“I am on board with changing my diet, but I don’t like exercising,” my reader says. “How important is it really?”
The short answer is: Very important, but not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect.
First of all, let me confess: I don’t like spending hours at the gym either. Who does? And with the busyness of everyday life, it becomes all too easy to blow off exercise.
That’s unfortunate though, since studies continue to reveal the vast benefits of regular, consistent exercise. Being sedentary is very dangerous for your health. People who habitually sit have as much risk of dying as people who have bad diets or smoke. Being sedentary also increases risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Put frankly, the lower your fitness engagement, the higher your risk of death.
I want to challenge you to change your perspective about exercise, but first of all let’s get clear about what exercise won’t do. The mantra of the government and food industry is that people should just eat less, choose a “balanced diet,” and exercise more. How’s that working out for you?
Despite what popular magazines might say, if you think you can exercise your way to weight loss, I am sorry to say you are in for a big disappointment.
Using exercise to lose weight without changing your diet is asking for failure. You can change your diet and lose weight, but if you exercise and keep your diet the same, you may gain some muscle, improve endurance, and be healthier overall, but you won’t shed many pounds.
Consider this: If you consume one 20-ounce soda, you have to walk four and a half miles to burn it off. If you consume one supersize fast-food meal, you have to run four miles a day for one whole week to burn it off. If you eat that every day, you have to run a marathon every single day to burn it off. And if you still buy into the “calorie is a calorie” myth, this blog will convince you otherwise.
Simply put, you cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet.
That said, combining a whole, unprocessed diet with the right exercise does wonders for your health. I don’t want you to get the impression that I don’t think exercise is important. It is an essential component of my Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet and my other plans.
In fact, if I could put something in a pill that would reverse almost every chronic disease, it would be exercise. If exercise could be put in a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster medication of all time.
Unfortunately, nearly half of Americans live a sedentary lifestyle and 88 percent don’t get enough exercise. No wonder we have an epidemic of broken brains and broken bodies!
Let’s consider some of the numerous reasons why exercise is important:
- Better insulin sensitivity. Exercise makes your cells and muscles more sensitive to insulin so you don’t need as much. Less insulin means less belly fat.
- Reduced stress. I often hear patients say a good workout relieves excess stress. That’s because exercise reduces cortisone – the stress hormone. Too much cortisol and you become insulin resistant and store belly fat. Too much cortisol also makes you crave sugar and carbs and seek comfort food.
- Improved brain health. Your brain on exercise performs so much better. Exercise improves memory, learning, and concentration. Vigorous exercise is a better antidepressant than Prozac. Exercise creates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDMF), which is basically miracle grow for your brain. When you exercise, your brain becomes more elastic. Exercise also helps to improve your mood, boost your energy, and reduce overall stress in your body and mind.
- Reduced risk for chronic disease. Exercise does this through several mechanisms. It protects your heart and reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. It reduces inflammation (the cause of almost every disease of aging). And it balances hormones, therefore reducing breast and other common cancers.
- Enhanced detoxification. Besides stimulating the colon, intense exercise allows your body to release toxins through your skin. It boosts detoxification of environmental chemicals. Vigorous exercise will help you work up a sweat, but gentle exercise keeps your circulation going and flushes out all the toxic fluids that build up in your lymphatic system. Even just lying on your back and putting your legs straight up against the wall for 20 minutes can make a huge difference. If your daily exercise routine doesn’t cause you to sweat profusely, take a steam or infrared sauna, if possible.
- Slowed aging process. If you want to turn back the clock figuratively, exercise becomes absolutely crucial. I will never forget a movie I saw in my 8th grade gym class about Larry Lewis. He would run five miles back and forth to work every day at (are you ready for this?) 105 years of age!.
- Improved sexual function. Increased circulation and more energy are two of many reasons that consistent exercise can spark up your sex life.
I hope you can see how exercise enhances nearly everything. “I haven’t exercised in so long, I don’t know where to begin,” some patients tell me.
I reply to begin every day with 30 minutes of moderate exercise. This can have an extraordinary effect on the rest of your day, jump-starting your metabolic engine and balancing your brain chemistry, blood sugar, and hormones so you make better choices.
If you already have a fitness routine, you can continue to do whatever form of exercise you enjoy for those 30 minutes.
If, up until now, exercise hasn’t been a regular part of your life, start with 30 minutes of brisk walking — or even slow walking, if that’s all you can do. If you can only do five minutes, start with that and do it twice a day and then work up slowly over the week. Walking is easy, it’s accessible to almost everyone, and it doesn’t require any memberships or fancy equipment.
As you get stronger, you can increase your exercise intensity and experiment with other kinds of activities.
Even with the most hectic schedule, you can fit in exercise with these three strategies:
- Make it a priority and think ahead. Human nature dictates that we are more likely to exercise if we’ve made it easy for ourselves. Get your sneakers out of the closet, choose whatever clothing you’ll be most comfortable in for walking, and make sure it’s clean and accessible. Let’s get the obstacle of preparation out of the way so you’re ready to lace up and go.
- Do it first thing in the morning. We all know how easily pushing exercise to the back burner and subsequently neglecting it can become. Do your daily exercise first thing in the morning to jump-start your metabolism and set your day on the right course.
- Make it fun. Getting into great shape doesn’t mean hours at the gym, plodding along on elliptical machines or suffering through classes lead by punishing drill-sergeant instructors. While I hate to exercise, I love to play. I find different things that keep me fit. I encourage you to explore all the fun things you may enjoy and save exercise for those times when you just can’t find a way to play on your own or with someone else. Vary up your routine and above all, make it fun. Some of my favorite ways to play include:
- Turn down the shades, turn up my favorite tunes, and dance with abandon
- Play a game (tennis, squash, tag, capture the flag, basketball, soccer, volleyball)
- Join a sports league where you can play in regular games with others of your skill level
- Find a friend to bike, walk, run, hike, or dance with
- Do seasonal exercise – cross-country ski or snow shoe in the winter, and then swim in a pond or walk on the beach in the summer. Keep it varied and interesting.
- Take a spin or dance class, like Zumba. Group exercise makes it easier.
- Do something different every day or at least every week.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to get moving to get all of exercise’s benefits. Simply put, you have to incorporate movement, fun, and exercise into your life. If you don’t, you’re not going to feel great. Start where you are and make it fun!
I want to know what you do to stay fit and have fun. Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD.