why to exercise today


Why To Exercise Today: Train Now To Shovel More Safely Next Winter

By Rick Discipio
Guest contributor

Over 100 inches of snow fell in the Boston area this past winter, and tons of the heavy, wet stuff had to be shoveled out of driveways and walkways — not just a pain in the neck, but a potential pain in many other parts of the body as well.

Nationwide, an average of 11,500 snow shoveling injuries occur annually, including damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues. Lower back injuries are the most common.

So what can you do to avoid injury in winters to come if, as some predict, heavy snow becomes more common? To handle the stresses that snow-shoveling places on the body, you need a year-round exercise program. Consult with your doctor before undertaking any exercise program, of course, but here are my starter suggestions:

Begin with a basic total-body strength training program two or three times a week. Improving your strength will make daily routines (such as shoveling) less taxing and help with injury prevention. Strength training is any type of resistance training that includes free-weights, tubing or strength machines. The focus should be on strengthening the legs, hips, shoulders, abs, and lower back.

Basic strength training routine: Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: For Long-Term Weight, It May Matter More Than Diet


The usual wisdom goes: You really need to be active for your health, but you can’t count on exercise as a weight-loss method. Some people even gain weight when they ramp up exercise — and not just muscle mass.

But if you look at the big picture and the long haul, people who succeed at long-term weight loss tend to have high levels of physical activity. Now a new study of more than 5,000 Americans in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise finds a strikingly strong link between exercise and weight — arguably stronger than the link to diet.

The American College of Sports Medicine offers this summary:

The study found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was significantly associated with two measures of weight status – body mass index and waist circumference.
For both men and women and in all age groups, higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were associated with lower BMI and smaller waist circumference.
The associations of diet quality with weight status were much less consistent; higher diet quality was associated with lower weight variables in only a few gender and age groups.

Which groups? From the paper’s abstract: “Diet quality was inversely associated with the weight status variables only in men age 30–39, 40–49 (BMI only), and 50–59 and women age 50–59.”

And of course, if you’re in one of those cohorts now, you won’t be forever. More from the summary:

“The study also found that, as age increased, physical activity declined, diet improved, and BMI and waist circumference increased.”

In other words, even as we get more virtuous in our diets, we tend to exercise less and gain weight. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: It Could Help Your Partner Exercise, Too

(Lucky_sunny, Flickr via Compfight)

(Lucky_sunny, Flickr via Compfight)

Even if you’ve never heard of Nicholas Christakis and his splashy research on how our social networks affect our health, it’s simple common sense: We’re influenced by the people around us, and we influence them back.

Now, a new study presented at a medical conference even quantifies that influence a bit, among spouses. It found that over several years, physically active wives led to fitter husbands, and — to a somewhat lesser extent — active husbands led to fitter wives. From the press release:

The researchers examined records from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which in 1987 began following a group of 15,792 middle-aged adults from communities in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota and Mississippi. [Laura Cobb, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health doctoral student and co-author of the research] and her colleagues analyzed data from two medical visits conducted roughly six years apart, beginning between 1987 and 1989. At each visit, the researchers asked 3,261 spouse pairs about their physical activity levels.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults should exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous intensity for at least 75 minutes per week. Forty-five percent of husbands and 33 percent of wives in the study group met these recommendations at the first visit.

They found that when a wife met recommended levels of exercise at the first visit, her husband was 70 percent more likely to meet those levels at subsequent visits than those whose wives were less physically active. When a husband met recommended exercise levels, his wife was 40 percent more likely to meet the levels at follow-up visits.

Bottom line: “Your exercise regimen isn’t just good for you; it may also be good for your spouse.” The study was presented earlier this month at the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore.

Why To Exercise Today: Protection (In Mice) From Diabetes Effect On Heart

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 10.33.10 AM

You’ve probably seen those scary maps showing a wave of obesity engulfing the country over the last generation, as state after state converts to more-overweight-than-not. The map above comes from a similar animation, only the wave is diabetes. Watch the states turn alarming colors over time here.

For many of us as we age, Type 2 diabetes is not so much a question of “if” as “when.” So even if you don’t have diabetes now, here’s a bit more inspiration to help fend it off with exercise: Researchers report that — in mice, at least — exercise appears to protect powerfully against a potentially fatal heart complication of diabetes.

The complication is called diabetic cardiomyopathy, and it can lead to heart failure. It may not be first on your list of fears (especially if you’ve never heard of it before, as I hadn’t), but these new findings serve as yet another demonstration of the countless ways that exercise may defend you against health harms.  From the University of Virginia Health System’s press release:

“This is a proof of concept. It shows that an antioxidant coming from skeletal muscle that can be induced by exercise training can provide profound protection against an important detrimental disease condition,” said UVA researcher Zhen Yan, PhD. “The implication is if we can come up with a strategy to promote [this effect] in people who are vulnerable to, or already developing, diabetes, that could prevent the development of diabetic cardiomyopathy.”

Yan and his team used genetically modified mice to show that enhancing the production of a molecule called EcSOD – which is produced in skeletal muscle and promoted by regular exercise – would prevent the damaging effects of diabetic cardiomyopathy. These effects include stiffening and enlargement of the heart, which can lead to heart failure.

While the work amplified the expression of the molecule to levels beyond what normal exercise would produce, Yan said it’s an important demonstration of the concrete benefits of regular exercise in people. “Our studies show that even as little as two weeks of exercise could significantly elevate the level in the blood and the heart,” he said.

Yan says he’s also hoping to develop a pill that could help patients who can’t exercise, or boost the effect in people who can. Ah, yes, the eternal search for the exercise pill. Don’t hold your breath — better to huff and puff instead.

Why To Exercise Today: Breaking Down Your Kynurenine Could Fight Depression

(eccampbell via Compfight)

(eccampbell via Compfight)

Never heard of kynurenine? Me neither, until I read today’s Phys Ed column in The New York Times: How Exercise May Protect Against Depression.

It describes a recent mouse study in the journal Cell that puts forth a new theory for the power of exercise to fight depression. You may be familiar with the longer-standing wisdom that exercise spurs the birth of new neurons in the brain, which also somehow lifts mood. But Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds writes that the key to the effect may lie in the working muscles, which then affect the brain.

She describes a fascinating experiment in specially bred mice with high levels of PGC-1alpha1, an enzyme thought to guard against depression. The scientists came to focus on kynurenine, a chemical whose levels in the blood rise after stress.

Kynurenine can pass the blood-brain barrier and, in animal studies, has been shown to cause damaging inflammation in the brain, leading, it is thought, to depression.
But in the mice with high levels of PGC-1alpha1, the kynurenine produced by stress was set upon almost immediately by another protein expressed in response to signals from the PGC-1alpha1. This protein changed the kynurenine, breaking it into its component parts, which, interestingly, could not pass the blood-brain barrier. In effect, the extra PGC-1alpha1 had called up guards that defused the threat to the animals’ brains and mood from frequent stress.

Initial studies suggest something similar may happen in humans; more research is under way.

Why To Exercise Today, For Men: High Blood Pressure Hits Much Later

By Alvin Tran
Guest contributor

One out of every three American adults has high blood pressure. And, whether you’re a man or a woman, your blood pressure naturally increases with age, raising your risk of health problems from stroke to heart disease and diabetes.

But there is a silver lining – at least for men with higher fitness levels, a new study finds.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that men who maintained higher levels of fitness tended to develop high blood pressure significantly later than less-fit men.

“We think improving fitness can slow the natural increased trend of systolic blood pressure with aging,” says Dr. Xuemei Sui, an assistant professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and one of the study’s coauthors.

Sui and her colleagues’ data suggest the systolic blood pressure (the top number) of men with higher fitness levels reaches prehypertension – the level between normal and high blood pressure – at a much later age, on average: at 54, compared to an average of 46 in less fit men.

The research team analyzed medical exam records of nearly 14,000 men, ranging in age from 20 to 90, who were followed over a 36-year period. The research team divided the men into three equal groups of fitness: low (the bottom one-third), moderate, and high (the upper one-third).

Aside from the delay in the development of high blood pressure, the study also found that men in the higher fitness category had other more favorable health outcomes compared to those in the lower groups, including lower body mass index scores, percent of body fat, and cholesterol. These findings, Sui says, aren’t surprising. What was surprising, she says, was the significant delay in hypertension.

So, what should the men out there do?

“Physical activity is the primary determinant of fitness level,” Sui says.

Why To Exercise Today: It Could Make Your Wine Work For You

Another setback for the much-hyped compound resveratrol

Another setback for the much-hyped compound resveratrol

Ah, this study is as delicious as a heady red Burgundy. Just presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Barcelona, it found that both red and white wine are good for your health — but only if you exercise. The Atlantic reports here on the study, titled “In Vino Veritas”:

Among those who worked out twice per week and drank wine, there was significant improvement in cholesterol levels (increased HDL and decreased LDL) after a year of wine—red or white, no matter.

“Our current study shows that the combination of moderate wine drinking plus regular exercise improves markers of atherosclerosis,” said Táborský, “suggesting that this combination is protective against cardiovascular disease.”

The Atlantic piece is redolent of other rich flavors, and worth a full read — but for now, just think, if these findings are borne out, your workout could transform your (moderately consumed) mead into medicine.

Why To Exercise Today: ‘Survival Of The Moderately Fit’

crowded marathon runners


I know, it’s downright un-Bostonian of me to suggest that regularly running marathons is anything less than glorious. But a persuasive New Yorker article looks at the mounting evidence that extreme exercise really can be too much of a good thing — specifically, it may cause heart damage.

So if feeling anything less than super-fit has ever blocked you from working out, banish the sheepishness. From the New Yorker article, Extreme Exercise And The Heart:

[Cardiologist James] O’Keefe suggests that extreme exercise is “not conducive to great long-term cardiovascular health,” and cautions against the assumption that, if moderate exercise is good, more must be better. “Darwin was wrong about one thing,” O’Keefe says. “It’s not survival of the fittest but survival of the moderately fit.”

For those of us who believe that the “everything in moderation” rule applies to, well, everything, this argument makes sense. Exercise remains one of the best things you can do to improve your cardiovascular health, but you certainly do not need to run marathons to achieve the benefits. Moderate amounts of exercise throughout life are perfectly adequate. Athletes who exercise in extremes generally do so for reasons other than their health—competitiveness, professional requirement, compulsion. But recognizing that exercising more than a certain amount reaps no greater cardiovascular benefits is quite different than suggesting that this level of exercise causes cardiovascular harm.

For The Hard Core: The Gonzo Grown-Up Playground Workout In 10 Moves

Hanging leg raises (November Project)

Hanging leg raises (November Project)

Last month we posted The Grown-up, Full-Body Playground Workout In 10 Moves, aimed at middling-fit folks who might like to inject some fun, efficient fitness into their playground time. But what about the ends of the fitness spectrum, the beginner and the Herculean athlete?

We’ll do the beginner workout next month, but today, a playground workout for the hard core. Please don’t go beyond your abilities, get injured and sue. For many of us, this is just a spectator workout. Most of these moves make me laugh out loud and say, “Uh uh, no way I can do even one of those.” But I’m already imagining how some might be modified for the less superhuman among us, and I’m eternally impressed by this workout’s creators, The November Project.

What is the November Project? If you’re asking that, you’re probably not a young, fit Bostonian, because the NP is already legend in Beantown. Here’s the full backstory: Two Guys Walk Into A Bar And A Free Fitness Movement Is Born, and the movement has now spread to multiple cities across four time zones and counting. November Project co-founders Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham, always game for a challenge, designed this workout for the playground atop the huge hill — Summit Ave. in Brookline, MA — that NP participants run (and run and run) every Friday morning at 6:30. 

For the best results do three to four sets of all 10 exercises, with no rest in between exercises, no rest between sets, as fast as possible while maintaining a good form:

1. Alternating Single Leg Wall Jump: This is an advanced version of the step-up as it requires a jump at every leg switch. The leg switch is completed in the air. Ten reps each leg.

Alternating  single leg wall jump (November Project)

Alternating single leg wall jump (November Project)

2. Burpee Box Jump: From a pushup to a squat, jump on the bench, from the bench back down into the pushups. 10 reps.

Burpee Box jump (Courtesy November Project)

Burpee Box jump (November Project)

3. Corncob pull-up on monkey bars: Grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Do a pull-up, move your chin to one hand, move your chin to the other hand, come back to the center and down. As many repeats as you can, but no more than 10. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Just 20 Minutes May Yield Optimal Smarts


Truly some news you can use: A study out of National Taiwan Sport University suggests that if you’re facing a mental challenge — a tough exam, a job interview — and want to amp up your brain using exercise beforehand, 20 minutes (or 30 including warm-up and cool-down) may be the optimal dose. Runner’s World reports on the study here: How much exercise makes you smartest?

The study includes the gratifying finding that longer does not seem to be better, at least if you’re trying to score your best on the infamous Stroop Test:

In this case, the 45-minute session (55 including warm-up and cool-down) actually produced worse accuracy than the control condition, where participants just sat and read instead of exercising. So the message seems to be pretty clear: about half an hour of moderate exercise optimizes cognitive performance, and more than that may hurt it.

Now I’d just like to see a study on exercise dosing for optimal performance in public-speaking (or live-radio) situations. Anybody?

(Hat tip to Tom Anthony)