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    • How to Increase Lung Capacity

      Because breathing is essential to life and your lungs are essential to breathing, I would like to share a number of tips to help you improve your lung capacity, which is a measure of how much air your body can use. As you may expect, your lung capacity can be improved through activities like diaphragmatic breathing, exercise and maintaining good posture. Some people with diminished lung capacity have found singing, laughing and participating in a breathing club to be beneficial activities that can ease breathing problems. Quitting smoking and optimizing your vitamin D level are other measures shown to promote increased lung capacity. Lung Function Versus Lung Capacity: What’s the Difference? It’s important to note lung function and lung capacity are different measurements. The Lung Institute defines these terms as follows:1 Lung function — A metric determined by the amount of air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can take in and release air from your lungs, as well as your body’s ability to oxygenate and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from your blood Lung capacity — The maximum amount of oxygen your body can use For simplicity, they state, “Lung function is how your body uses air while lung capacity is how much air your body can use.”2 Notably, your lung function cannot be improved — once it’s gone, it’s gone. Your lung capacity; however, can be controlled and improved. The American Lung Association (ALA)3 says your total lung capacity is about 6 liters and your lung function typically begins to decline after age 35, making breathing somewhat more difficult as you age. In terms of the impact aging has on your lungs, the ALA highlights a few of the body changes that may contribute to a decrease in lung capacity, including:4,5 Your diaphragm muscles can become weaker Lung tissue designed to help keep your airways open may lose its elasticity, causing your airways to become smaller Rib cage bones may change,6 leaving less room for your lungs to expand properly Air sacs lose their shape and become baggy Seven Tips to Increase Your Lung Capacity While breathing is often an unconscious activity, there are particular actions you can take to optimize your breathing, which in turn will have an immediate and beneficial impact on your lungs. As shown below, experts at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago provide seven tips to help you maintain healthy lungs and also boost your lung capacity.7 Keith Roberts, assistant professor and director of respiratory care clinical services at Rush University, suggests these techniques will benefit healthy people as well as anyone dealing with lung-related illnesses such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.8 1. Breathe using your diaphragm — Diaphragmatic breathing is so named because it creates awareness of your diaphragm, the large muscle separating your abdominal cavity from your thoracic cavity that plays an important role in breathing. "By concentrating on lowering the diaphragm as you breathe in, you'll get a much deeper inhale," asserts Roberts. "This is the technique professional singers use to increase their lung capacity."9 The COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) Foundation shares details on how to perform this technique, noting it is best used when you’re feeling relaxed and rested and when you are lying down or sitting back. For best results if you have COPD, ask your doctor or respiratory therapist to show you how to perform this type of breathing. To do diaphragmatic breathing:10 Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your upper chest, while focusing your breathing on your abdomen Breathe in and out in a manner to cause the hand on your abdomen to move slightly, while your chest remains as still as possible Keep your mouth closed and inhale and exhale through your nose only Practice this method of breathing two to three times a day for five to 10 minutes each It’s best to begin this type of breathing while lying on your back; later you can try it while sitting, then standing and, eventually, even when you are doing active tasks As presented above in his TED Talk video called “Shut Your Mouth and Change Your Life,” Patrick McKeown, one of the top teachers of the Buteyko Breathing Method — a technique named after the Russian physician who developed it — shares helpful advice about how to breathe properly. He says your goal should be to slowly decrease the volume of each breath, to the point it feels like you're almost not breathing at all. (You'll notice your breath getting very quiet at this point). He suggests you focus on the cold air coming in through your nose and the slightly warmer air leaving it as you exhale, while trying to develop a slight “air hunger.” This will result in a slight accumulation of CO2 in your blood so that it signals your brain to breathe. After three or four minutes of air hunger, notes McKeown, you'll start experiencing the beneficial effects of CO2 accumulation, such as an increase in body temperature and an increase in saliva. The body temperature increase is a sign of improved blood circulation, whereas the increase in saliva indicates the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is important for stress reduction. When you're breathing properly, your breath will be soft, quiet and light, McKeown suggests. It should not be audibly or visibly noticeable. By slowing down the speed of your breathing to the point where the hairs in your nose barely move, he believes you can more easily enter into a calm, meditative state. Seek to breathe less air into your lungs than what you were breathing before you initiated the exercise. Keep in mind the air shortage should be tolerable and not stressful, says McKeown. If the air shortage is too much, take a break from the exercise for 15 seconds or so and then start up again. This type of breathing not only helps your lungs, but it will also help lower your blood pressure, making it a useful, nondrug technique to address hypertension. Beyond that, you may notice you have less nasal congestion after applying this technique, which allows for easier breathing. For more breathing advice, review my article “Why Nose Breathing Is so Important for Optimal Health and Fitness.” 2. Count your breaths — With respect to this technique, you count how long a natural breath takes and then seek to increase the length of both your inhalations and exhalations. Avoid straining and allow the extension of your breaths to become a gradual, comfortable process. 3. Get regular exercise — At least 60 minutes of moderately intense movement daily, such as a brisk walk, jog or bike ride, is beneficial for your lungs. "Regular moderately intense activity is great for the lungs, and when you increase your daily activity you get three things done at once: healthy lungs, a healthier heart and a better mood," states physical therapist Jennifer Ryan, program coordinator in critical care at University of Chicago Medicine.11 Overall, exercise is beneficial because it makes your muscles more efficient, boosts your lung capacity, improves your circulation and strengthens your heart. Some of my favorite exercises include core training, high-intensity interval training, stretching, walking, weight training and yoga. Ryan suggests your lungs will benefit from intense activity, which also helps “counteract the buildup of toxins and tar in the lungs caused by environmental pollutants, allergens, dust and cigarette smoke.”12 4. Join a breathing club — If you have lung or breathing problems and are unable to exercise, Ryan recommends you join a support group known as a “breathing club.” The objective of these groups is to support you as you work on effective breathing techniques, as well as receive support and information to help improve your quality of life. According to Ryan, the ALA offers Better Breathers Clubs throughout Illinois and around the country. To find one near you, visit the ALA website13 or call (800) LUNG-USA (586-4872). 5. Laugh and sing more — "Laughing is a great exercise to work the abdominal muscles and increase lung capacity," says Ryan. "It also clears out your lungs by forcing enough stale air out that it allows fresh air to enter into more areas of the lung."14 In addition to laughing, singing may also help boost your lung capacity. A small 2015 study involving Indonesian students and spirometry tests indicated the lung vital capacity of choir singers (3.12 L) was greater than nonsingers (2.73 L).15 As presented in the video above, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) promotes singing for lung health.16 About the beneficial impact of the BLF’s singing groups, Linda, a COPD clinical nurse specialist featured in the video, said: “When [the singing group participants] first started, it was hard to get any notes out of them … now, they are actually singing whole songs. It’s quite amazing how much they’ve benefited from [singing]. It’s given them a much better quality of life, they’ve improved their lung capacity … some of them don’t seem to get exacerbations of their COPD anymore, and they are using their inhalers less.” 6. Maintain good posture — Given their location and the fact your lungs are soft structures, poor posture can influence your lung capacity. About the importance of maintaining good posture and taking occasional stretch breaks, Ryan states:17 "You want to occasionally sit tall and reach overhead, to make more room for your lungs. A simple technique for giving your lungs even more room is leaning back slightly in a stable chair, lifting the chest and opening the front of your body as you breathe deeply.” Based on a 2006 study18 evaluating the impact of different sitting postures on lung capacity, expiratory flow and lumbar lordosis, the study authors concluded slumped sitting significantly decreased all three measures. If your breathing is negatively impacted by long hours of sitting, especially if you have a desk job, you might consider investing in a standing desk, which I use personally and highly recommend. 7. Stay hydrated — Just as proper fluid intake is vital to the health of your other organs, drinking sufficient water on a daily basis is important to maintain healthy lungs. "Staying well hydrated by taking in fluids throughout the day helps keep the mucosal linings in the lungs thin," Ryan comments. "This thinner lining helps the lungs function better."19 Smoking Has a Huge Negative Effect on Your Lungs As you may expect, smoking is one of the quickest ways to damage your lungs, especially in terms of diminishing your lung capacity. While smokers are quick to assert smoking boosts their mood, while improving concentration and short-term memory, it’s clear the many negative effects far outweigh those so-called benefits. Obviously, the pleasurable sensations associated with smoking come about because nicotine, which is highly addictive, stimulates dopamine in your brain. Because a smoker’s nerve cells become immune to the pleasure brought on by smoking, they may need to continually increase their intake of nicotine to achieve the desirable feelings. Though touted as a safe substitute for regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes also damage your health. As you’d expect, smoking can trigger respiratory problems, mainly because your lungs are equipped with a layer of internal mucus that acts as a protective shield against inhaled foreign materials. In healthy people, these contaminants are wiped off by small hairs called cilia. However, if you smoke, your cilia do not function properly and foreign substances can build up and become trapped in your lungs. In addition, smoking can trigger or make an asthma attack worse and it may cause COPD. Because the health risks associated with smoking are not limited to your lungs but, rather, affect every organ in your body, quitting can add years to your life. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, including more than 41,000 from exposure to secondhand smoke.20,21 If you are looking for more incentives to quit, keep in mind smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, guns, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and illegal drugs combined, and it shortens lives by about 12 years for male smokers and 11 years for female smokers.22 In addition, smoking accounts for about 30 percent of all cancer deaths and about 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths in the U.S.23 Vitamin D Shown to Promote Lung Function A 2018 Australian study24 asserts higher vitamin D levels are associated with better lung function. A cross-sectional analysis of more than 5,000 adults — mean age 58 years, 45 percent males, 10 percent current smokers and 12 percent taking vitamin D supplements — suggests there is a link between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) and respiratory disease. The study authors stated, “Low levels of serum 25OHD were independently associated with asthma, bronchitis, wheeze and chest tightness … Higher vitamin D levels were associated with higher levels of lung function.”25 They noted participants with vitamin D levels of more than 40 nanograms/milliliter (ng/ml) had higher forced vital capacity than those with lower vitamin D levels. Although the study suggests a vitamin D level greater than 40 ng/ml is healthy, I recommend you maintain a level between 60 to 80 ng/ml for optimal health and disease prevention. The best way to raise your vitamin D is by regularly and sensibly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine. Depending on where you live, that might not be possible so you’ll want to take an oral vitamin D3 supplement along with vitamin K2, calcium and magnesium. Because they work synergistically, you need all four to ensure proper balance and maximum effectiveness. You can determine your maintenance dose of vitamin D by measuring your blood level, which I suggest you check at least twice a year, in summer and winter, when your levels are at their highest and lowest, respectively. Checking your vitamin D level is particularly important if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you have cancer, including lung cancer. I encourage you to act today to improve your lung capacity. It’s worth every breath. Dr. Mercola

    • No Time for the Gym Today? Try This at Home

      Regardless of your age or gender, strength training is an integral part of any well-rounded exercise program. Unfortunately, when designing an exercise plan, many ignore strength training, thinking it's only for those who want to gain bulky muscles. You can put those worries to rest, since muscle growth is largely controlled by your genes and food intake, and few have the potential to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The size of your muscle growth is also limited by your age, body type, gender and other biological and genetic factors. There are significant benefits to adding resistance training to your fitness routine as it has mental, emotional and physical benefits. Exercise may even help reverse diseases triggered by a sedentary lifestyle, such as Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Despite a significant number of benefits, you may sometimes find it difficult to get to the gym. When you're unable to find the time for a strength workout, consider using the routine outlined below. Being persistent increases the potential you’ll experience many of the health benefits associated with strength training. Enjoy Multiple Benefits With Strength Training Strength training is a core foundation to your overall health. In a meta-analysis of 16 previously published studies evaluating the effect of strength training on anxiety, the data demonstrated resistance training was associated with a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, whether or not the participant had a diagnosis of a mental health disorder.1 Strength training also helps prevent the natural loss of skeletal muscle that occurs with advancing age, called sarcopenia. This is an important factor in the loss of independence and functional decline. Sarcopenia is defined by a loss of muscle strength and mass attributed to factors such as hormonal changes, neurological decline, poor nutrition and declining activity. The gold standard and safest way to hold off age-related decline will always be exercise and nutrition. In one study,2 researchers demonstrated strength training reversed muscle atrophy in 70-year-old participants. As it improves your muscle mass, it also reduces your risk of osteoporotic changes to your bone and thus prevents broken hips, wrists or vertebrae from calcium loss and thinning. The growth in muscle mass also boosts your metabolism and helps you to lose or maintain your weight, as well as prevent damage to your joints. Inactivity and muscle loss increases the potential damage to large joints, leading to arthritic changes and pain, while exercise helps prevent these changes.3 Resistance training also helps reduce shrinkage of white brain matter and impacts your cognitive function. Researchers evaluated a 12-week strength exercise program in the elderly and found sedentary women demonstrated a 19 percent improvement in cognitive ability.4 The combination of upper and lower body strength helps reduce the potential for functional decline and maintain independent living, and researchers5 have found elderly individuals are typically more afraid of losing their independence and moving into a nursing home than they are of dying. The benefits of resistance training effectively reduce the signs of aging, improve muscle tone, cognitive functioning and increase the potential you'll remain independent as you age. Why Load Bearing Exercises Are so Important for Your Health Many of the benefits from strength training come from load bearing exercise. Load bearing helps to counteract bone loss, which accelerates as you age and outpaces your body's ability to create new bone. Bone and muscle loss are compounded by a sedentary lifestyle, increasing your risk of loss of mobility. Weak muscles in combination with a brittle bone structure are a recipe for crippling and disabling falls. Additionally, strength training: • Improves your insulin sensitivity — Mark Peterson, assistant professor of physical medicine at the University of Michigan, notes: "Muscle is very metabolically active, and it uses glucose, or blood sugar, for energy."6 Thus activity reduces your risk of insulin resistance. • Reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome — This cluster of conditions includes a large waist circumference, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which raises your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Research shows working with weights for just under an hour per week can cut your risk of metabolic syndrome by 29 percent.7,8 Other research has found a twice-weekly resistance training program improved insulin sensitivity and reduced abdominal fat in older men who had already developed Type 2 diabetes, without any dietary changes.9 • Reduces perimenopausal symptoms in women — Symptoms of perimenopause, including anxiety and depression, mood swings, irregular periods, weight gain and brain fog, are reduced with strength training. In part these changes are the result of increasing production of testosterone, typically thought of as a male sex hormone. During menopause, natural levels of testosterone may drop by as much as 50 percent.10 Although women should not take testosterone supplementation, improving your natural production using strength training is a safe way to address perimenopausal symptoms. • Lowers inflammation — Resistance training lowers inflammation in your body, a hallmark of most chronic disease, especially heart disease and cancer. Strength Training Also Improves Cardiovascular Fitness Cardiovascular exercise is the performance of a physical exertion during which your heart and respiratory rates accelerate. It's important to include some form of cardiovascular and high intensity training in a well-rounded fitness program, as well as strength or resistance training. Fitness experts note you cannot fully access your cardiovascular system unless you are performing mechanical work with your muscles. So strength training is also a cardiovascular workout. Your heart has two primary metabolic processes to fuel the muscle. Aerobic activity requires oxygen for fuel and anaerobic activity does not require oxygen. Traditional strength training and cardiovascular exercise primarily uses oxygen while high intensity training (HIIT) and SuperSlow strength training works your aerobic and anaerobic processes. SuperSlow weightlifting techniques remove the momentum sometimes employed during strength training. By not allowing the muscle to rest, muscle growth is supercharged, as it has to continuously work throughout the entire movement. While the following bodyweight-based strength training routine does not use SuperSlow weight training or HIIT, it does offer you the ability to continue your program without missing a beat when you don’t have gym access. Strength Training Basics No matter the type of strength training you engage in, there are two basic terms you must understand: Reps — A rep (repetition) indicates one complete motion of an exercise. Be mindful of performing each rep using full range of motion. Set — A set is a group of reps. If you performed two sets of 10 reps of bicep curls, this means you did 10 bicep curls, rested, then did 10 more. How many reps you do depends on your fitness level, goals and weights. To build strength using heavy weights, it's generally recommended to do one to six reps per set. If you are working out for bulk, use moderately-heavy weights that allow you to do at least eight reps, but no more than 12. For tone, endurance and general conditioning, aim for 10 to 12 reps using more moderate weights or 15 to 20 reps with lighter weights. Note: The number of reps you do is based on what you can achieve to the point of exhaustion or muscle “failure;” in other words, when you can’t do any more reps in the set.11 If You Can’t Make It to the Gym Consider These Exercises at Home This one-minute video demonstrates a simple routine you can do at home without any equipment. Depending upon the speed at which you do the reps and the time you rest between sets, this routine can easily become a cardiovascular workout as well. Do one set of each exercise and move on to the next. Consider doing a second set after completing one full rotation as your strength and endurance improve. Remember to use correct form to reduce your risk of injury. While you may be familiar with many of these exercises, to reduce the potential for a muscle strain or other injury it’s important to review and follow the proper form for each exercise. Gently stretch your arms and legs prior to doing your first set. 30 Jumping jacks — This an efficient cardiovascular exercise often used to warm up prior to strength training or cardiovascular exercise.12 Start by standing straight with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms to your side. Jump up, spreading your legs out and raising your arms above your head at the same time. Jump again to return your feet to shoulder width apart and your hands back to your side. This is one repetition. Do 30 repetitions for one set. 30 Squat holds — This primal movement is mastered by babies first before standing and walking. It is a base for many activities, from sitting in a chair to lifting heavy objects. The activity helps build your leg, back and core muscles and helps improve circulation in your legs.13 Each of these factors improve your strength and posture, reducing your risk for back injury. The trick to doing this movement with proper form is to imagine there is a chair behind you.14 Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and your feet pointed straight ahead. The squat starts by driving your hips back, and then bending at the knees and ankle. Press your knees open as you sink into a squat position and go as deep as you can comfortably. If you have knee pain, don't go deeper than a 90 degree angle in your knees, keeping your thighs parallel to the floor.15 Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to standing. 20 Calf raises — The standing calf raise helps develop the strength of your lower leg and improves the range of motion and strength in your ankle.16 While doing this movement, resist making it bouncy and instead control raising and lowering your body throughout. Once you are adept at doing these on flat ground, consider increasing the intensity by doing them on stairs, placing your toes on the step with your heels hanging over. This allows you to drop your heel as you lower your body and achieve a greater stretch in your ankle. Be sure to keep your legs straight throughout the motion. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart on the floor. Use the wall or a chair to stay balanced when you begin. Push your weight into your toes and raise your heels off the floor. Pause at the top and then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. This is one repetition. 20 Crunches — Attempting crunches the wrong way may lead to back pain and muscle cramps. Traditional situps pull at your neck and back muscles and activate your hip flexors.17 While doing your crunches, keep your mind on the muscles you’re exercising. This helps you to activate your abdominal muscles and relax your neck and back. Start by lying with your back flat on the floor. Bend your knees to 90 degrees, or rest your feet on the seat of a chair. Cross your hands over your chest. Keeping a fist’s worth of space between your chin and chest, draw your belly button toward your spine and crunch up, lifting your shoulders off the ground without raising further than your midback. Be careful to use your abdominal muscles while keeping your neck, leg and thigh muscles relaxed. Exhale as you crunch up and inhale as you lie down. 30-Second elbow plank — Using tension without contraction in your legs, back, abdominal and arm muscles, this isometric exercise is a true test of core strength. Performing the exercise consistently improves your strength and posture, and reduces your risk of injury. However, there are a few common mistakes that may trigger muscle strain and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Begin on the floor, with your legs extended, toes on the floor and your elbows shoulder width apart and directly under your shoulders. Then, raise your midsection up into plank position. It is important to keep your back straight from buttocks to your head, not allowing your back to sag or to raise in the middle.18 Keep your eyes focused on the floor approximately 6 inches in front of you, so your head and neck are in alignment with the rest of your body. Hold this position for 30 seconds. As you get stronger consider increasing the time to one minute or more. 10 Burpees — This exercise was developed in 1939 when Royal H. Burpee invented the bodyweight movement as a simple way of administering a fitness test. Over the last 75 years it has evolved to a six-count movement that may or may not include a pushup. In the video above, our trainer demonstrates a burpee using a modified pushup. CrossFit coach and nutritionist Erica Giovinazzo believes the burpee is a good fitness tool since they require use of the whole body through multiple planes, saying:19 “If I were to run, or row, or even do something like jumping jacks or jump rope, I'm pretty much staying in one spot, or just moving straight ahead. A burpee makes you go up and down and up and down. This increases the heart rate dramatically.” The demands of the burpee are intense and are a great way to end this short workout. The greater the intensity of the movement, the higher the post-exercise elevation in your metabolism and the greater improvements you’ll experience in cardiovascular health. You begin the burpee by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands at your side. Squat and place your hands on the floor in front of you just outside of your feet. Jump both feet back so you're in a plank position. At this point you can drop to a pushup or do a modified movement seen in the video above. You may also drop to your knees and do a pushup. Once completed, push back into the plank position and jump your feet back in toward your hands. Now explosively jump into the air, raising your hands straight overhead. This is one repetition. Aim for at least five burpees the first time, working up to 10 repetitions. Dr. Mercola

    • Study: Lack of Exercise Is Worse Than Smoking

      Exercise is one of the best preventative strategies you can use against many common ailments, from psychiatric disorders to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.1 Studies2 have also confirmed prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for disease and early death.3 This has a high cost on society, contributing to billions of dollars each year in health care costs and lost productivity.4 In one study,5 data from over 1 million individuals worldwide found a lack of physical activity had a global price tag of $67.5 billion in 2013. According to the researchers, activity is also the cause of more than 5 million deaths per year. To put this into perspective, smoking kills nearly 6 million annually. However, while getting exercise each day, during which your heart and breathing rate increase, is important, nonexercise movement is also critical to your overall health. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association6 evaluated over 120,000 patients and found cardiovascular fitness was a modifiable factor that had a greater impact on your risk of death than smoking, diabetes or heart disease. Lack of Exercise Raises Risk of Death Greater than Smoking, Diabetes or Heart Disease The study was led by Dr. Wael Jaber, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. His team retrospectively studied over 120,000 patients who had previously undergone exercise treadmill testing at the Cleveland Clinic between 1991 and 2014.7 They measured all-cause mortality relating to the benefit of exercise and fitness, finding 12 percent of the participants had the lowest exercise rate. Although science has studied how a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health, the authors of the featured study were specifically interested in the effects of aerobic exercise. Data collection and analysis on sitting for long hours sparked adaptations in the workplace, such as standing desks and walking workstations.8 Results of the featured study indicate aerobic fitness is as important. An analysis of the data from Cleveland Clinic revealed those with a sedentary lifestyle had a 500 percent higher risk of premature death than those who were extremely fit.9 This is three times higher than the risk posed by smoking.10 The researchers warned the results do not imply smoking is acceptable, but rather exercise and movement are imperative to good health. In their findings, the researchers explained those with extremely high aerobic fitness had the greatest survival rates and fitness was associated with benefits in senior seniors and those with hypertension. Jaber commented on the results, saying:11 “Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic or being a current smoker. We’ve never seen something as pronounced as this and as objective as this. Being unfit should be considered as strong of a risk factor as hypertension, diabetes and smoking, if not stronger than all of them. It should be treated almost as a disease that has a prescription, which is called exercise.” Your Desk Job May Be Killing You In another study,12 researchers found those who are in a desk job are almost twice as likely to die young. What’s more, their results indicated this applies even if you exercise regularly. Those who participated in the study used a fitness tracker at least four days each week, which revealed most were inactive for 12.3 hours out of a 16-hour waking day. Data were collected from nearly 8,000 people aged 45 throughout the U.S. Individuals who were more sedentary, sitting for 13.2 hours each day, were 2.6 times more likely to die early than those who spent less than 11.5 hours of their day inactive. Your body has nearly 300 joints and was made for movement. However, the rising tide of technology has created an amazing number of ways to share information and increased the number of hours you remain seated. Sitting between nine and 12 hours each day cannot be counteracted by one 30- to 60-minute workout. While sitting is not inherently dangerous, the danger is in the amount of time you spend in the chair. Consider the number of hours you spend commuting to work, sitting behind a desk, eating meals and watching TV in the evening. It's easy to see how 10 to 12 hours of time can accumulate quickly. Brief periods of sitting is more natural than the extended number of hours to which most have become accustomed. Proper Posture While Sitting Reduces Strain and Engages More Muscle While many recommend standing for 10 minutes out of every hour, I believe this is far from ideal. It seems far wiser to strive to sit as little as possible each day to enjoy a significant number of benefits I discuss in my previous article “The Importance of Standing More, Sitting Less.” When it is necessary to sit, it's important to use good posture to help reduce problems with lower back pain, wrist strain and other physical challenges. Correct posture activates more muscle and prevents muscle strain that may lead to chronic pain. Remember when sitting do not cross your knees and avoid twisting at the waist, but instead turn your whole body. In a correct posture you:13 Sit with your back straight and shoulders back, pulling your shoulder blades down. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair and your head should remain upright, all of which engage your core muscles. Distribute your body weight evenly over both hips, with your knees bent at right angles, your feet flat to the floor. Place your computer screen at a height allowing your head to remain level. This may mean getting an external keyboard to allow the keyboard at hand level and the screen at eye level. Avoid sitting for more than 20 minutes. Get up, walk, stretch or walk briskly for several minutes. This not only helps to reduce the effects of sitting, but it increases your blood flow and improves your creativity. When standing from the sitting position, move to the front of your seat and then stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist as this places additional pressure on your lower back. Consider a lumbar roll or back support while driving. Your knees should be at the same level or slightly higher than your hips. Move the seat as close to the steering wheel as necessary to support the curve of your back while keeping your elbows bent and your feet easily reaching the pedals. Exercise Lengthens Life and Improves Quality of Life While working out helps you to burn a few more calories each day, the truth is you’ll never be able to out-exercise what you eat. The magic behind losing weight includes exercise, but does not rely on it. Consider making several changes to your diet to attain optimal health and weight, many of which you’ll find in My Updated Nutrition Plan. If you’ve never included exercise in your daily routine, you may be surprised by the benefits you’ll experience resulting in gains to your physical and mental health. Some believe it may be difficult to include exercise in their schedule, but after enjoying improvements in their health, wonder why they didn’t start earlier. Here are just a few health gains you can expect: • Boost your brain health — In a study14 of adults aged 60 to 80, researchers found those who were most physically active had better brain oxygenation and better patterns of brain activity. These improved patterns were associated with greater cognitive function. The participants got their benefits from staying active and moving each day, such as walking, gardening and moving about. Exercise has also been linked to lower rates of depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. One reason for the benefits is the activation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in your brain,15 which preserves existing brain cells and activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, effectively making your brain grow larger. • Feel happier — Exercise helps improve your mental outlook. A study by Princeton University researchers16 revealed exercising creates new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter, which inhibits excessive neuronal firing and helps to induce a natural state of calm. Anandamide levels also increase with exercise,17 which may be involved in increasing BDNF. • Slow aging — Exercise helps you look and feel younger as it helps improve your sleep patterns, lowers your risk of chronic disease and helps you become more flexible. Exercise also changes mitochondrial enzyme content and activity, increasing your cellular energy production and triggering mitochondrial biogenesis,18 the process of forming new mitochondria in your cells. These changes significantly reverse age-associated decline. Greater circulation and oxygen flow to your skin promotes overall skin health and helps to heal wounds. Greater skin improvements are experienced using resistance training, such as lunges, pushups and planks. This increases lean muscle mass under the surface, making your skin appear more taut and lifted. • Recover faster from chronic disease — Those suffering from chronic diseases used to be cautioned against exercise. However, it is a crucial part of cancer treatment19 that may speed successful recuperation and lower the risk of recurrence. Exercise also benefits those who suffer from joint pain,20 may be a key treatment for people suffering depression or anxiety21 and helps those recovering from stroke.22 • Shrink your fat cells — Exercise is one pillar in a plan for weight management. One of the benefits of consistent high-intensity exercise is the use of fat as a preferred source of fuel. Research data23 suggest when healthy but inactive people exercise intensely but briefly, it produces an immediate change in their DNA, some of which specifically promotes fat-burning. Your Exercise Program Need Not Be Time Consuming Even eating the best diet, you need to stay active and exercise on a regular basis to optimize your health and longevity. As the featured study demonstrated, a significant risk factor for premature death — exercise — is both modifiable and reversible. Both cardiovascular exercise and nonexercise movement are essential. One way of looking at the benefits is nonexercise movement helps to optimize your health and quality of life, while cardiovascular exercise may help you to live healthy significantly longer. One of the keys to optimal health is to remain as active as you can during the day and use an exercise program you will consistently follow. If you are new to exercising and fitness, working out for 45 minutes a day may seem overwhelming. However, using high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts yields greater fitness benefits in less time than longer low- or moderate-intensity workouts. Your body is biologically programmed to respond to intense bursts of activity. But, since this is something many no longer do in the course their daily routine, consider seeking it out in a HIIT program. You’ll find a seven-minute exercise program you can do at home suggested in my previous article, “Can 7 Minutes of Exercise Really Help Keep You Fit?” A secondary option to include with HIIT is the nitric oxide dump, which stimulates your body's release of nitric oxide to improve your mitochondrial health, slow age-related muscle decline and boost your heart health. The exercise involves just four movements, which I demonstrate in the video below. It takes just three to four minutes and should be repeated three times a day with a minimum of two hours between each session. How to Creatively Include Movement in Your Daily Routine Standing and moving helps with weight management and productivity. If you're at a loss as to how to creatively incorporate more movement into your day, there are several ways to accomplish this at home and at work. Discuss the options of walk and talk meetings with your company's administration, stressing the increased creativity and lower health costs they may enjoy. At home and at work, you may consider moving objects you commonly use out of your immediate reach so you must get up to throw something away or to grab something off the printer. Make it a habit of drinking 4 to 6 ounces of water every hour and place your container of pure, clean water from home in the refrigerator. This way you'll have to get up to fill your glass and will likely have to use the bathroom on a more frequent basis. Some companies are moving toward allowing employees to use standing desks or treadmill desks. Rather than sitting all day, you have the option of getting up and down. Keep in mind may take a couple of weeks to build a stamina to stand for several hours during the day. If your employer is not open to a standing desk, consider standing at your current desk when speaking on the phone or when you otherwise do not need your keyboard. Ask your employer to consider an exercise ball chair. These are chairs with an open seat bottom where a Swiss exercise ball can be lodged. This provides you with an unstable platform on which to sit and increases your core muscle engagement while sitting. Consider using a Swiss ball at home while watching TV or on the computer. Although this next option does not offer additional weight-bearing and does not take the place of getting out of your chair, consider using a seated pedal exerciser. This is an under the desk apparatus that looks like the pedals on a bicycle and allows you to keep your legs moving while seated. If used, it is important your chair is placed high enough to ensure proper posture while seated and engaged on the pedals while using your computer. Some desks and chair systems cannot accommodate these requirements. Dr. Mercola

    • Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

      In the U.S., an estimated 1 in 3 has high blood pressure (hypertension); another 1 in 3 has prehypertension.1 A blood pressure reading of 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) is considered healthy. High blood pressure is typically considered anything over 140/90 mmHg, although updated guidelines2 from the American Heart Association now have 130/80 mmHg as the cutoff for a diagnosis of hypertension. Elevated systolic pressure (the top or high number) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke and dementia.3 While drugs are typically the first-line treatment for hypertension, they’re associated with a number of problematic side effects. For example, research4 published in 2017 found hydrochlorothiazide — one of the most popular drugs used worldwide to treat high blood pressure — raises the risk of skin cancer sevenfold. Diuretics, also commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, have the side effect of leaching both sodium and potassium out of your body, and maintaining a healthy sodium-to-potassium ratio is really important for the normalization of your blood pressure.5 Potassium is also needed for proper muscle movement, including the contractions of your heart, and if your level gets depleted it can trigger muscle cramps and heart problems. So, what can you do beside popping a daily pill? The good news is exercise can go a long way toward normalizing your blood pressure.6,7,8 Increasing Insulin Sensitivity Is the First Line of Treatment for High Blood Pressure Over 80 percent of the U.S. population are insulin resistant and this metabolic dysfunction causes a boatload of problems, such as an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. There are many well-reported links between obesity and high blood pressure.9 Most, but certainly not all, those with hypertension are overweight, and in those circumstances losing weight is associated with lowering of their blood pressure. So, if you have high blood pressure your first strategy is to regain your metabolic flexibility and be able to burn fat as a primary fuel once again. This will not only decrease your insulin resistance and help optimize your weight, but also radically decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.10 Exercise Is Another Potent Therapy for High Blood Pressure Inactivity and blood pressure are also closely related — so closely that exercise is actually considered a first line of treatment by several health authorities, including the World Health Organization, the International Society of Hypertension and the U.S. Joint National Committee on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure, just to name a few.11 Research shows inactive individuals have a 30 to 50 percent greater risk for high blood pressure than their active counterparts.12 As noted in a literature review13 on exercise and hypertension, published in Australian Family Physician: “An evidence based literature analysis by the American College of Sports Medicine indicates that an isolated exercise session (acute effect) lowers BP [blood pressure] an average of 5 to 7 mmHg … [T]he average BP reduction with regular endurance exercise for hypertensives not normalized by drug therapy in the literature review is 7.4/5.8mmHg … Depending upon the degree the patient's BP has been normalized by drug therapy, regular aerobic exercise significantly reduces BP the equivalent of 1 class of antihypertensive medication (chronic effect) … Overall, resistance training has a favorable chronic effect on resting BP, but the magnitude of the BP reductions are less than those reported for an aerobic based exercise program … For most hypertensive patients, exercise is quite safe. Caution is required for those over 50 years of age, and those with established cardiovascular disease (CVD) (or at high CVD risk) and in these patients, the advice of a clinical exercise physiologist is recommended.” Try These Exercises to Lower Your Blood Pressure The key to affect your blood pressure is to do physical activity that raises your heart rate, making your heart beat faster and increase blood flow. This is also known as cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. As you might guess, just about any physical movement can achieve this, depending on your current state of fitness. Even yard work can be a cardiovascular exercise. Raking and mulching, for example, takes some effort and will get your heart pumping. Other aerobic exercises include: Brisk walking and/or running — Research14 published in 2013 found moderate-intensity brisk walking produced similar reductions in blood pressure as vigorous-intensity running. Swimming and/or water aerobics — In one study,15 adults aged 50 and over who swam three to four times a week for 12 weeks improved their vascular function and reduced their systolic blood pressure by an average of nine points. Bicycling — A 2016 study16 showed that people in their 40s through 60s who bicycled to and from work were less likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or prediabetes. After 10 years of follow-up, bicycle commuters had an 11 percent lower risk for hypertension than nonbikers. Weightlifting and/or body weight exercises — A small 2012 study,17 which included middle-aged men diagnosed with high blood pressure who had previously exercised less than two hours a week and were not using antihypertensive medication, showed that after weight training for 45 to 60 minutes (three sets of 12 repetitions for each of seven exercises), systolic blood pressure was reduced by an average of 22 mmHg and diastolic pressure by an average of 8 mmHg. Skiing Skating Rowing Dancing Sports such as tennis, soccer and ultimate Frisbee Isometric Handgrip Training Lowers Blood Pressure in Older Adults Isometric handgrip exercises have also been shown to have a positive impact on blood pressure in older adults. For a quick demonstration of a simple handgrip exercise method, see the video above. Interestingly, a 2013 systematic review18 concluded improving your handgrip strength was even more effective for lowering systolic blood pressure than conventional endurance and strength training programs. Other studies19,20 have also confirmed the benefit of both handgrip and leg extension exercises on blood pressure. As noted in one of them:21 “Isometric resistance training lowers [systolic blood pressure], [diastolic blood pressure], and mean arterial pressure. The magnitude of effect is larger than that previously reported in dynamic aerobic or resistance training. Our data suggest that this form of training has the potential to produce significant and clinically meaningful blood pressure reductions and could serve as an adjunctive exercise modality.” Boosting Your Nitric Oxide Level Helps Lower Blood Pressure Another excellent exercise is the Nitric Oxide Dump, demonstrated in this video. This and other high-intensity exercises help normalize your blood pressure by triggering production of nitric oxide in your body. It involves just four movements — squats, alternating arm raises, nonjumping jacks and shoulder presses — which are done in repetitions of 10, with four sets each. In total, it takes just three to four minutes. Ideally, you’d do these exercises three times a day, a few hours apart. Nitric oxide is a soluble gas stored in your endothelium (the lining of your blood vessels) and acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body. Along with promoting healthy endothelial function, nitric oxide also supports heart health by helping your veins and arteries dilate, which promotes healthy blood flow. Nitric oxide also plays a protective role in your mitochondrial health, the energy storehouse of your cells, responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions. Even your skeletal muscle, which is made up of only about 1 percent to 2 percent mitochondria, depend on these energy powerhouses to fuel your daily movements. When you exercise and your muscles ache, it’s because you’ve run out of oxygen, which your body compensates for by releasing nitric oxide. But here’s the secret that’s not widely known: When you exercise, it takes only about 90 seconds for your blood vessels to run out of stored nitric oxide and begin the process of making more. This is why working major muscle groups for as little as 90 seconds can be so effective.22 You can also take advantage of the nitric oxide-boosting power of vegetable nitrates, which serve as precursors for nitric oxide. Arugula is the highest source but fermented beet powder can have up to 500 percent greater concentration of nitrates. How Much Exercise Do You Need to Help Normalize Your Blood Pressure? As a general recommendation, aim for moderate-intensity activity 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week.23 The higher the intensity of your exercise, the lower the frequency needs to be, so if you’re doing more vigorous aerobic activity, you can get away with doing just three days a week. In addition to that, it’s recommended to perform some sort of muscle strengthening exercise two days a week. If you have high blood pressure, chances are you’re not exercising enough at present. If that’s the case, start slow and build your way up. For example, start taking a walk a few times a week, and increase the frequency as you start feeling more able. Over time, also step up the intensity, and be sure to add some form of strength training — especially if you’re insulin resistant — as well as isometric handgrip exercises, which can easily be done while watching TV or otherwise relaxing. I also recommend training yourself to breathe through your nose when exercising, as mouth breathing during exercise can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, sometimes resulting in fatigue and dizziness. To learn more about this, please refer to my previous article on the Buteyko breathing method. Source: American Heart Association Other Lifestyle Strategies for Lowering Your Blood Pressure Aside from exercise, here are several additional suggestions that can help lower your blood pressure naturally. Optimize your vitamin D level — Vitamin D deficiency is associated with both arterial stiffness and hypertension.24 For optimal health, maintain a vitamin D level between 60 and 80 nanograms per milliliter year-round. Mind your sodium to potassium ratio — According to Dr. Lawrence Appel, lead researcher on the DASH diet and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins, your diet as a whole is the key to controlling hypertension — not salt reduction alone. He believes a major part of the equation is this balance of minerals — i.e., most people need less sodium and more potassium, calcium and magnesium. According to Appel,25 "Higher levels of potassium blunt the effects of sodium. If you can't reduce or won't reduce sodium, adding potassium may help. But doing both is better." Indeed, maintaining a proper potassium to sodium ratio in your diet is very important, and hypertension is but one of many side effects of an imbalance. A processed food diet virtually guarantees you’ll have a lopsided ratio of too much sodium to potassium. Making the switch from processed foods to whole foods will automatically improve your ratios. Intermittent and partial fasting — Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to normalize your insulin/leptin sensitivity, which is a root cause of hypertension. My new book, Keto Fasting which goes into great detail about partial fasting comes out next spring. Walk barefoot — Going barefoot will help you ground to the earth. Experiments show that walking barefoot outside (also referred to as Earthing or grounding) improves blood viscosity and blood flow, which help regulate blood pressure. So, do yourself a favor and ditch your shoes now and then. Grounding also calms your sympathetic nervous system, which supports your heart rate variability. This in turn promotes homeostatis, or balance, in your autonomic nervous system. In essence, anytime you improve heart rate variability, you're improving your entire body and all of its functions. Address your stress — The connection between stress and hypertension is well documented, yet still does not receive the emphasis it deserves. In fact, it has been shown that people with heart dis­ease can lower their risk of subsequent cardiac events by over 70 percent simply by learning to manage their stress. Suppressed negative emotions such as fear, anger and sadness can severely limit your ability to cope with the unavoidable every day stresses of life. It's not the stressful events themselves that are harmful, but your lack of ability to cope. The good news is strategies exist to quickly and effectively transform your suppressed, negative emotions and relieve stress. My preferred method is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), an easy to learn, easy to use technique for releasing negative emotions. EFT combines visualization with calm, relaxed breathing, while employing gentle tapping to "reprogram" deeply seated emotional patterns. Essential oils — A number of essential oils can also be helpful, including lavender, ylang-ylang, marjoram, bergamot, rose, frankincense, rosemary, lemon balm and clary sage. In one study,26 scientists found exposure to essential oil for one hour effectively reduced stress as measured by a reduction in the participants’ heart rate and blood pressure. The effect was only temporary, however. In another, similar study,27 inhalation of a blend of lavender, ylang-ylang, neroli and marjoram essential oils was associated with a reduction in blood pressure and cortisol secretion, which is often elevated during stress. Dr. Mercola

    • Study: One-Quarter of the World’s Adults Don’t Get Enough Exercise

      A new study published by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests 1 in 4 adults (27.5 percent) worldwide is getting insufficient exercise as measured by WHO guidelines.1 After analyzing 358 population-based surveys involving 1.9 million participants representing 168 countries, the study authors concluded more than 1.4 billion adults are at risk of "developing or exacerbating diseases linked to inactivity."2 This is unfortunate news considering the WHO recommendations represent minimum levels of activity. I believe you need more exercise and movement on a daily basis than they recommend to achieve optimal health. In my experience, most health conditions can be improved by exercise and you can often lower your risk of chronic disease simply by exercising regularly. Exercise also positively affects your brain and mental health, among other benefits. Keep reading to find out how you can avoid becoming a global statistic for inactivity. WHO Study Suggests 1 in 4 Adults Worldwide Face Increased Risk of Disease Due to Inactivity The WHO study, published in The Lancet Global Health,3 asserts 27.5 percent of adults worldwide do not meet the WHO's exercise guidelines of at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or a combination of both). Survey participants, who represent about 96 percent of the world's population, self-reported the physical activity they achieved related to work, household tasks, leisure time and transportation. While the new data represents a slight improvement from 2001, when the global inactivity rate was 28.5 percent, the study authors noted the results are problematic. They suggested inactivity is a significant problem that needs to be "urgently addressed."4 They also stated, "If current trends continue, the [WHO's] 2025 global physical activity target — a 10 percent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity — will not be met.5 Given the fact 1 in 4 adults does not perform the recommended amount of weekly exercise, the study authors suggest nonexercisers are putting themselves at increased risk of chronic diseases linked to inactivity. They cited other studies validating the link between exercise and a lower risk of breast and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. The researchers also assert physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, delay the onset of dementia and positively affect your mental health. Time and CNN highlighted the following additional information about the WHO surveys:6,7,8 More data was available for high-income than low-income countries Exercise rates in high-income nations tended to be less than those in low-income countries, partly because of differences in work and transportation Women were shown to get less exercise than men: Globally, 23.4 percent of men and 31.7 percent of women did not meet the WHO guidelines for exercise in 2016 From 2001 to 2016, rates of physical inactivity in high-income Western nations increased from 31.6 percent to 36.8 percent, whereas rates in low-income countries remained stable at around 16 percent In 2016, women in Latin America and the Caribbean, south Asia and high-income Western countries were the groups least likely to get sufficient amounts of exercise The highest activity levels among men recorded in 2016 were found in Oceania, east and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where jobs, chores and transportation often require greater physical exertion as compared to other regions Mozambique and Uganda, where just 6 percent of adults fell short of the WHO's goal in 2016, were noted as having the highest population of exercising adults About the outcomes, Walter Thompson, associate dean and professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University, who was not involved in the study, told CNN,9 "Physical inactivity is pandemic and not a characteristic of low-income or high-income countries. It is prevalent in every country and has the same impact on chronic disease." Thompson wisely noted public policy has had little to no effect on physical activity patterns worldwide. He added, "[The] WHO admits the current strategies are not working and new tactics are needed to [increase] physical activity in all countries."10 The study authors commented similarly, saying, "Our data show progress toward the global target set by WHO member states to reduce physical inactivity by 10 percent by 2025 has been too slow and is not on track. A significant increase in national action is urgently needed in most countries to scale up implementation of effective policies."11 The Dangers of Too Much Sitting You may be getting tired of hearing about the dangers of sitting. No matter, the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle continue to be raised to public awareness mainly because the message is important. In addition, it's clear from the WHO surveys not enough people are listening and even fewer are making the necessary changes. We live in an age of many wonderful, modern conveniences designed to make our lives easier and more productive. While some of the advances are genuinely helpful, others are driving activity, work and movement out of our daily lives. Given the growing cultural attachment to screens and technology, some folks spend the majority of their waking hours moving from one chair (or similar piece of furniture) to another at home, work and during transportation. A study published in the American Journal of Nursing12 highlights some of the serious health risks associated with sitting too long. Study author Linda Eanes, assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley school of nursing, conducted a literature review from 2003 to 2017 to identify research focused on high-volume sitting or prolonged uninterrupted sitting. Based on her analysis of 41 articles, Eanes concluded prolonged sitting:13,14 Slows your metabolism, which in turn affects your body's ability to regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as to shed body fat Increases your risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes In conjunction with obesity, puts you at increased risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial and lung cancer I have often mentioned the importance of exercise as a prevention strategy for Type 2 diabetes. As noted in the ABC News video above, if you are diabetic and not yet convinced of the benefits of exercise, you may be interested to know at least 28 studies15,16,17 suggest the timing and quantity of exercise you get play a significant role in managing the disease. Researchers note chronic sitting is particularly detrimental for diabetics, whereas short breaks to walk or do resistance exercises have been shown to reduce the blood lipids associated with inflammation.18 Ways You Can Get More Movement Into Your Day Below are some tips you can apply today to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting:19,20 When sitting, get out of your chair every 30 minutes for a standing or stretch break (consider setting a timer to remind you) Consider standing or walking while watching TV or talking on the phone If your job involves sitting at a desk most of the day, consider investing in a standing desk Instead of holding sitting meetings at work, try standing or walking meetings When possible at home and work, make a point to deliver messages in person instead of emailing or texting them Avoid elevators and escalators in favor of the stairs, park farther away from entrances to get in more walking and consider standing rather than sitting when using public transportation Get some exercise during lunch breaks or schedule it in before or after work Do stretching and other moderate forms of exercise while watching TV The Nitric Oxide Dump: A Four-Minute Exercise Routine You Can Do Anytime, Anywhere If you are eager to break out of unhealthy sitting patterns but are unsure where to start, you might want to consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT focuses on short bursts of intense exercise designed to stimulate your mitochondria to work harder. Because mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of virtually all disease, you are only as healthy as your mitochondria. A particular type of HIIT I hope you'll consider doing on a regular basis is the Nitric Oxide Dump, which is demonstrated in the video above. This four-minute workout, which features four basic exercises focused on your 16 major muscle groups, can be performed anytime, anywhere. That said, I don't recommend doing this routine close to bedtime because it might keep you awake. While it may be hard to believe, in just a few minutes you can achieve similar benefits as if you'd exercised in the gym for an hour. You get those amazing benefits because the program is designed to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a soluble gas and free radical stored in the lining of your blood vessels that can catalyze your health. You can do the Nitric Oxide Dump routine at home or work, outdoors or at the gym. I've even done it at the airport while waiting for my luggage. Other Recommended Types of Exercise You Can Easily Customize to Your Situation Occasionally, I've been told my exercise advice extends beyond what a beginner can accomplish. Given my advanced level of fitness, it may seem my suggestions are out of reach for the average person. However, I assure you every program I recommend can be adjusted and customized to your personal needs and unique situation. Don't allow yourself to use this or any other excuse as a reason not to exercise. If you're not sure what type of exercise would be best for you or how to customize certain routines to work around joint pain, for example, you may want to consult a health coach or personal trainer. Below are some basic forms of exercise I highly recommend and nearly anyone can perform: • Daily walking — If you are not sure where to begin with exercise, the easiest type to accomplish is daily walking. If you have a fitness tracker, you probably already know most experts recommend you take 10,000 to 15,000 steps daily. The best way to accomplish this is to take every opportunity to increase your steps by walking to work, walking a pet, taking the stairs, parking farther away from your destination and so on. • Strength training — Regardless of your age, strength training is an important aspect of any fitness program. It's well-known that working with your own body weight or the weight of a dumbbell or machine can help enhance your muscle tone and strengthen your bones. Weight training also helps prevent osteoporosis and joint damage from osteoarthritis. • Stretching — Active stretching, which is so much better than static stretching, is an important part of any warmup routine. It has been shown to positively influence agility, endurance, flexibility, power, speed and strength performance. Active isolated stretching (AIS), a method developed by kinesiology and kinesiotherapy specialist Aaron Mattes, can also help you rehab from injuries. • Yoga — Yoga promotes a connection among your mind, body and spirit. Research suggests yoga and other meditative practices can even alter your genetic expression. The benefits of regular yoga practice include improved cognitive function, heart health, immunity, mental health, sexual performance and sleep. Yoga also promotes increased balance, flexibility and strength, and has been shown to ease low-back pain. Not a Fan of Land-Based Exercise? You Might Enjoy Working Out in Water If you have joint problems and are concerned about ankle, knee or hip pain, you might consider swimming or another form of water-based activity. Many recreation centers, fitness outlets and gyms offer water-based classes that will allow you to move at your own pace and skill level. Swimming boosts your cardiovascular fitness, fat burning and strength. It also offers an attractive benefit to people who have trouble working out on land: a total lack of weight-bearing exercise. Exercising in water can improve your range of motion and reduce your pain level during workouts, particularly if you are overweight, struggle with joint pain or osteoarthritis, are older or haven't exercised in a while. In addition, by exercising in water, you'll reduce your risk of falls, sprains and other injuries. Vertical water workouts, such as deep-water jogging, flexibility training, water aerobics and water yoga are a few of the options that may be available at your local pool. Given the higher amounts of resistance involved, vertical water exercises are a great alternative to land-based exercise programs or traditional swimming, particularly if you have chronic pain or mobility issues. For Optimal Health, You Must Get Regular Exercise The WHO report seems to be yet another wake-up call to men and women around the globe: You must get regular exercise to be healthy. If you are among the one-quarter of adults who does not get the minimum amount of recommended exercise, it's time to make changes. Your health depends on it. That said, it's also important to remember even when you do exercise regularly, you may not be sufficiently offsetting the many hours you likely spend sitting. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise a few days a week is not enough to counteract the many health-damaging effects of sitting all day. No matter what type you choose, I encourage you to start today to incorporate as much movement and exercise into your day as possible. If you are not a self-starter in this area, consider involving a friend or family member as a source of motivation, accountability and encouragement. Another option, if you own a smartphone, is to use one of the many health and fitness apps available. Along with diet and sleep, exercise is one of the keys to optimal health. Regardless of your age and fitness level, it's rarely too late to start an exercise program. Focus on what you can do more than what you cannot do and get moving today! Dr. Mercola

    • Sprain Versus Strain: What's the Difference?

      Having been an avid exerciser for nearly five decades, there is no doubt in my mind a comprehensive fitness routine is essential for optimal health. Fitness is a life-long journey. One of my favorite forms of exercise is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), not only because it takes less time but also because it makes my mitochondria work harder and ensures my body is primed to resist disease. Many gravitate toward exercise as it brings welcome changes in physical appearance, such as weight loss, toned muscles and less body fat. But despite these benefits, and more, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 80 percent of U.S. adults do not get enough exercise.1 In their survey, they found only 20 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week and strength training twice a week. Sprains and strains are common injuries that can occur during a workout or just walking down the street. The most common type is an ankle sprain, occurring more frequently in women than men.2 Treatment in the emergency department accounts for a significant amount of health care charges in the U.S.3 Being able to recognize the difference between a sprain and a strain and the severity of the injury may help you determine if at-home treatment is appropriate. Knowing how they occur may also help you prevent an injury by taking specific precautions. Strain Your Muscles and Tendons, Sprain Your Ligaments Sprains and strains are not uncommon injuries in those who enjoy moving and working out. While they share similar signs and symptoms, they involve different parts of your body.4 In both instances, damage is done to the soft tissue, including ligaments, tendons and muscles. The difference is which soft tissue has been affected — ligaments or tendons? Ligaments are tough bands of elastic tissue connecting bone to bone and giving your joints support while limiting movement.5 The most common type of injuries to ligaments occurs during sporting activities. Although similar, tendons are connective tissue attaching muscles to other parts of the body, usually bones.6 They have one of the highest soft tissue tensile strength found in your body, necessary to withstand stresses generated by muscle contraction. During a sprain, ligaments connecting two bones together are stretched or torn. The most common location for a sprain is in the ankle. During a strain, there is stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon, occurring more often in the lower back and hamstring muscles located in the back of your thigh. What Causes a Sprain or a Strain? Strains and sprains can happen during sporting activities, from an accident or during everyday activities when preventive measures have not been taken or your body is unable to withstand the forces placed on it. Many things can cause a sprain, such as falling, twisting or getting hit with a force that moves your joint out of its normal position. For instance, falling and landing on your arm, twisting your knee or rolling your ankle so you fall to the side of your foot may each result in a sprain. These motions cause the ligaments around your joint to stretch or tear.7 Other common circumstances causing ligament sprains include walking or exercising on uneven surfaces, pivoting during an athletic activity, or landing on an outstretched hand during a fall may result in a wrist sprain. Your thumb may sustain an injury during skiing or overextension playing racquet sports, such as tennis.8 Ligaments are anchored to bone on each side of the joint. A sprain happens suddenly and most often in an area right around the joint as the ligament is stretched to far or is torn.9 A strain happens when you pull or twist a muscle or tendon and can occur suddenly or develop over days and weeks of lifting heavy objects the wrong way or overstressing muscles. You may suffer chronic strains much like a chronic overuse injury, when you place abnormal forces on your joint to perform a repetitive motion.10 Some repetitive movements increasing your risk of chronic strain include gymnastics, tennis, rowing and golf.11 What Increases Your Risk of a Sprain or Strain? Muscles have a large number of small fiber bundles called fascicles. Individual fibers are cross-linked so they slide inside the fascicle. Near the end of each muscle these fibers turn into tendon and then attach to bone. A strain happens when damage develops in an overstretched muscle or tendon, pulling the fibers apart and losing the ability to adequately contract.12 Several factors may contribute to an increased risk of developing a strain or experiencing a sprain, including:13 Lack of conditioning — This can leave your muscles weak and more likely to sustain an injury from low degrees of force. Fatigue — Muscles that have been worked to fatigue are less likely to provide good support to the joints. Tight muscles — Improper warmup or lack of stretching reduces range of motion in the joint and makes your muscles prone to trauma and tears. Properly warming up before vigorous activity helps to loosen your muscles and increases your range of motion. Environmental conditions — Slippery, uneven surfaces may increase your risk of injury, such as running on the side of a canted (sloped) road may increase your risk of muscle strain as one leg is chronically hitting the road lower than the other leg due to the road slope. Improper equipment — Ill-fitting or poorly maintained equipment, including footwear, can contribute to your risk of a sprain or a strain. How to Tell the Difference Between Sprain and Strain at Home To determine the difference, your physician will ask about the injury, examine the area and potentially order an X-ray to determine you don't have a broken bone.14 Mild sprains and strains can be treated at home, but the circumstances causing these injuries may also result in a fracture.15 You should see your physician if:16 You can't walk more than four steps without significant pain The injured area looks crooked or has lumps you don't see on the uninjured joint You cannot move the affected joint You have numbness in any area near the injury You have pain directly over bones in an injured joint You see redness or red streaks spreading from the injury You have reinjured an area that's been injured several times You have pain, redness or swelling over a bony area The symptoms of a strain and sprain are very similar; however, the history of the event is likely very different.17 Strain Swelling Bruising Limited mobility Pain or tenderness Muscle spasms or cramping Muscle weakness Sprain Limited mobility Pain Swelling Bruising Inability to bear weight There may be a "popping" sensation when the injury happens Although you might be interested in determining the difference at home, generally speaking, the treatments are pretty similar. This means it isn't important to know exactly which one you're treating. However, it is important to rule out severe tears and broken bones as these treatments are different from the first aid you'll apply at home for a Grade 1 or Grade 2 sprain or strain. Grade Your Injury and Estimate Your Recovery Time Sprains and strains are classified using grades to indicate the severity of the injury. The higher the grade, the more painful and severe the injury to your muscles, ligaments or tendons. With a Grade 1 strain or sprain, you may experience very slight tearing or overstretching and have very little inflammation. Grade 2 is slightly more severe and Grade 3 is a complete rupture of the tendon or the ligament. With a Grade 3 injury you're likely to experience a high level of pain that doesn't get better and makes tolerating walking or weight-bearing nearly impossible. In a side-by-side comparison of the descriptions, you'll notice the similarities between the grades of a sprain and a strain:18,19 Strain Grades Sprain Grades Grade 1: Stretching of a few of the muscle fibers. Grade 1: Fibers of the ligament are stretched but not torn. Grade 2: Muscle fibers are damaged or torn. Grade 2: Ligament is partially torn. Grade 3: Complete rupture of the muscle, often accompanied by large areas of bruising. Grade 3: Ligament is completely torn or ruptured, often accompanied by large areas of bruising. First Aid for a Sprain or Strain If you are unable to place weight on the area for more than two or three steps, or can't use your wrist to pick up more than a couple of ounces, it's time to see your physician and rule out the potential you have a Grade 3 rupture or a broken bone. However, if you believe you may have a Grade 1 or Grade 2 strain or sprain, there are some simple yet effective first aid strategies you can use at home to reduce the pain and speed healing. It is important to remember your injury may take four full weeks for complete healing and stability. It is also important you allow your body to heal the torn tissue before you go back to your preinjury activity level. An at home treatment protocol begins with RICE, an acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Since these terms may be misleading, let's break it down. • Rest (R) — It is important the affected area is protected and rested from stress. This does not mean you should be completely inactive, as not moving the area can decrease blood flow, strength and mobility, as well as promote more swelling. Any movement should be within the capacity of the affected injury, meaning it does not cause further injury and does not cause pain. • Ice (I) — Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours for the first 48 hours after the injury. You can make effective ice packs at home with a 50/50 ratio of isopropyl alcohol and water, filling a resealable plastic bag half full. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth so you don't cause skin damage by placing it directly on your skin. In the first 48 hours, ice can help reduce swelling, pain and muscle spasms. After the first 48 hours ice can become less effective, reducing flexibility and elasticity of the connective tissue in the muscles. If you have any vascular disease, such as diabetes, or decreased sensation in the area, speak with your physician before using ice. • Compression (C) — Compressing the injured joint using an elastic bandage will help immobilize and protect it from further injury and help reduce swelling. Taping, bracing or a compression garment is also good for this. Do not wrap tightly as it can hinder circulation. When using an elastic wrap, begin in the area of the injury farthest from your heart, wrapping toward your body. Loosen the elastic wrap if pain increases, if the area becomes numb or if there is swelling below the wrapped area. • Elevate (E) — The injured area should be elevated to the same level as your heart, maximizing the power of your circulatory system to help remove damaged tissue and reduce swelling. This also helps the injured tissue establish cellular homeostasis. In addition to RICE, if you suffer a Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain or strain, you'll need to use crutches and immobilize the area until the tissue has healed enough for weight bearing.21 You'll also likely benefit from a home physical therapy program to restore strength and flexibility to the joint as healing progresses. In some cases, Grade 3 injuries are immobilized in a cast for several weeks.  You have several alternative options for pain control so you won't have to resort to over-the-counter or prescription drugs, increasing your risk of experiencing side effects. Astaxanthin — One of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known, astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties. Higher doses are typically required and one may need 8 milligrams or more per day to achieve this benefit. Arnica — This popular homeopathic remedy is used for pain management. It's available orally and topically, but there are important precautions to consider before using you'll find discussed in my previous article, "Arnica: This Powerful Herb Promotes Various Kinds of Healing." Ginger — This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice. Curcumin — Curcumin is the primary therapeutic compound identified in the spice turmeric. In a study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added only 200 milligrams of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility.22 In fact, curcumin has been shown in over 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity, as well as demonstrating the ability in four studies to reduce Tylenol-associated adverse health effects. Boswellia — Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which have been prized for thousands of years. Bromelain — This protein-digesting enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Keep in mind most of the bromelain is found within the core of the pineapple, so consider leaving a little of the pulpy core intact when you consume the fruit. Cayenne cream — Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells transmitting pain signals to your brain. Prevent an Injury to Keep Moving While you may not be able to avoid an accident, prevention is the best medicine to avoid an injury. Regular sport-specific stretching and strengthening, as part of your overall physical conditioning program, may help to minimize your risks.23 It's also important to be in shape to play your sport, rather than playing your sport to get in shape. A physically demanding occupation may require regular conditioning to prevent injuries. The best brace you can use in your workouts or at work are your own muscles to protect your joints. Develop a balanced fitness program in order to incorporate strength training, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise.24  Remember to warm up to prepare to exercise and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Regularly schedule days off from vigorous exercise and rest when you're tired, as fatigue and pain are indications your body is more at risk for injury. Seek to avoid the weekend warrior syndrome, trying to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to strenuous activity every day. Dr. Mercola

    • Sit Less Now or Risk Not Walking Later

      By Dr. Mercola A large number of studies have demonstrated the health challenges you face when you sit for long hours each day. Inactivity promotes the development of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, to name just a few chronic conditions associated with being sedentary. Unfortunately, a highly technological society does not, by its very nature, encourage a great deal of activity. The average American working in an office easily sits between 12 to 15 hours each day.1 Even a strong workout in the morning cannot undo the damage to your body when you sit behind a desk for eight hours.2 To avoid much of the damage created from excessive sitting, it's important to sit less than three hours a day. I typically seek to sit under one hour a day. A study analyzing data from 54 countries found sitting less increased life expectancy and sitting less than three hours each day was the optimal number to achieve.3 The lead author of the study acknowledges that despite a growing body of strong scientific evidence demonstrating the dangers of too much sitting, it's difficult for people to make changes. Long commutes to and from work, labor-saving devices and a lack of support for active lifestyles contribute to this growing problem. In a recent study, scientists have now demonstrated how sitting for long periods of time is also an independent risk factor for poor mobility as you age.4 Sitting Increases Risk of Immobility as You Age Studies support using a consistent exercise routine to help improve your metabolism, reduce your risk of diabetes and certain cancers, help you maintain a healthy weight and improve your cardiovascular health. Further research demonstrates that even when you engage in regular exercise, it may not be enough to offset the disadvantages to your health from too much sitting.5 Research led by Loretta DiPietro, Ph.D., department chair in exercise science at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, now finds that increasing inactivity as you age may also reduce your ability to get around and remain mobile. During the study, the researchers examined data from people age 50 to 71 across eight to 10 years from a large NIH–AARP diet and health study that started with all healthy participants, between 1995 and 1996.6 The researchers evaluated recordings of how much time people watched television, gardened, did housework, exercised or engaged in other physical activity during the study period. The results were not too surprising as they found those who were most active, sitting less than six hours each day, were the least disabled and those who were least active, getting less than three hours of activity a week, were the most disabled.7 The researchers concluded8 that "reduction of sedentary time, combined with increased physical activity may be necessary to maintain function in older age." Television May Be the Greater Risk One piece of information revealed in the analysis of data was that "greater TV time was significantly related to increased disability within all levels of physical activity."9 After age 50, the results from the study suggest that prolonged sitting, especially in the evening hours in front of the television, is "particularly hazardous."10 DiPietro believes TV viewing may be specifically problematic as it is usually not broken up with short bouts of physical activity, as compared to sitting at your desk during the day. Where once you got up to change channels on the television, you now don't even need to sit through ads by streaming shows through Netflix or Hulu. DiPietro comments:11 "We've engineered physical activity out of our modern life with commuting, elevators, the internet, mobile phones and a lifestyle — think Netflix streaming — that often includes 14 hours of sitting per day … TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age. Sitting and watching TV for long periods — especially in the evening — has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity." The researchers found those who sat in front of their televisions for several hours in combination with less than three hours of physical activity each week experienced an acceleration of risk for harmful health effects. They also determined those who experienced any level of physical activity but also sat for increasing hours in front of a screen watching TV had an increased likelihood of a walking disability. Sitting Long Hours Linked to a Host of Health Problems The biological effects associated with prolonged sitting are an independent risk factor for other health conditions and early death as well. Today this is often called the "sitting disease," the result of sitting for prolonged periods in front of a computer screen, texting, commuting and shopping online. You don't have to work too hard not to leave your home. You can order everything you need online, including groceries in most areas. Entertainment, communication and video chatting may mean you don't get out of your chair for hours at a time. The health challenges resulting from sitting for prolonged periods are related to sedentary behavior, and while sitting is the most prevalent form of sedentary behavior, it isn't the only one. Any activity during which you exert very little energy is considered sedentary behavior. Although the scientific community has coined the term "sitting disease" to refer to metabolic syndrome and other ill effects of a sedentary life, the medical community does not use this as a diagnosis. The results of sitting prolonged periods may include:12,13,14,15,16 Death — In a study of over 123,000 people, researchers found women who sat for six hours or more each day had a 94 percent increased risk of death from all causes during the study period than women who sat for three hours or less. Men who were inactive and sat for six hours or more were 48 percent more likely to die than men who were more active. Obesity — A study of 50,000 women over six years found every two-hour increase in viewing television a day resulted in a 23 percent jump in risk of obesity, and for every additional hour women spent sitting at work without getting up resulted in an additional 5 percent increased risk of obesity. Metabolic syndrome — Absence of muscle contraction during extended periods of time reduces your ability to metabolize and process carbohydrates, leading to the chief risk factors for insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Cancer — A meta-analysis of 47 studies found an increasing amount of inactivity or sedentary behavior resulted in a higher risk for cancer and an increased risk of death from their diagnosis. Lower back pain — Sitting for long periods of time places added strain on your lower back, reduces your core strength and reduces circulation to the small muscles in your lower back, all leading to an increased risk of lower back pain. Your Risk of Osteoarthritis Rises With Inactivity The technological or digital revolution began in the early 1950s.17 In a recent study, researchers found those born after 1940 had a 2.5 times greater risk of developing osteoarthritis (OA) than those who were born before 1940.18 Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of nearly 100 medical conditions that fall under the category of arthritis.19 Some of the factors that increase your risk of developing OA include obesity, lack of activity, muscle weakness and increasing age.20 Even after controlling for age and body mass index, researchers found a significant rise in the number of people suffering from OA. According to researcher Ian Wallace, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Skeletal Biology and Biomechanics Lab at Harvard University's department of human evolutionary biology:21 "Although knee OA [osteoarthritis] prevalence has increased over time, today's high levels of the disease are not, as commonly assumed, simply an inevitable consequence of people living longer and more often having a high BMI. Instead, our analyses indicate the presence of additional independent risk factors that seem to be either unique to or amplified in the postindustrial era." Although the study looked at the difference in numbers of individuals who suffered from OA over thousands of years, the researchers could only theorize what the lifestyle differences were that created such variability. They speculate that one of the primary factors is inactivity. Senior study author Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D., paleoanthropologist at Harvard University, posits inactivity may play a leading role in the development of OA, saying:22 "The most important message here is that we shouldn't consider arthritis a wear-and-tear disease of age. Arthritis is a disease that becomes more common as you age, but it's not caused by 'wear and tear;' if anything, it might be caused by the absence of physical activity." With Loss of Mobility May Come Loss of Independence Senior citizens who face issues with loss of mobility may also grapple with a loss of independence, resulting in psychological and social challenges. Individuals who lose their ability to live on their own may experience an inability to socialize with their friends, an increasing sense of loss, growing depression and anger.23,24 Seniors who lose their independence may also experience a loss of cognitive function. Researchers followed over 5,500 people living in the community who were over age 65 in the first prospective study that demonstrated a progressive cognitive decline associated with a specific pattern of functional ability. In another commissioned study, researchers found that seniors feared entering a nursing home and losing their independence more than they feared death.25 Although 83 percent of those in the study desired to stay home as they aged, over 50 percent were afraid they wouldn't be able to. Interventions developed by NIH-supported Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independent Centers are based on preventing falls and improving muscle function using simple weight training and mobility to improve independence.26 Simple Strategy May Improve Your Physical Ability as You Age You may be surprised at how many hours you sit each day, especially if you participate in daily exercise. Take a few minutes for three to four days to record the amount of time you exercise, sit or stand. This will help to give you an indication of your risk factor for developing OA, metabolic syndrome or losing your independence. One simple strategy to reduce your risk is to move more, every day. However, while simple, it can be challenging to accomplish. Here are several tactics you may consider: Set up an alarm on your computer to remind you to get up every 15 minutes. Ask your employer about using a standing desk at work. Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch. Walk after lunch; develop a walking group at work to help your motivation. Use a fitness tracker to count your steps each day and seek to achieve 10,000 steps. Watch TV on a Swiss ball and bounce while watching. Work with an accountability partner who you can share your challenges and successes with. Walk laps around a conference table with your colleagues during meetings. Dr. Mercola

    • Thirteen Minutes of Weightlifting, Three Times a Week, Can Improve Muscle Strength and Endurance as Effectively as Working Out for 70 Minutes

      By Dr. Mercola In recent years, sports fitness research has repeatedly demonstrated the superiority of high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises, and this applies not only to walking, sprinting, bicycling and swimming, but also to strength training workouts. The key to turning a weightlifting session into a high-intensity exercise is to ramp up the intensity by slowing down your movements. The effectiveness and efficiency of HIIT was recently demonstrated in yet another study, which found you can reap results in just 13 minutes a day, three times a week, provided the intensity of your exertion is high enough. Single Weight Training Set Can Provide as Much Benefit as Five Sets The study,1,2,3 published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, concluded that: “Marked increases in strength and endurance can be attained by resistance-trained individuals with just three, 13-minute weekly sessions over an eight-week period, and these gains are similar to that achieved with a substantially greater time commitment.” Many weightlifting routines call for doing a certain number of sets — typically three to five — of any given exercise, with each set consisting of eight to 12 repetitions. The goal is to “lift to failure,” which means using enough weight that by the end of the set, you’re unable to complete another repetition. Needless to say, all of these repetitions take time, necessitating spending an hour or so in the gym. However, as this and many other studies show, an effective workout does not have to be an enormous time drain. Here, 34 young, healthy men who had previously engaged in a regular resistance training routine were recruited and randomly assigned to a standard weight training routine performed at varying dosages. Group No. 1 completed five sets of seven exercises at eight to 12 repetitions each, with 90 seconds of rest between sets. Time investment: 70 minutes Group No. 2 completed three sets of each exercise (eight to 12 reps). Time investment: 40 minutes Group No. 3 completed a single set of each exercise (eight to 12 reps). Time investment: 13 minutes All participants completed their assigned workout routine three times a week for two months. Muscle measurements were taken before and at the completion of the study. As expected, at the end of the eight weeks, all participants had improved muscle strength and muscle endurance. The surprising part was that these improvements were nearly identical between the three groups. The only difference between the groups was that those doing five sets had built larger muscles than those doing the single set. In other words, those doing a higher set count had added more visual bulk or mass, but they weren’t actually stronger. Muscle Size Does Not Determine Strength and Endurance As noted by Brad Schoenfeld, lead author and director of the human performance program at Lehman College, the results suggest “there is a separation between muscular strength and hypertrophy,” i.e., muscle enlargement. Put another way, the size of your muscles is not a direct indication of your actual strength. Depending on your style of training, a person with smaller muscles may be just as strong as someone with larger muscles. But how is it that doing a single set can improve muscle strength and endurance as effectively as doing three or five sets? As mentioned, a key strategy in weight training is to lift to failure, and if you’re only doing one set, you have to push yourself significantly harder during that set. So, unless you push yourself to the max, you’re probably not going to be able to replicate these results. While you could max out by using more weight, a better strategy is to simply slow down your movements. This is also known as SuperSlow weight training. Boost Strength by 50 Percent in Two Months The SuperSlow program was originally developed and popularized by Ken Hutchins in 1982, who worked as an equipment designer and educational writer at Nautilus. At that time, he was asked to supervise a Nautilus-sponsored osteoporosis study. The women in the study were so weak and frail, the researchers worried they might get injured lifting weights.4 The solution Hutchins came up with was a combination of low weight and slow, controlled movements, and the women ended up making surprisingly dramatic gains in strength. A decade later, YMCA fitness research director Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., decided to test the SuperSlow protocol. He did two informal studies, one in 1993 and another in 1999. In each trial, 75 people were enrolled into a SuperSlow strength training program for eight and 10 weeks respectively. Their results were compared to groups of people doing a regular strength training routine. As reported by WebMD:5 “The people in Westcott's study did 12 to 13 exercises. The comparison group did 10 repetitions of each exercise, pulling the weight up and lowering it over a period of the usual two seconds in each direction. The other half did five repetitions, but lifted slowly, 10 seconds on the upstroke and four seconds on the way back down. (Hutchins and others recommend 10 seconds each way.) That's 20 seconds of muscle contraction for each repetition instead of 4 seconds. Multiply that by five repetitions and 12 exercises, and you have a killer workout, Westcott says... Those doing SuperSlow in both groups experienced a greater than 50 percent gain in strength. In fact, the results were so difficult to believe that Westcott had them verified at Virginia Tech.” Removing Momentum Turns Weight Lift Into a HIIT Exercise Download Interview Transcript Slowing down your movements removes the momentum, which forces your muscles to continuously work throughout the entire movement. They’re not allowed to rest at any point, which allows you to work to the point of muscle failure much faster. Despite being more intense, SuperSlow is far safer than regular forms of weight training, as the movements are so slow and controlled throughout. As explained by Dr. Doug McGuff, author of “Body by Science,” who owns a SuperSlow workout center in South Carolina:6 “With other exercises, to make them more challenging, you usually have to increase the force required — the weight level, whatever — which brings on aches and pains. This makes them more dangerous. With SuperSlow, you can make exercise much more challenging without increasing force." SuperSlow will also improve your cardiovascular fitness. The idea that you need aerobic exercise like jogging to improve your aerobic capacity has actually been proven incorrect, because to access your cardiovascular system, you have to work your muscles. So, as long as you’re doing mechanical muscle work, your aerobic capacity will improve right along with your muscle strength. Moreover, HIIT trains your metabolism to increase energy production by delivering substrate to your mitochondria as fast as possible, and it does so far more effectively and efficiently than traditional aerobic exercise. Intensity and Duration Are Inversely Proportional One of the foundational concepts of HIIT is that the intensity and amount of time spent working out are inversely proportional, meaning the greater the intensity, the less time you have to spend working out. As mentioned, this has been scientifically verified numerous times. In one previous experiment7 a single minute of intense activity within a 10-minute exercise session was found to be as effective as working out for 45 minutes at a moderate pace! After doing three workout sessions per week for 12 weeks, the endurance group had exercised 27 hours, while the HIIT group had exercised six hours, a mere 36 minutes of which was done at high intensity. Yet both groups showed virtually identical fitness gains. As a general suggestion, you only need to carve out about 20 minutes two to three times a week for your HIIT workouts. As suggested in the featured study, if you’re really pressed for time, you could cut that in half and still reap results. Even as little as four minutes — provided you push as hard as you can the entire time — can provide benefits. A study8 investigating this theory found that men who ran at 90 percent of their maximum heart rate for four minutes, three times a week for 10 weeks, improved their endurance, blood pressure and blood sugar control to the same degree as those who did HIIT for 16 minutes. The Nitric Oxide Dump — One of the Quickest HIIT Exercises Out There Another exceptionally safe way to improve your muscle strength and general fitness is the nitric oxide dump — a revision and, I think, significant improvement of my Peak Fitness program. For these exercises, you don’t even need weights; you’re just using your own body weight and rapid movement. In all, the routine takes just three minutes, but should ideally be done three times a day, adding up to nine minutes a day. For a full demonstration, see the video above. Start with three sets of 10 reps, and as you become more fit, you can increase it to 20 reps. Even though this exercise takes just three minutes, it will make you short of breath. (Be sure to only breathe through your nose, not your mouth. If you cannot do the exercise without opening your mouth, lower the intensity.) The four movements are as follows. Do each set in rapid succession, without resting in between: 10 squats, raising your arms parallel to the floor as you squat and getting your butt back as far as possible, making sure your knees stay behind your toes 10 perpendicular arm raises, stopping when your arms are the height of your shoulders 10 jumping jack motions without the jumping; just moving your hands overhead and touching on the upper and lower portions 10 overhead shoulder presses, making sure to keep your chest out and shoulder blades pinched together This exercise will: • Trigger the release of nitric oxide, a gas with antioxidant properties that protects your heart by relaxing your blood vessels and lowering your blood pressure; stimulate your brain; kill bacteria and even defend against tumor cells. • Stimulate anabolic muscle building in addition to thinning your blood, making it less likely to clot and improving your immune function. Nitric oxide is a potent bronchodilator and vasodilator, so it helps significantly increases your lungs’ oxygen-absorbing capacity. • Give you more exercise benefits in a shorter time — You get most of the benefits from this exercise that you would get from most things you do in a gym in an hour. And, if you do it three times a day, that means you may be getting three to 10 times the metabolic benefit you’d get by going to the gym. • Stimulate mitochondrial function and health — Your skeletal muscle derives its energy from your mitochondria — the energy storehouse of your cells, responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions. Mitochondrial decline is closely linked to reduced cardiorespiratory fitness, and decreased resting mitochondrial ATP production may be involved in the development of insulin resistance with aging. By forcing your mitochondria to work harder, exercises such as the nitric oxide dump will trigger your body to produce more mitochondria to keep up with the increased energy demand, and will promote mitochondrial function and health. Strength Training Is Important for Health The science is quite clear: Everyone needs strength training, and its importance only increases with age, as load-bearing exercises effectively counteract bone loss. The more sedentary you are, the weaker your bones get, and this can have lethal consequences in old age. Twenty percent of those who break a hip die in the first 12 months following the fracture. Maintaining good muscle tone is also important to safeguard your mobility. Resistance training also: • Improves your insulin sensitivity, thereby lowering your risk of most chronic diseases. In one study, a twice-weekly resistance training program improved insulin sensitivity and reduced abdominal fat in older men who had already developed Type 2 diabetes, without any dietary changes.9 • Reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions (large waist circumference, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar) that raise your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Research shows working out with weights for just under an hour per week can cut your risk of metabolic syndrome by 29 percent.10 • Reduces perimenopausal symptoms in women, such as anxiety and depression, mood swings, irregular periods, weight gain and brain fog, in part by increasing production of testosterone. While typically thought of as a male sex hormone that women don’t need or want too much of, testosterone is actually beneficial for women during this stage of life, as during perimenopause, natural testosterone production can drop by as much as 50 percent.11 While women should not take testosterone, improving your body’s natural production of this hormone is a safe way to address perimenopausal symptoms. • Lowers inflammation, a hallmark of most chronic disease, especially heart disease and cancer. • Improves cognitive function and reduces anxiety and depression, promoting greater well-being. Dr. Mercola

    • 12 Foods to Eat to Avoid Sore Muscles

      By Dr. Mercola The reality of sore muscles (or the fear of them) is a common source of discouragement for anyone new to exercise and those desiring to increase the intensity of their workout. While it is perfectly normal to experience a condition called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when taking up a new type or intensity of exercise, the truth is you may be confronted with DOMS even if you exercise regularly. Becoming familiar with DOMS and food-based methods to speed up healing may encourage you to stick with your workout program even when faced with muscle soreness and stiffness. One way to support your body post workout is to consume particular foods known to promote muscle recovery and growth. Let's take a look at 12 of the best foods for sore muscles and two substances you should avoid when exercising. What Causes Post-Exercise Soreness? You may experience muscle stiffness after starting a new exercise program, adding a new exercise to your current program or increasing the intensity and duration of your routine. This stiffness is often accompanied by discomfort and pain and also may involve cramping. If you've been exercising for any length of time, you may already know working out causes microtears in your muscles that contribute to DOMS. Even though the microtears cause muscle soreness and stiffness that can be uncomfortable a day or two after your workout, the good news is you gain muscle mass and strength when those fibers rebuild. Any movement may result in DOMS discomfort, but jogging, pushups, squats and weightlifting are more commonly associated with the condition. You are likely to notice DOMS-related effects when performing routine activities such as getting out of bed, putting on your shoes or doing other tasks that require bending and lifting. Fortunately, stiffness associated with exercise is not usually a cause for concern and can be treated at home. It is quite simply the cost of strengthening and toning your muscles. Notably, the sensation of DOMS discomfort occurs more frequently after you perform new eccentric physical activity.1 By way of explanation, when your muscles move through an exercise, they make both concentric and eccentric movements. During a concentric movement the load being lifted is less than your muscle's maximum force. Each contraction shortens your muscle, such as when you raise a weight while doing a bicep curl. On the other hand, eccentric muscle contractions happen when the load on your muscle increases to a point at which the external force on your muscle is greater than the force it can generate. Even though your muscle may be fully activated, it is forced to lengthen due to the high external load. Think of the same bicep curl: As your arm is extending, the muscle is lengthening yet is still activated to control the extension. This is eccentric motion and it causes structural disruption in your muscle fibers, microtears and the subsequent muscle pain and soreness. 12 Foods You Can Eat to Soothe Sore Muscles Because muscle soreness is a natural part of working out, you can help your body recover faster by complementing your workout with the right foods. Assuming you can tolerate them, below are 12 foods you can eat to help soothe tired, aching muscles:2,3 Cacao — If you are a chocolate lover, you'll be happy to know adding some cacao nibs to your postworkout smoothie may help take the edge off aching muscles. Registered dietitian and nutritionist Kristen Carlucci, wellness coach for the more than 1,600 employees of New York City-based Bloomberg, said, "Cacao has high levels of antioxidants, magnesium and B vitamins to reduce stress in our bodies related to exercise, balance electrolytes and boost energy levels."4 Research suggests the antioxidants (flavanols) in cacao are useful to boost the production of nitrous oxide in your body.5 Nitrous oxide causes your blood vessel walls to relax and open, thereby lowering your blood pressure. In addition to cacao, arugula and other leafy greens are great sources of healthy nitrates. Coffee — A small study involving college-aged females found a moderate dose of caffeine — about 2 cups of coffee — reduced postworkout pain by 26 percent for eccentric exercise and 48 percent for exercise involving isometric contractions.6 A JAMA review of 30 clinical studies involving more than 10,000 patients over a 20-year period validated caffeine as an "analgesic adjuvant."7 Researchers found giving caffeine along with pain-relieving pharmaceuticals resulted in 40 percent fewer drugs being needed to achieve the same level of pain relief. Be sure to choose organic fair trade coffee. Eggs — Because protein is the essential building block of muscles, it makes sense that researchers have found adding a source of protein like eggs to your postworkout eating plan may help reduce your risk of DOMS. Just be sure that the eggs are organic and pastured (not pasteurized). A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests consuming protein along with other nutrients in whole food sources may be more effective at sparking muscle growth than eating protein alone.8 Specifically, the test group consumed three whole eggs, totaling 18 g of protein and 17 g of fat. By the way, I recommend you eat only organic free-range eggs. The study authors stated:9 "We show that the ingestion of whole eggs immediately after resistance exercise resulted in greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis than did the ingestion of egg whites … Our data indicate the ingestion of nutrient- and protein-dense foods differentially stimulates muscle anabolism compared with protein-dense foods." Ginger and cinnamon — Iranian research involving 60 healthy female taekwondo athletes, ages 13 to 25 years, underscores the anti-inflammatory value of dietary ginger and cinnamon for postworkout muscle soreness.10 The women were randomly categorized into three groups — receiving 3 g of either cinnamon, ginger or a placebo daily for six weeks — with muscle soreness evaluated at the beginning and end of the study. The study authors noted a decrease in muscle soreness in the cinnamon and ginger groups. Green tea — About green tea, which will serve you best if you choose an organic brand, Carlucci comments, "Green tea is abundant in anti-inflammatory antioxidants making it the ideal … postworkout drink to prevent muscle and cell damage related to exercise. It also helps athletes stay hydrated, which is vital for training and recovery."11 A 2018 Brazilian study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior12 evaluated the effect of green tea during a 15-day study involving 20 nontrained men who performed sessions of triceps exercises to induce DOMS. Using a visual scale and blood samples, researchers evaluated the effect of green tea on muscle soreness, muscle damage and oxidative stress, arriving at a mixed result. They said:13 "[Green tea extract] supplementation reduced muscle damage but muscle soreness did not change. Plasma oxidative damage marker and antioxidant status did not show an effect of supplementation. As a conclusion, green tea extract supplementation did not reduce the sensation of DOMS, but reduces the marker of muscle damage after exercise. [This study] suggests green tea extract supplementation has positive effects on muscle recovery after strenuous exercise." Manuka honey — Manuka honey has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory agent. This prized (and pricy) monofloral honey originates from the nectar of the Manuka bush that is found in New Zealand. Manuka honey is thicker than regular honey and has a distinctive flavor. "Manuka honey is a potent anti-inflammatory that helps to suppress exercise-induced inflammation in the body," Carlucci asserts. "It's also rich in carbohydrates, which are needed to refill glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles."14 Keep in mind there are many fake Manuka honeys on the market so be sure to research the brands and check the ingredient labels carefully. Nuts and seeds — As a healthy source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation, organic nuts and seeds also provide protein for muscle synthesis and growth, electrolytes to promote hydration and zinc to boost immunity, notes Carlucci.15 According to U.S. News & World Report health contributor Brendan Brazier, plant-based nutrition expert and author of the "Thrive" book series, foods with higher carbs and lower protein, such as a handful of almonds and dried fruit like raisins, will help replenish your glycogen stores after a workout. (Be mindful, dried fruit contains extremely high amounts of fructose, so eat it in moderation.) Brazier says:16 "As you work out, your body starts to deplete the levels of glucose in your blood, and must turn to glycogen — carbs stored in your liver and muscle tissue — to fuel your movement. A 4-to-1 carb-to-protein snack speeds the uptake of glycogen back into your muscles and initiates muscle building." Wild salmon — A great source of anti-inflammatory animal-based omega-3 fats, antioxidants and muscle-building protein is wild Alaskan salmon. Some consider salmon to be an ideal postworkout food because research on omega-3 consumption in athletes suggests it can help prevent DOMS and inflammation.17,18 States Carlucci, "Salmon contains inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, plus it's packed with lean protein — a key component for muscle restoration and building. [M]ake sure to eat protein within 45 minutes after your workout for adequate recovery and strength."19 Always choose wild-caught and avoid all farmed salmon. Spinach — Spinach has long been recognized as an antioxidant powerhouse known to fight free radical damage in your body. Not only can spinach protect you from serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease, suggests Carlucci, but this healthy green can also help you rebound after strenuous exercise due to its nitrate content.20  Spinach also contains magnesium, which helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, among other benefits. Be sure to choose organic or, better yet, grow your own spinach. Sweet potatoes or yams — Because they are starchy, carb-rich vegetables, eating organic sweet potatoes or yams after intense exercise is a great way to replenish your glycogen stores. In addition, sweet potatoes and yams have a low glycemic index, meaning they release sugars into your bloodstream slowly, which will help you maintain energy. Also, they are great sources of beta carotene and vitamin C — antioxidants that support your immune system and help reduce oxidative stress. Tart cherries — Tart cherries have been shown to improve athletic performance, endurance and recovery, as well as reduce post-exercise inflammation and pain.21,22 Tart cherries and cherry juice also help relieve and prevent arthritis and gout.23 The same anthocyanins and antioxidants that help with this also are believed to relieve cardiovascular disease and diabetes.24 However, it's important to remember that 1 cup of cherries has 13.6 grams of sugar in it, so it's important not to overindulge.25 Turmeric — Research26,27 on the golden spice turmeric's active ingredient — the powerful antioxidant curcumin — suggests a curcumin supplement can help reduce DOMS-related pain, lower your risk of injury and improve muscle performance recovery. Keep in mind curcumin from turmeric is poorly absorbed, which means if you add turmeric to your food, you'll be absorbing around 1 percent curcumin. To increase your intake you can: • Boil the powder — Boil 1 tablespoon of turmeric in a quart of water for 10 minutes to create a 12 percent solution that you must consume right away to ensure its effectiveness • Make a microemulsion — Mix 1 tablespoon of raw turmeric powder with two egg yolks and 2 teaspoons of melted coconut oil and drink it immediately • Purchase a high-quality curcumin supplement — Look for an extract containing 100 percent certified organic ingredients with at least 95 percent curcuminoids. Choose a sustained-release formula that is free of additives and fillers. Bodybuilding.com recommends doses of 3 to 4 grams daily, noting the addition of piperine in curcumin supplements can boost its bioavailability.28 With such a generous selection of healthy foods from which to choose when nourishing your body postworkout, I'll close by mentioning two items you most certainly want to avoid: alcohol29 and sugar. They are two inflammatory substances that do not combine well with exercise or healthy living. While your body needs carbs during the recovery phase, I recommend you choose foods containing both carbs and protein from one or more of the whole food sources mentioned above. By choosing the right foods to help your body recover after an intense workout, you will likely feel better and experience less muscle soreness — factors that may encourage you to exercise more often. Dr. Mercola

    • What Is the Ideal Sport to Increase Your Life Span?

      By Dr. Mercola For many, exercise is all about losing weight. If that motivates you to get started, that's great, but you should know there are many other benefits to be had as well. For example, exercise helps reduce anxiety,1 support your immune function2 and improves your ability to fall asleep faster.3 Women who exercise have reported fewer symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including feelings of irritability and being bloated.4 Increased blood flow to your brain improves function almost immediately and helps you to feel more focused after a workout. Regular exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells in your hippocampus, responsible for boosting memory and learning.5 One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose, insulin and leptin levels. This is a crucial factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease. Recent research indicates specific exercises may also add more years to your life span than others.6 Study Suggests These Exercises May Increase Longevity An epidemiological study of Danish men and women found playing tennis, badminton and other team sports helped individuals live longer than those who were sedentary. Even more interesting, these same people had a longer life span than those who participated in more solitary activities such as jogging, swimming and cycling.7  A previous study evaluating exercise effects in more than 80,000 British men and women found those who played racquet sports also tended to outlive those who jogged.8 These results triggered the current Danish study, which widened the inquiry to look at a variety of sports and the association those have with premature death. Data was gathered from nearly 8,500 adults as part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Limitations of the study included the facts that all who were enrolled were Caucasian, and had no history of heart disease, stroke or cancer. Individuals completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire and were monitored for approximately 25 years. During this time, nearly 4,500 of the participants died.9  The health and lifestyle questionnaires asked participants about their physical activities each week and asked them to designate one workout as their primary form of exercise. Using these answers, researchers looked for associations between longevity and exercise after adjusting for factors such as education, drinking and socioeconomic background. The data indicated a clear correlation between social sports and longevity.10 Although how long individuals spent doing these activities varied, it became apparent the duration did not necessarily affect the longevity of the participants. Coauthor Dr. James O'Keefe, cardiologist at St Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, explained tennis likely took the top spot as it is intensely interactive. In other words, people spent time talking with each other during the activity. The study did find activities normally enjoyed alone, such as running, weightlifting and swimming, still extended life and offered other health benefits. However, O'Keefe recommended for optimal benefit you may want to consider supplementing your workout with other activities that foster a social connection. Benefits of Social Interactions Research data have demonstrated emotional and physical health are inextricably linked, and there are significant health risks to social isolation. A study published in BMJ Heart found isolated and lonely individuals were at a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. O'Keefe explained:11 "For both mental and physical well-being and longevity, we're understanding that our social connections are probably the single-most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life. If you're interested in exercising for health and longevity and well-being, perhaps the most important feature of your exercise regimen is that it should involve a playdate." Another study published in Heart found social isolation, but not loneliness, was associated with an increased risk of death in people with a history of heart disease.12 Having a support system appeared to mitigate some factors that led to a higher risk. While not surprising, the researchers found the effects of isolation and loneliness may be compounded by other traits commonly found among those who enjoyed their own company. To further explore this the researchers surveyed almost 480,000 adults in the U.K. and measured health metrics, including height, weight, body mass index and grip strength.13 The participants were then tracked for seven years. Isolation was associated with a 43 percent higher risk of first-time heart attack and a 39 percent higher risk of first-time stroke. Loneliness was associated with similar results. However, after accounting for biological, health and socioeconomic factors, the increased risk of heart attack and stroke only ranged between 4 percent and 7 percent for loneliness and isolation. Another study evaluating the mental health benefits of exercise found an interesting pattern.14 Those who exercised nearly 45 minutes per session experienced better mental health than those who favored marathon workouts. Sweating three to five times a week had a lower number of poor mental health days than either no exercise or working out more than five times a week, leading the researchers to conclude exercise for two to six hours a week may be the sweet spot for mental health.15 Research Indicates Full Body Workouts May Offer Increased Benefits Limitations to the featured study made it difficult for researchers to generalize the results. O'Keefe pointed out how and why some sports may add additional years more than others is difficult to determine from an observational study.16 Although little of the exercise in this study was heavily intense, O'Keefe believes the different physical demands in some sports could play a role. However, income and socioeconomic factors likely played a role in this study as well, as those who have sufficient money and leisure time to play tennis may also have the means to evaluate and use a variety of health care options. Yet another factor may be that racket sports are full-body workouts, and using your arms and legs makes your heart work harder. Cycling and jogging, two of the other sports studied in the featured research, primarily use your lower body and some core muscles. Additionally, racket sports often require intense bursts of activity, much like a high-intensity interval training workout. As noted by the University of Rochester Medical Center:17 "Racquet sports alternate bursts of high-intensity exercise while you score points, with brief rest periods while you pick up the ball and serve. This stop-and-start activity is similar to interval training. Playing racquet sports, or any active sport, [three] hours a week can cut your risk of developing heart disease and lower your blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. One key to getting a good aerobic workout in tennis or racquetball is to keep your rest periods brief. Your heart will continue to work at an aerobic level, but without the sustained stress." There Is an Exercise 'Sweet Spot' Where You Reap the Greatest Reward While the percentage of adults over 18 who meet the physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity only reaches 21 percent,18 there are those who meet and exceed those guidelines on a routine basis. But, like most things in life, too much of a good thing can do harm. The current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. The guidelines do not list an upper limit. High intensity exercise for long periods of time may increase the risk of injury and heart issues, but no clearly defined guidelines exist for what constitutes "too much" exercise. Research has demonstrated chronic training for and competing in extreme events, such as marathons and ultramarathons and very long-distance bike races, may trigger negative cardiovascular effects.19 In one study, those who exercised beyond 60 minutes saw a decrease in their antioxidant levels, along with an increase in arterial stiffening. In another study, lifelong endurance athletes had a very high rate of myocardial fibrosis (stiffening of the heart muscle). This hardening of the heart cells may play a role in precipitating sudden cardiac arrest or inducing an irregular heartbeat. In a British study20 of more than a million healthy middle-aged women, researchers found those who exercised two to six times a week had the lowest cardiovascular risk compared to those who exercised either rarely or every day. Importance of Brief, Intense Activity for Longevity and Mitochondrial Health Similar results were found in a Danish study21 comparing the mortality rates of joggers against sedentary individuals. Those who did light to moderate running were less likely to die than nonexercisers or those who ran a fast pace for more than 2.5 hours per week. A heavy exercise load each week can depress your immune system and increase inflammatory processes, potentially leading to increased risk of coronary changes and illness. Exercise intensity also plays an important role in determining how much exercise is enough. Data22 found engaging in occasional vigorous exercise leads to additional reductions in the risk of premature death. When you include brief bursts of high-intensity activity, you may considerably slash the amount of workout time needed to enjoy the benefits. These types of workouts, known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), lead to immediate changes in your body, including reprogramming your muscles for strength, and stimulating your fast-twitch muscle fibers, the latter of which increases production of human growth hormone. HIIT also: Triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, which is important for longevity Alters mitochondrial enzyme content and activity Increases cellular energy production Decreases your risk of chronic disease Slows the aging process23 Use a Variety of Exercises, Including the Nitric Oxide Dump Recent research has suggested working out smarter, not harder, may reap greater rewards in the long run. Short bursts of intense activity are safer and more effective than conventional cardiovascular workouts for your heart, general health, weight loss and overall fitness. The bonus is you are able to work out efficiently and effectively in far less time. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week,24 and notes HIIT workouts tend to burn more calories than traditional workouts25 as your body continues to burn calories after your workout has finished. Another benefit to HIIT is the variety of workouts you can use to accomplish the goal. If you're new to HIIT, try my Peak Fitness method using 30 seconds of maximum effort followed by 90 seconds of recuperation, repeated eight times. With a four-minute warm up, the total workout takes about 20 minutes. It is important to remember HIIT is only one facet of a well-rounded program that should incorporate physical activities you enjoy, flexibility and strength training. By making simple tweaks to your fitness program, you can turn a fun game of tennis with a friend into a moderate to vigorous workout that enhances your life and longevity. Another daily option you may consider to improve your mitochondrial health is the nitric oxide dump workout, which stimulates the release of nitric oxide and slows the aging process. The exercise takes just three to four minutes, one to three times a day. For a demonstration, see the video below. You can also read more about it in my previous article, "Incorporate the Nitric Oxide Dump." Dr. Mercola