that your investment will produce great rewards.
Because I know how difficult it can be to push back against the stresses you face in the twenty-first century, I have developed a set of exercise recommendations that are designed to deliver the most benefits within the shortest time commitment possible. The most effective way to use exercise to reduce cellular stress is with a three-times-weekly regimen of interval training (either running or walking). I think everyone would agree that walking is a pretty simple exercise that you can easily incorporate into your daily schedule. It doesn’t require any fancy or expensive equipment, and you can do it virtually anywhere. To get the most from your walking regimen, you’ll want to make sure you have a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes as well as approval from your personal health-care provider that it is okay for you to engage in moderate to vigorous exercise.
Walk outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of your own neighborhood or a local park when the weather is good. Or when it is rainy or snowy, walk around the mall. Many shopping malls have organized walking groups that meet before the stores open and the mall gets crowded with shoppers. When you get comfortable with walking on a regular basis, you can change the route and vary the intensity (walking faster or slower and adding hills or flats). Walking can also be part of developing your “mental” fitness as much as it serves as your “physical” exercise, because it can allow you some time to “get away” and to destress while your mind (and your body) wanders.
The Interval Training Plan described below has been used successfully by many of my clients and readers:
After a six-minute warm-up, the exercise alternates between high- and low-intensity levels as follows:
- one minute high intensity/one minute low intensity*
- two minutes high intensity/two minutes low intensity
- three minutes high intensity/three minutes low intensity
- two minutes high intensity/two minutes low intensity
- one minute high intensity/one minute low intensity
* Note that the intensity levels will be relative to your individual fitness level. A general guideline is that “high” intensity is not an “all-out effort” but rather a level that gets you breathing hard enough that you have difficulty carrying on a conversation with your exercise buddy. The “low” intensity intervals are easy enough to allow full recovery before your next hard interval—and also easy enough for you to talk without getting out of breath.
These eighteen minutes of interval training are followed by six minutes of easy cool-down exercise for a total duration of thirty minutes. Compared to exercising at a steady/moderate “fat-burning” pace for this same thirty minutes, the interval approach will burn more than double the number of calories (less than 200 versus more than 400) and will result in superior reduction of cellular stress via direct control of cortisol, testosterone, glucose, and other aspects of your biochemistry.
Exercise is a vital part of achieving the optimal levels of cellular stress associated with proper tissue repair. Whether we talk about joints, bones, muscles, tendons, or any other tissue, the right amount of the right type of exercise can help stimulate production of new collagen, removal of damaged tissue, and delivery of vital oxygen and nutrients. The body is designed to move. One famous philosopher commented that the human body is the only machine that breaks down from underuse rather than from overuse. (But your body can break down from overuse as well, as evidenced by the numerous overtrained athletes that I have worked with over the years.) In many ways, the motion of exercise or any type of physical activity can be thought of as lotion for your joints and other tissues. The simple act of moving your body helps hydrate joints and stimulate tissue repair throughout the body, while the act of sitting around like a couch potato sends a constant “breakdown” signal (also called “atrophy”) to your joint cartilage, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Thanks for reading – be sure to tune in for the next installment about “Phase 5 – Personal Achievement (Best Future You).”