• First line of text for new post (add more text here...)
    • How Walking Benefits Your Health and Longevity

      By Dr. Mercola While a regimented fitness routine is certainly part of a healthy lifestyle, what you do outside the gym is equally important. Most adults spend 10 hours or more each day sitting, and research1,2 shows this level of inactivity cannot be counteracted with a workout at the end of the day. To maintain health, you really need mild but near-continuous movement throughout your waking hours. One strategy that has been shown to have a positive impact is simply to stand up more. Increasing your daily walking is another key strategy that pays significant dividends, both short term and long term. According to the World Health Organization, inactivity is the fourth biggest killer of adults worldwide, responsible for 9 percent of premature deaths,3 and walking more could go a long way toward reducing this risk. Walking Produces Beneficial Biochemical Changes in Your Body The short video above reviews what happens in your body while walking. For starters, when you take your first few steps, your body releases chemicals that give your body a quick boost of energy. Once you get going, your heart rate will increase, from about 70 to about 100 beats per minute. This boost in blood flow will warm up your muscles. As you move, your body will also increase production of fluid in your joints, thereby reducing stiffness. Walking for six to 10 minutes can raise your heartbeat to about 140 beats per minute and trigger your body to start burning up to six calories per minute. While your blood pressure will rise from the exertion, this increase is counteracted by chemicals that help expand your blood vessels, such as nitric oxide. This expansion in turn allows greater amounts of oxygen-rich blood to reach your muscles and organs, including your heart and brain. Over time, taking regular walks will help lower your blood pressure if it tends to be high. Walking for 11 to 20 minutes results in an increase in body temperature and sweating as blood vessels closer to the surface of your skin expand to release heat. At this point, you start burning about seven calories per minute. The increase in heart rate also causes you to breathe deeper. Epinephrine (adrenaline) and glucagon also begin to rise at this point to boost muscle activity. Epinephrine helps relieve asthma and allergies, which helps explain why walking and other exercises tend to have a beneficial impact on these ailments. At 21 to 45 minutes, you'll start burning more fat, courtesy of a drop in insulin. This is also when you'll start experiencing greater physical and mental relaxation as your brain starts to release "feel good" endorphins. Walking has also been shown to boost memory and creative problem-solving,4 so taking a walk when you're puzzling over a problem may allow you to come up with better solutions. One Stanford University study found walking increased creative output by an average of 60 percent, compared to sitting still.5 After 30 to 45 minutes, you're really oxygenating your whole body, burning more fat, strengthening your heart and cardiovascular system, and boosting your immune function. Provided you're walking outdoors and the weather complies, an hour of sunshine will also help boost your mood and provide a number of beneficial health effects associated with vitamin D production. Those struggling with depression would do well to get out of the concrete jungle and into nature, as nature walks have been found to be particularly beneficial for your mood by decreasing rumination — the obsessive mulling over negative experiences. Walking Boosts Health and Longevity Several studies have confirmed that walking boosts health and longevity. For example: • In one, walking for 20 to 25 minutes per day (140 to 175 minutes per week) was found to add anywhere from three to seven years to a person's life span.6 • Research7 published last year found that as little as two hours (120 minutes) of walking per week may reduce mortality risk in older adults, compared to inactivity. Meeting or exceeding the activity guidelines of 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate activity per week in the form of walking lowered all-cause mortality by 20 percent. • Research published in 2012 found brisk walking improved life expectancy even in those who are overweight.8 • Smokers may also increase their life span by nearly four years by engaging in physical activity9 such as walking. Former smokers who kept up their physical activity increased their life expectancy by 5.6 years on average, reducing their all-cause mortality risk by 43 percent. Smokers who were physically active were also 55 percent more likely to quit smoking than those who remained inactive, and 43 percent less likely to relapse once they quit. A Norwegian study10 also showed that regular exercise is as important as quitting smoking if you want to reduce your mortality risk. About 5,700 older men were followed for about 12 years in this study, and those who got 30 minutes of exercise — even if all they did was light walking — six days a week, reduced their risk of death by about 40 percent. Getting less than one hour of light activity per week had no effect on mortality in this study, highlighting the importance of getting the "dosage" right if you want to live longer. Walking Is Good for Whatever Ails You Other studies have shown walking can be tremendously beneficial for people struggling with chronic diseases such as obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease. In one, COPD patients who walked 2 miles a day or more cut their chances of hospitalization from a severe episode by about half.11,12 Another study13 found that daily walking reduced the risk of stroke in men over the age of 60. Walking for an hour or two each day cut a man's stroke risk by as much as one-third, and it didn't matter how fast or slow the pace was. Taking a three-hour long walk each day slashed the risk by two-thirds. Walking has also been shown to lower your risk of:14,15 Type 2 diabetesDepression and anxiety Dementia and Alzheimer'sArthritis Hormonal imbalancesPMS symptoms Thyroid disordersFatigue Varicose veinsConstipation So, while walking might not seem like it would be "enough" to make a significant difference in your health, science disagrees. It makes sense that walking would be an important health aspect considering humans are designed for walking. And, in our historical past, before conveniences such as automobiles and even the horse and buggy, humans walked a lot. Every day. Walkers Generally Weigh Less Than Other Exercisers Research16 from the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that when it comes to weight management, regular walking can be just as beneficial, or more, than working out in a gym. To reach this conclusion, the researchers assessed the effects of a number of different workouts, comparing health markers in more than 50,000 adults who were followed for 13 years. Activities were divided into: Brisk walking Moderate-intensity sports (examples: swimming, cycling, gym workouts, dancing, running, football, rugby, badminton, tennis and squash) Heavy housework and/or walking with heavy shopping bags Heavy manual work (examples: digging, felling trees, chopping wood, moving heavy loads) The big surprise? People who regularly walked briskly for more than 30 minutes generally weighed less than those who hit the gym on a regular basis and/or exclusively did high-intensity workouts. According to the press release, these results were "particularly pronounced in women, people over 50 and those on low incomes."17 According to the authors: "Given the obesity epidemic and the fact that a large proportion of people … are inactive, recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option. Additionally, there is no monetary cost to walking so it is very likely that the benefits will outweigh the costs. It has also been shown by the same authors that walking is associated with better physical and mental health. So, a simple policy that 'every step counts' may be a step toward curbing the upward trend in obesity rates and beneficial for other health conditions." Indeed, walking has been a longstanding recommendation to meet fitness guidelines, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have all recommended getting 30 minutes of brisk walking several days a week for general health and disease prevention.18,19 Walking Can Also Be a High-Intensity Exercise While taking daily walks forms a great foundation upon which to build your health, research also shows that to really maximize health and longevity, higher intensity exercise is called for. Based on two large-scale studies20,21 the ideal amount of exercise to promote longevity is between 150 and 450 minutes of moderate exercise per week. During the 14-year follow up period, those who exercised for 150 minutes per week reduced their risk of death by 31 percent, compared to non-exercisers. Those who exercised for 450 minutes lowered their risk of premature death by 39 percent. Above that, the benefit actually began to diminish. In terms of intensity, those who added bouts of strenuous activity each week also gained an extra boost in longevity. Those who spent 30 percent of their exercise time doing more strenuous activities gained an extra 13 percent reduction in early mortality, compared to those who exercised moderately all the time. Besides doing high-intensity exercises on an elliptical, bike or treadmill, super-slow strength training is another excellent high-intensity exercise worth considering. That said, if you're out of shape and/or overweight, the idea of high intensity interval training can seem too daunting to even attempt. The elderly may also shy away from high intensity exercises for fear of injury. My recommendation? Don't allow such concerns to overwhelm you and prevent you from getting started. Once you're walking on a regular basis, you can easily turn this activity into a high-intensity exercise simply by intermittently picking up the pace. Japanese researchers, who developed a walking program designed specifically for the elderly, have shown that a combination of gentle strolling and fast walking provide greater fitness benefits than walking at a steady pace.22,23 The program they developed consists of repeated intervals of three minutes of fast walking followed by three minutes of slow strolling. Completing five sets of these intervals, totaling 30 minutes of walking, at least three times a week, led to significant improvements in aerobic fitness, leg strength and blood pressure. Everyone Can Benefit From Walking More Each Day As mentioned, walking can be an excellent entry into higher intensity training, regardless of your age and fitness level. Personally, I typically take an hourlong walk on the beach every day that I'm home. As you've probably heard by now, chronic sitting is the new smoking — it actually has a mortality rate similar to this toxic habit.24 It even raises your risk of lung cancer by over 50 percent. What's worse, it raises your risk of disease and early death independently of your fitness and other healthy lifestyle habits. According to Dr. James Levine, codirector of Obesity Solutions at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and Arizona State University, you need at least 10 minutes of movement for every hour you sit down. I recommend limiting your sitting to less than three hours a day, and to make it a point to walk more every day. I suggest aiming for about 10,000 steps per day, over and above any other fitness routine you may have. A fitness tracker can be a very helpful tool to monitor your progress and ensure you're hitting your mark. Just be sure that you are using one that does not have Bluetooth enabled (the Oura ring and Apple Watch are the two that I know of that allow you to turn off the Bluetooth). Tracking your steps can also show you how simple and seemingly minor changes to the way you move around at work can add up. For example, you can: Walk across the hall to talk to a co-worker instead of sending an email Take the stairs instead of the elevator Park your car further away from the entrance Take a longer, roundabout way to your desk Take a walk during your lunch hour (importantly, this habit has been shown to reduce work-related stress25) Dr. Mercola

    • Spending Time in a Sauna Can Reduce Your Risk for a Stroke

      By Dr. Mercola In the U.S., many Americans use a sauna only while at the gym or on vacation, if at all, in contrast to people living in Finland. At least once a week, 99 percent of Finns1 take a sauna, and some far more often. The Finns value sauna use for stress relief. Known as a “poor man's pharmacy,” saunas offer proven health benefits virtually anyone can enjoy. Not surprisingly, much of the research has come from Finland where saunas are nearly as common as television sets, found in private homes, offices and even factories.2 Today, they're becoming increasingly popular with athletes for post-workout muscle relaxation and to improve athletic performance. According to Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.,3 increasing your core temperature for short periods, as accomplished in a sauna, may have multiple positive effects on your body, including the growth of new brain cells. As your skin is a major organ of elimination, promoting sweating with sauna use may also help you detoxify. Researchers have also linked sauna use with a reduced risk for stroke.4 Sauna Use May Reduce Your Risk of Stroke In a study published in Neurology,5 researchers assessed over 1,600 men and women aged 53 to 74 who did not have a known history of stroke. The participants were part of the Finnish Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease prospective cohort study and as defined by the researchers, took either one, up to three or up to seven sauna sessions per week. At least half the participants were followed for nearly 15 years, during which 155 stroke events were recorded.6 The researchers compared individuals who used a sauna once a week against those who used a sauna up to three or up to seven times per week. After adjusting for other variables, they found those who took a sauna up to three times per week were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke, whereas those who took a sauna up to seven times a week reduced their risk by 62 percent.7 The researchers suggested sauna use may help reduce stroke risk by lowering inflammation, reducing arterial stiffness and improving blood flow through the circulatory system. These changes may be a result of an increase in body temperature during a sauna.8 The popularity of the sauna in Finland led the researchers to suggest further research was necessary to compare those who never use saunas against those who use them frequently.9 They encouraged those who have a regular sauna habit to continue as the results suggest significant benefit. However, those not familiar with sauna use should start slowly and build their heat tolerance to improve the results without heat stress on their cardiovascular system.10 Sweating Is Important Sweating is an essential process designed to keep your body cool but also has benefits beyond temperature control. Sweating helps expel toxins, kill viruses and clean your pores, and may have other benefits as well. Your skin is a major organ of elimination, but as many do not sweat on a regular basis, using a sauna may help restore your skin's ability to eliminate toxins. Saunas and heat baths have been a form of cleansing since ancient times. Sweating has been perceived to promote health and has been a part of worldwide traditions and customs since ancient Roman baths and Aboriginal sweat lodges. A review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found:11 “Sweating is not only observed to enhance excretion of the toxic elements of interest in this paper, but also may increase excretion of diverse toxicants, as observed in New York rescue workers, or in particular persistent flame retardants and bisphenol-A … Optimizing the potential of sweating as a therapeutic excretory mechanism merits further research.” Surprising Health Benefits of Environmental Conditioning Patrick calls this concept “hyperthermic conditioning.” Exposure to extreme temperatures, hot and cold, is an effective way of boosting mitochondrial biogenesis. The strategy places stress on your body in short bouts and produces benefits in a process called hormesis, referring to exposure to very short bursts of stress such as exercise, heat, cold, fasting or antioxidants. Through short bursts, it activates a variety of response pathways preparing your body to deal with stress.12 Elevating your core temperature through exercise, steam rooms, hot baths or saunas helps optimize heat shock proteins (HSP) inside your cells, which limit cellular damage and facilitate cellular recovery.13 Accumulation of damaged HSP may lead to plaque formation in your brain or cardiovascular system, thus leading to an increased risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease. Heat stress helps prevent this adverse chain of reactions and may be involved in increasing longevity. Heat stress may also improve athletic performance as demonstrated in one study where athletes who spent 30 minutes in a sauna after workouts, two to three times a week for three weeks, increased the time it took them to run to exhaustion by 32 percent.14 This may happen through a number of adaptations, including reduced heart rate, lower core body temperature during exercise, higher sweat rate and increased thermal regulatory control, increased plasma volume and reduced rate of glycogen depletion through improve blood flow to skeletal muscles.15 Wim Hof, a Dutch fitness trainer, who also goes by the nickname “Iceman,” has popularized another branch of environmental conditioning in which he uses ice baths.16 His argues the circulatory system is designed to adapt to different surrounding conditions. In the face of a lack of stress on your cardiovascular system from consistently controlled temperature, it may be damaged and result in conditions such as hypertension and stroke. A study published in Nature17 revealed evidence exposure to cold temperature may transform the type of fat in your body, helping to burn off excess weight. The primary stimulus to produce this type of fat was cold exposure. More Physical Benefits of Sauna Use Sauna use may lower the risk of dementia,18 and may improve vascular function and your ability to improve focus and attention.19 Other research has demonstrated the ability of heat stress to promote myelin growth,20 helping your brain to function faster and repair nerve cell damage. Heat may increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, stimulating cerebral output of brain-derived neurotrophic factor,21 activating brain stem cells to convert into new neurons.22 Sauna use may help soothe muscle tension and is beneficial in helping your body recover from strength and endurance training sessions. In one study of 44 patients with fibromyalgia, researchers found a reduction in pain23 between 33 percent and 77 percent after use of a far infrared dry sauna. Six months after the study had concluded, the participants continued to report a reduction in pain between 28 percent and 68 percent. Sauna use may naturally release human growth hormone (HGH), reducing serious muscle loss and atrophy occurring with aging.24 Injections of HGH are banned in nearly every professional sport due to potential side effects and long-term harm. This use is unnecessary as there are ways to naturally optimize your HGH using high-intensity exercise, intermittent fasting and saunas. Sauna use has also demonstrated benefits for individuals suffering from asthma, bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary disease.25 Those with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis report positive effects from using infrared sauna therapy, reporting less pain and stiffness after four to eight weeks of treatment.26 Your Choice in Saunas Makes a Difference You have several types of saunas to choose from, including:27 Finnish sauna, either wet or dry Far-infrared saunas Near-infrared saunas (emitters and lamps) The difference between an infrared sauna and the traditional Finnish-style saunas (whether wet or dry) is the Finnish-style sauna heats you from the outside in, like an oven. The infrared sauna heats you from the inside out. Infrared saunas are particularly known for their ability to promote detoxification, and the heating method is part of the reason. By heating your tissues several inches deep, the infrared sauna may enhance your natural metabolic processes and blood circulation, also helping oxygenate your tissues. Near-infrared saunas have additional benefits over others, including far-infrared saunas. Near-infrared penetrates your tissue more effectively than far-infrared since wavelengths under 900 nanometers in the near-infrared are not absorbed by water like the higher wavelengths in mid- and far-infrared, and thus can penetrate tissues more deeply. Benefits of Near-Infrared Saunas Beyond Heat The near-infrared range affects your health in a number of important ways,28 primarily through interaction with chromophores in your body. Chromophores are light absorbing molecules found in your mitochondria and in water molecules. To ensure near-infrared rays penetrate your skin, avoid wearing clothing when using a near-infrared sauna. In your mitochondria, there's a specific light-absorbing molecule called cytochrome c oxidase (cco), part of the mitochondrial electron transport chain. Cco is involved in energy production within the mitochondria. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — cellular energy — is the end product. ATP is the fuel your cells need for all their varied functions, including ion transport and metabolism. Most people don't realize light is a necessary fuel, like food. When your bare skin is exposed to near-infrared light, cco increases ATP production. Near-infrared light also has healing and repairing properties, and helps optimize many other biological functions. Its absence in artificial light sources, such as LED and fluorescent lights, is what makes these sources so dangerous to your health. We now know mitochondrial dysfunction is at the heart of most health problems and chronic diseases, including many signs of aging. For these reasons, I strongly recommend using a sauna offering a full spectrum of infrared radiation, not just far-infrared. Regular exposure to near-infrared through the sun and/or sauna is a powerful strategy to improve your health. Beware most infrared saunas emit dangerous non-native electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Seek one emitting low or no non-native EMFs to protect your health. To learn more about this issue, please see my interview with Steve Benda below, who has spent many years developing low-EMF saunas. Consider These Precautions Before Using a Sauna Before you jump into the first sauna you can find, there are a few safety factors you’ll want to consider: • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Heat stress or heat stroke are real possibilities from excessive fluid loss. The potential for the effects of significant dehydration are higher when you use a sauna after a hard workout. Carry a water bottle, preferably protected glass, with you and drink frequently. Do not drink alcohol in a sauna as the alcohol and heat may trigger a cardiovascular event. • If you experience a headache after using a sauna or hot tub, you may want to use a cool rag over your head so your body will cool more easily. Your core temperature will still rise, but the experience may be more pleasant for you. • If you are trying to have a baby, you’ll want to steer clear of the sauna. As your body heat rises, so does the temperature of your testicles, reducing your fertility. This reduces your sperm count and motility (how well sperm swim). The effect is reversible, but can take up to five weeks. You’ll also want to avoid the sauna during pregnancy as it may cause fetal abnormalities. • A sauna is supposed to be relaxing and not a torture chamber. Your body is designed to function optimally at 98.6 F (37 C). Raising your core temperature above 104.8 F (40.4 C) is a medical emergency. Staying in a sauna longer than you should, or becoming severely dehydrated, can lead to death. Avoid using a sauna by yourself; always sauna with a buddy. • Steer clear of public saunas that are not thoroughly and carefully cleaned between clients. Remember, saunas detoxify your body of heavy metals, which are released in your sweat. When you enter a sauna that hasn’t been cleaned you can potentially absorb the heavy metals and toxins from the previous client through your skin. Health centers offering sauna therapy have rigorous cleansing protocols in place between each patient, which is something you likely will not find in your local gym or other places offering saunas for public use. Ideally, consider purchasing your own for use at home. Dr. Mercola

    • Should You Exercise After a Heart Attack?

      By Dr. Mercola Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.1 Each year, 525,000 Americans suffer their first heart attack; another 210,000 heart attacks occur in those who have already had one. Diet, of course, plays a significant role in heart disease. Stress and physical activity are also significant contributing factors, and research consistently shows exercise is a great way to lower your risk. Exercise also serves double-duty by being an effective form of stress relief. Physical Activity Lowers Risk of Heart Failure Research2 published in 2015 concluded there’s an inverse dose-response relationship between physical activity and your risk for heart failure, and that you can reduce your risk of heart failure with even modest increases in physical activity. It even works if you start later in life. Overall, people who got at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week were 33 percent less likely to develop heart failure than those who were inactive. For those who were less active, engaging in less than 149 minutes of moderate activity or 74 minutes of vigorous activity a week still benefited with a 20 percent lower heart-failure risk. Moreover, previously inactive people who started exercising during the six-year study period and reached recommended physical activity levels still were able to reduce their risk of heart failure by 22 percent.  Those who went from inactive to walking 30 minutes four times a week lowered their risk by 12 percent. Many other studies have confirmed that even a small amount of exercise is better than nothing at all. Researchers have also concluded that exercise is the best preventive “drug" for heart disease.3 Indeed, a 2013 scientific review4 that compared the effectiveness of exercise versus drug interventions on mortality outcomes found “no statistically detectable differences” between physical activity and medications for heart disease. This is a potent reminder of the power of simple lifestyle changes, as well as the shortcomings of the drug paradigm. Exercise After Heart Attack Lowers Mortality Risk Many who have suffered a heart attack tend to worry about exerting themselves afterward, thinking their heart won’t be able to withstand the strain. In the past, exercise was thought to be a trigger of heart attacks and doctors typically prescribed rest. I remember this very clearly; even into the ‘60s the standard of care post heart attack was six weeks of bed rest. This theory has since been debunked. Most recently, research5,6 presented at the 2018 European Society of Cardiology congress found that increasing activity after a heart attack actually halves your risk of dying within the next four years. Lead author Dr. Örjan Ekblom, associate professor at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm noted, “It is well-known that physically active people are less likely to have a heart attack and more likely to live longer. However, we did not know the impact of exercise on people after a heart attack." To investigate the effect of exercise on survival, physical activity data and medical records of more than 22,200 heart attack patients were analyzed. As reported by Science Daily:7 “A total of 1,087 patients died during an average follow-up of 4.2 years. The researchers analyzed the association between the four categories of physical activity and death, after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and clinical factors. Compared to patients who were constantly inactive, the risk of death was 37 percent, 51percent and 59 percent lower in patients in the categories of reduced activity, increased activity, or constantly active, respectively.” According to Ekblom, "Our study shows that patients can reduce their risk of death by becoming physically active after a heart attack." He believes exercise should be a standard prescription after a patient has had a heart attack, noting that "Exercising twice or more a week should be automatically advocated for heart attack patients in the same way that they receive advice to stop smoking, improve diet and reduce stress." Ekblom also points out that this advice applies to all heart attack patients, without exceptions, including those suffering both minor and major heart attacks, and those who still smoke. As for how quickly you can pick up an exercise program, in this study, activity levels were reported at 6 and 10 weeks, and again at 12 months after the heart attack, and patients were asked how many times they’d exercised for at least 30 minutes in the previous week. Judging by the responses and outcomes, it seems starting an exercise program as early as four to five weeks after your heart attack can be beneficial.   Your Cholesterol Has Nothing to Do With Your Heart Attack Risk While conventional medicine still focuses on cholesterol and the plaque buildup in your arteries, compelling evidence suggests this heart attack theory is significantly flawed. A number of studies have shown that higher cholesterol levels are actually associated with increased life expectancy, and that there is no relationship between high cholesterol and death. As noted by Dr. Thomas Cowan, a founding board member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of “Human Heart, Cosmic Heart,” the diffuse systemic disease causing blocked arteries is NOT high cholesterol. Similarly, in his 2004 book, “The Etiopathogenesis of Coronary Heart Disease,”8 the late Dr. Giorgio Baroldi wrote that the largest study done on heart attack incidence revealed only 41 percent of people who have a heart attack actually have a blocked artery, and of those, 50 percent of the blockages occur after the heart attack, not prior to it. This means at least 80 percent of heart attacks are not associated with blocked arteries at all. So, what’s causing the heart attack? Three Underlying Factors That Cause Heart Attacks According to Cowan, the three most important factors and manifestations are: 1. Autonomic nervous system imbalance, specifically chronically suppressed parasympathetic nervous system activity (the "rest and digest" functions of your body), caused by factors such as stress, poor sleep, high blood pressure, diabetes, high-sugar diets and smoking, all of which have a detrimental effect on your mitochondrial function as well. 2. Lack of microcirculation to your heart. Contrary to popular belief, blood flow to your heart is not restricted to just your coronary arteries. You actually have a multitude of smaller blood vessels, capillaries, feeding blood into your heart, and if one or more of your main arteries get blocked, your body will automatically sprout new blood vessels to make up for the reduced flow. In other words, your body performs its own bypass. According to Cowan, your body is “perfectly capable of bringing the blood to whatever area of the heart it needs, and as long as your capillary network is intact, you will be protected from having a heart attack.” To understand how blood flows to and through your heart, check out the Riddle’s Solution section on www.heartattacknew.com’s FAQ page.9 There, you’ll find detailed images of what the actual blood flow looks like. The same factors that cause low sympathetic tone also lead to loss of microcirculation, including smoking, a high-sugar, low-fat diet, prediabetes, diabetes, chronic inflammation and inactivity. In fact, physical movement is one of the most effective ways to encourage and improve microcirculation to your heart, which helps explain why it’s so effective for reducing your risk of heart attack and lowering your mortality risk after a heart attack. 3. Lactic acid buildup due to impaired mitochondrial function. Poor mitochondrial function causes a buildup of lactic acid that triggers cramps and pain. When this pain and cramping occurs in your heart, it’s called angina. The lactic acid buildup also restricts blood flow and makes the tissue more toxic. When a cramp occurs in your leg, you stop moving it, which allows some of the lactic acid to drain off. Your heart cannot stop, however, so the glycolytic fermentation continues, and the lactic acid builds, eventually interfering with the ability of calcium to get into your heart muscle. This in turn prevents your heart from contracting, which is what you see on a stress echo or a nuclear thallium scan. In other words, your heart muscle is unable to contract due to acid buildup preventing calcium from entering the cells. As the acidosis continues, the tissue turns necrotic, causing a heart attack. The Uncommon Heart Attack Risk Women Need To Be Aware Of There’s also a rare heart attack trigger that targets primarily young and otherwise healthy women. Known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD),10 this trigger is dangerously easy to overlook, as few SCAD patients have any history of or risk factors for heart disease. SCAD is a leading cause of heart attacks in healthy women under 55; the average age of SCAD patients is 42. Essentially, SCAD occurs when the layers of your blood vessel wall tear apart from each other, trapping blood between the layers. As the blood pools and collects between the layers, your blood vessel gets choked off, killing heart muscle tissue downstream from the blockage, thereby triggering a heart attack. While the cause for SCAD is unknown, medical experts have theorized it may have something to do with hormonal variations. Common risk factors for SCAD include: Being female (80 percent of SCAD patients are women) Recently giving birth (20 percent of SCAD patients have recently given birth) Underlying blood vessel conditions such as fibromuscular dysplasia (a condition that causes abnormal cell growth in the arteries) Extreme physical exercise Severe emotional stress Commonly reported signs and symptoms of SCAD include: Lightheadedness Sweating Radiating pain in your neck, back or jawShortness of breath Pain, tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest (some women report feeling like their bra is suddenly too tight, even though they know it’s not)Stomach pain FatiguePain radiating down one or both arms If you experience these symptoms, call for immediate emergency medical assistance (in the U.S., call 911). It’s important to realize that many who develop SCAD are otherwise quite healthy and most do not have risk factors for heart disease. For this reason, it’s important to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of SCAD, in order to avoid a lethal heart attack. Commonsense Prevention Strategies So, what can you do to prevent and treat these underlying causes of heart attacks? Here’s are some commonsense suggestions that will target your mitochondrial function, improve microcirculation and help rebalance your parasympathetic tone: Eat a cyclical ketogenic diet Eat a whole food-based diet low in net carbs and high in healthy fats to optimize mitochondrial function. Add beet juice (or fermented beet powder) to help normalize your blood pressure. Fresh arugula or fermented arugula powder is another option. Stay active Get plenty of nonexercise movement each day; walk more and incorporate higher intensity exercise as your health allows. Intermittently fast Once you’ve progressed to the point of fasting for 20 hours each day for a month, consider doing a four- or five-day water fast several times a year. Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP) If you already have heart disease, look into EECP, a highly effective and noninvasive treatment option that improves microcirculation to your heart. It’s a Medicare insurance-approved therapy, and studies show EECP alone can relieve about 80 percent of angina. It is one of my absolute favorite therapies to help reverse the existing damage. EECP works by inflating compression cuffs on your thighs and calves that are synchronized with your EKG. When your heart is in diastole (relaxed), the balloons inflate, forcing blood toward your heart, thereby forcing the growth of new capillaries. It’s a really powerful and safe alternative to coronary bypass surgery for most people. Rather than bypassing one or two large arteries, you create thousands of new capillary beds that supply even more blood than the bypassed vessels. The sessions are about one hour long, and most patients will need about 35 sessions to receive benefit. Aside from angina, it’s also effective for heart failure and diastolic dysfunction. Many elite athletes also use it as an aid to maintain cardiac fitness when they are injured and unable to actively exercise, as EECP basically works as a passive form of exercise. To find a provider, visit EECP.com.11 G-strophanthin You may also consider taking g-strophanthin, an adrenal hormone that helps create more parasympathetic nervous system neurotransmitters, thereby supporting your parasympathetic nervous system. It also helps flush out lactic acid. Strophanthus is the name of the plant, the active ingredient of which is called g-strophanthin in Europe, and ouabain in the United States. Optimize your vitamin D level Get sensible sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D status and/or take an oral vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2. Optimize your magnesium level A lack of magnesium will impede your cellular metabolic function and deteriorate mitochondrial function, which in turn can lead to more serious health problems, including heart problems. Magnesium also helps relax blood vessels and normalize blood pressure, which is an underlying trigger of heart attacks. Hypertension,12 cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death13 are all pathologies associated with magnesium deficiency. Your best bet is to have an RBC magnesium test done, which measures the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells. You can also evaluate and track signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and to make sure you eat magnesium-rich foods and/or take a magnesium supplement, balanced with vitamins D3, K2 and calcium. Alternatively, keep an eye on your potassium and calcium levels, as low potassium and calcium are common laboratory signs of magnesium deficiency.14 Practice gratitude Implement heart-based wellness practices such as connecting with loved ones and practicing gratitude. Dr. Mercola

    • Study Shows Link Between Strong Muscles and a Strong Brain

      By Dr. Mercola Science has linked the benefit of physical exercise to brain health for many years. In fact, compelling evidence suggests physical exercise not only helps build cognitive power1 but also helps the brain resist shrinkage by promoting neurogenesis,2 i.e., the ability to adapt and grow new brain cells. Unfortunately, forgetfulness and “senior moments” are considered by many medical professionals to be a normal and anticipated part of aging. I disagree. In fact, I believe if you’ve noticed memory lapses you may want to seriously consider making immediate lifestyle changes to help reverse or at least minimize further deterioration. Your brain is actually quite adaptable and has the capacity to repair and regenerate, the medical term for which is neuroplasticity. A recent study has found a strong correlation between grip strength and brain health.3 Your Muscle and Cognitive Power Are Connected Researchers from Western Sydney University have found muscle strength, which they measured using hand grip strength, may be a strong indicator of the health of your brain.4 An analysis of data collected from over 475,000 British participants revealed the stronger an individual’s hand grip, the better they performed across every brain function test the researchers used, supporting previous research from the same university.5 During the study, the researchers evaluated reaction speed, logical problem-solving and multiple tests analyzing memory. Interestingly, they also determined the data was consistently strong both in individuals younger than 55 and those over 55. The analysis accounted for age, gender, body weight and education prior to confirming those who were stronger indeed had better functioning brains.6 A comparison of the results between the general population and individuals who suffered from schizophrenia found strong similarities. Grip strength was strongly correlated to brain health, particularly in working memory and processing speed.7 The researchers theorize if grip strength could predict functional and physical health outcomes in individuals who suffered from schizophrenia, further interventions to improve muscle strength could impact cognitive and real-world functioning.8 Although the correlation between muscle strength and physical activity to better brain health and cognitive function in seniors has been demonstrated in previous studies, the results from this study also revealed a strong connection in those younger than 55. Joseph Firth, Ph.D., from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University, commented on the results:9 “These sorts of novel interventions, such as weight training, could be particularly beneficial for people with mental health conditions. Our research has shown that the connections between muscular strength and brain functioning also exist in people experiencing schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder — all of which can interfere with regular brain functioning. This raises the strong possibility that weight training exercises could actually improve both the physical and mental functioning of people with these conditions.” Aerobic Exercise and Strength Training Affect Cognitive Ability Previous studies have also linked physical activity with an improvement in cognitive functioning, even for a short time. While studies have found exercising for at least 20 minutes has a measurable effect on cognitive functioning, one study demonstrated exercising for just 10 minutes could have a limited effect on cognitive performance following the exercise,10 suggesting even short bouts of exercise at work may improve productivity. Although the researchers cannot explain the immediate cause of the benefits, theories include an increase in blood flow to the brain or a release of specific proteins, which have demonstrated neuroprotective benefits and the stimulation of new neurons.11 Regular aerobic exercise also appears to increase the size of your hippocampus, the area of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Research from the University of British Columbia found resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results on the hippocampus as aerobic exercise.12 Aerobic exercise, which has the benefit of simultaneously building large muscle strength and engaging your cardiovascular system, was found to improve vocabulary learning in one study.13 Participants who exercised during their workday also increased their productivity by 23 percent.14 In one test, participants pedaled on a stationary bike for 30 minutes and were able to improve scores on memory, reasoning and planning.15 In another, after running on a treadmill, subjects improved their performance by 20 percent on memory tests and demonstrated a 20 percent improvement on problem-solving abilities.16 Compiled death statistics find the top three killers are heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases.17 It is not a secret that regular exercise and good nutrition will dramatically reduce your potential risk for these conditions, yet nearly 80 percent of American adults don't get the recommended amount of exercise each week.18 While exercise is critical, the nutritional choices you make each day also contribute greatly to building strong muscles and a strong cardiovascular system. Make Smart Meat Choices Cracking the code to build stronger muscles means addressing your body's dietary needs and not just your perceived need for protein. While protein does help develop strong muscles, cell growth requires more than just one primary nutrient. In fact, there are several reasons why you do not want to eat more protein than your body can immediately use, which I will discuss below. When choosing protein, it is important to choose wisely. Most meat at the grocery store today, unless otherwise labeled, is raised on a processed diet in confined quarters and injected with antibiotics — and producing low quality nutrition. Instead, you want to seek out grass fed organically-raised beef and organic free-range dark meat chicken. Choosing meat raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may expose your gut microbiome to low-dose antibiotics, disturbing your gut flora, immune system and emotional health.19 Animals raised in CAFO systems also consume genetically engineered (GE) feed, like corn and soy, which are heavily contaminated with glyphosate, also patented as a very effective antibiotic against a large number of beneficial organisms. How your meat is labeled may help you find high quality meat. For instance, "Antibiotic-free," "No antibiotic residues," and "No antibiotic growth promotants," have not been approved by the USDA and may be misleading, if not outright fraudulent.20 "Natural" or "All-Natural" is completely meaningless and has no bearing on whether or not the animal was raised according to organic principles. "Natural" meat and poultry products can by law receive antibiotics, hormones and GE grains, and can be raised in CAFOs. For the highest quality beef, seek out products certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). Your second-best choice is meat labeled, “100% USDA Organic,” “No antibiotics administered" and “Grass-fed” coupled with the USDA Organic label.21 When it comes to salmon, I strongly recommend eating only wild-caught Alaskan salmon or sockeye salmon, which are not allowed to be farmed. While farm-raised salmon may be less expensive in the store, they often carry a high health risk as testing revealed no less than 13 persistent organic pollutants, including carcinogenic PCBs and dioxins in farm-raised salmon.22 PCB concentrations are so high in farmed salmon researchers say:23 “Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.” Many farmed fish are also genetically modified to grow faster and larger than wild-caught species. Although larger, you trade high grade nutritionally packed omega-3 fats in wild-caught Alaskan salmon for high levels of inflammatory omega-6 fats in farmed salmon. You can tell if your salmon is wild-caught or farm raised by the color and fat content. The flesh of wild sockeye salmon is bright red, courtesy of natural astaxanthin content. The flesh is also lean, with thin white stripes. If the flesh is pale pink with wide fat marks, the salmon is farmed. Nutritional Choices Help Build Strong Muscles Your nutritional choices to grow strong muscles don’t end with your choice of meat. Here are four more foods you’ll want to include: • Macadamia nuts and pecans Macadamia nuts have the highest fat, and lowest carb and protein content of any nuts. Pecans are also high in fat and low in protein and carbs, with abundant antioxidants and minerals. Most Americans get more than enough protein each day and instead need a higher amount of fat for fuel with low carbohydrates. Macadamia nuts and pecans are the perfect snack choice or addition to your chicken or salad. • Organic broccoli and cauliflower These two vegetables contain essential nutrients to promote fat loss, muscle recovery and muscle growth. Broccoli and cauliflower contain the chemical I3C, aiding in DNA repair.24 Both are good sources of folate,25 necessary for the production of new cell growth.26 • Organic blueberries Blueberries may speed muscle recovery when they are eaten before and after exercise.27 Packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, they can be grown in your garden so you can enjoy fresh blueberries throughout the growing season, and frozen to enjoy all year-round. • Organic celery Celery is a delicious, satisfying and crunchy snack, delivering high amounts of fiber and vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium and manganese. Vitamin K supports the Gas6 protein, a cellular growth regulation factor necessary for the support of your heart, lungs, kidneys and cartilage.28 Vitamin K also regulates matrix γ-carboxylated glutamate (Gla) protein (MGP), found in cartilage and smooth muscle cells.29 Don’t Eat More Protein Than You Need While protein is necessary to build strong muscles, too much can do more harm than good. There are adverse consequences to eating excessive protein, including the buildup of excess nitrogen waste products in your body, having a stimulating effect on the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, and adversely impacting the GCN2 pathway involved in the aging process. The recommended dietary reference intake30 for protein is 0.8 grams per kilo per day of body weight or about 46 grams of protein per day for the average sedentary woman and 56 grams for the average sedentary man. However, the average American eats nearly double or more.31 For optimal health I believe most adults need 1 gram of protein per kilo of lean body mass, not total body weight; approximately 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. You’ll find a simple method of calculating your current protein requirements in my previous article, “Are You Sabotaging Your Health and Longevity by Eating Too Much Protein?” Foods and Other Lifestyle Choices Improve Brain Function While there is a strong correlation between exercise and cognitive performance, as with other organs in your body, your brain requires fuel. Your brain can metabolize either carbohydrates or fats for energy, but there is significant evidence the metabolic product of fats — ketones — may help restore and renew neurons even after damage has begun. Ketones are not the only nutrients with a neuroprotective effect reducing reactive oxygen species in your brain. While blueberries have anti-inflammatory effects on your muscles, they also may help prevent, and are potential treatment of, cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer's disease.32 The combination of a ketogenic diet and the addition of blueberries may help improve memory. In studies of participants who had mild cognitive impairment,33 both ketosis and blueberries helped improve memory in older adults.34 High levels of antioxidants in blueberries may also help reduce free radical damage, important for the prevention of DNA damage and diseases such as cancer. Broccoli, cauliflower and celery have positive effects on muscle growth and recovery, and are also associated with brain health. Celery is a rich source of luteolin, a plant compound with a calming influence on inflammation in your brain, which is a primary cause of neurodegeneration. Luteolin has also been linked with lower rates of age-related memory loss in mice.35 Older mice fed a luteolin-supplemented diet scored better on learning and memory tasks. In addition to celery, peppers and carrots are also good sources of luteolin. Broccoli and cauliflower are also good sources of choline, one of the B vitamins known for a role in brain development. Choline intake during pregnancy "super-charged" the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating it may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory, and may diminish age-related memory decline.36 Broccoli offers additional benefits as well, including the anti-inflammatory flavonoid kaempferol and three glucosinolate phytonutrients working together to support your body's detoxification processes.37 Protecting your brain health and cognitive function is essential if you would like to remain active and independent as you age. I share several more strategies to accomplish this goal in my previous articles, “How to Keep Your Brain Young,” and “How to Decrease Your Risk for Dementia By 90 Percent.” Dr. Mercola

    • How Strength Training Changes Your Body for Good

      By Dr. Mercola If you are still laboring under the misconception that strength training is only for hard-core bodybuilders and those interested in bulking up, it's time to change your thinking and incorporate some form of weight training into your exercise routine. Doing so will transform not only your health and physique, but also your perception of what you are capable of doing physically. If you are a woman at or older than middle age, strength training is vital because it protects against osteoporosis by increasing your bone density. It's a well proven fact working with weights ­­— whether it be your own body weight or that of a dumbbell or machine — is a beneficial exercise that will enhance your muscle tone and strengthen your bones. New evidence also suggests strength training helps reduce your body mass index (BMI) and your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The Benefits of Strength Training Similar to other forms of exercise, strength training boosts your mood and helps you build endurance and stamina. In addition, strength training helps you to:1,2 Avoid chronic conditions: Strength training can help prevent and/or reduce the effects of chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, depression, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes Develop strong bones: You can reducing your risk of osteoporosis, or brittle bones, by increasing your bone density through strength training Enhance your quality of life: Building muscle helps to improve your ability to do everyday activities, which will help you remain independent as you age Manage your weight: Strength training can help increase your metabolism and enable you to either lose or effectively maintain your weight Sharpen your thinking skills: Research suggests there is a direct correlation between strength training and cognitive well-being, especially in older adults On top of these wonderful benefits, you will very likely enjoy the transformation strength training will bring to your physical body. Over time, you will begin to see and feel improved muscle tone, which will boost your body awareness and self-esteem. Such noticeable changes will very likely make you a lifetime fan of this type of exercise. Along those lines, Sue Clark, strength coach at Chicago-based Bodysculpt Fitness, says:3 "Strength training is the only way you're going to truly be able to sculpt the physique of your personal dreams. Above and beyond the physical changes, though, a whole new persona emerges, as people start to feel really confident in their own bodies. Once I can get someone on board with strength training, they're good for life, because they're seeing results like they've never seen with cardio." Without Strength Training, You Are at Greater Risk for Osteoporosis While it's easy to equate strength training to stronger muscles, you may not realize strong muscles also help your body develop strong bones. Strong bones are vital to help you maintain the structural integrity of your body, as well as to prevent against osteoporosis. Brad Schoenfeld, assistant professor of exercise science at New York City's Lehman College and member of the board of directors for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, offered this insight about how strength training affects your bones:5 "Through a process known as bone remodeling, strength training stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts: cells that build bones back up. While you can achieve some of these bone benefits through aerobic exercise, especially in your lower body, resistance training is really the best way to maintain and enhance total-body bone strength." It may surprise you to learn your body loses bone mass at the rate of about 1 percent per year after age 40 due to:5 Age-related changes Inadequate nutrition Physical inactivity When your bones become fragile, they are increasingly susceptible to breakage and fracture, even from minor events such as bending, falling or tripping. Eight million women and 2 million men in the U.S. suffer from osteoporosis, which is thought to be responsible for some 2 million bone fractures annually.6 It's well-known that women are at greater risk for this condition because they have smaller, thinner bones than men. Experts at Harvard Medical School note:7 "Hip fractures are usually the most serious. Six out of 10 people who break a hip never fully regain their former level of independence. Even walking across a room without help may become impossible." Beyond the risk factors common to both men and women, bone loss is often more pronounced in women who have reached or passed through menopause. The loss of estrogen after menopause may contribute to bone loss because estrogen is a hormone designed to protect bones.8 Strength Training Shown to Protect Against Diabetes and Other Diseases A study9 published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests strength training may lower a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the National Institutes of Health followed nearly 36,000 women for 14 years through health questionnaires. The participants, ranging from 47 to 98 years of age, self-reported their exercise levels and health status. Study results reflect the muscle-strengthening exercise they performed was directly correlated to their incidence of heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. After adjusting for other variables such as age, diet and physical activity, compared to those who did none, the women who did any strength training at all were: More likely to have a lower BMI More likely to maintain a healthier diet Less likely to be a current smoker Shown to have a 30 percent lower risk for Type 2 diabetes Shown to have a 17 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease Notably, researchers found the addition of aerobic exercise helped drive down the risks for diabetes and heart disease even further. For example, participants who performed at least 120 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, along with some form of strength training, were shown to have a 65 percent lower risk for Type 2 diabetes than women who did neither. The study authors noted: "These data support the inclusion of muscle-strengthening exercises in physical-activity regimens for reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, independent of aerobic exercise." Beat Depression With Strength Training Previous studies have underscored the value of aerobic exercise for depression, due, in part, to the improved mood stimulated by the release of endorphins through activities such as running. While strength training may not release as many feel-good neurotransmitters, it also has been shown to be effective against depression. "There's a different high when you make a lift or complete your program that day," says Li Faustino, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City who treats people with depression and also lifts weights.10 One small study11 revealed 80 percent of older depressed adults experienced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms after taking up resistance training for 10 weeks. Research12 involving depressed senior citizens reflected a 50 percent reduction in depression-related symptoms for participants who took part in high-intensity resistance training three days a week for eight weeks. The study authors noted: "High intensity progressive resistance training (PRT) is more effective than low-intensity PRT or general-practitioner care for the treatment of older depressed patients." Kelly Coffey, a personal trainer in Northampton, Massachusetts, who began lifting weights shortly after being diagnosed with depression, suggests strength training provides a sense of empowerment related to the illness:13 "When you challenge yourself and push yourself, it's really hard not to feel pride when you're done, and pride is the opposite of that depressive, powerless feeling. You cannot help but feel proud, empowered and satisfied at the end of a good lift." Resistance Bands Are an Inexpensive Way to Build Strength and Muscle If you don't have access to fancy gym equipment, resistance bands can help you increase strength and build muscular endurance as part of your home-based workout program. These stretchy bands are: Simple and effective for working your muscles Useful for boosting your flexibility, range of motion and stamina A quick means of changing up how you do traditional strength-training exercises such as arm curls or pushups Inexpensive, easy to store and perfect for exercising while you are traveling No matter which type of bands you use, be sure to start with a light level of resistance and work your way up to higher levels of resistance over time. Check out the short video below for a demonstration of nine resistance-band exercises you can easily do at home or while traveling for business or pleasure. When It Comes to Strength Training, You Have Many Options A wonderful aspect of strength training is the many choices and flexibility you have. For that reason, as well as the fact it can be done at home or in a gym, you're far less likely to get bored. Beyond resistance bands, other types of strength training options include: Body-weight exercises Body-weight exercises, which include pushups, planks and squats, are convenient and require no special equipment, location or schedule Hand weights Hand weights are inexpensive and portable, and you can easily fit in a few sets of bicep curls and tricep presses while you watch TV or do other sedentary activities Kettlebells A kettlebell enables ballistic movements and swinging motions not possible with traditional weights; they can help you develop power in your glutes, hips and legs, as well as stability and strength for your arms, back, shoulders and wrists Medicine balls (exercise balls) Medicine balls, which vary in size and weight, can be thrown, caught, lifted and swung, requiring you to use a number of different muscle groups to maneuver them Resistance machines at your fitness center or gym If you have access to a fitness center or gym, you may want to experiment with some good-quality resistance equipment because it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort versus the mechanics of each movement Rope or rock-wall climbing Climbing — a staple exercise of combat fitness and military training for millennia — targets your abs, arms, back, hands and shoulders, helping you increase agility and gain coordination Strength classes at your fitness center or gym Fitness centers and gyms offer a variety of strength-training classes, such as BOSU ball, Forza, Pilates, Smart Bells, Urban Rebounding, water-based exercise and yoga, and you may want to try a few of them to determine the best fit Important Cautions if You Are New to Strength Training Before you get started, I advise you to take a moment to evaluate your level of readiness for strength training by considering some important cautions. Check with your doctor first if you: Are a senior citizen who previously has not been physically active  Are currently dealing with a serious illness Have a chronic condition, such as low-back pain or a bad knee It's best to warm up your muscles before launching into strength training because cold muscles are more prone to injury than warm ones. Five to 10 minutes of brisk walking or another aerobic activity can help warm your muscles. As you do each set of repetitions, listen to your body. If you experience pain, stop the exercise immediately. You might try again by changing your posture or position or using less weight. Using proper technique is an important aspect of strength training. Not only will good technique help you avoid injuries, but it will also ensure you achieve maximum benefits from the workout. Another technique you can try is blood flow restriction training or Kaatsu training. It involves performing strength training exercises while restricting venous blood flow (but not arterial flow) to the extremity being worked. A significant benefit of the method is that you can do strength exercises using just 30 to 50 percent of the weight you'd normally use while still reaping maximum benefits. By restricting blood flow to the muscle, lactic acid and other waste products build up, giving you the same benefit as heavy lifting but without the dangers associated with heavy weights. For this reason, it's a great strategy for the elderly and those who are recuperating from an injury. If you are brand-new to weight training and feel unsure about how to approach it, take a class or watch a video. Another option is to work with a personal trainer to learn the correct form and technique for the types of strength training of interest to you. When It Comes to Exercise, Seek Variety To achieve the biggest, lasting gains, I recommend you engage in a variety of exercise. This is important because your body adapts very quickly to any exercise routine you undertake. As such, you need to continually change up your activities to ensure your body remains sufficiently challenged. If you are new to exercise, you may want to begin by establishing a goal to take at least 10,000 steps a day, which is around 5 miles, or 8 kilometers. In time, you'll want to advance toward 15,000 steps a day.  Once you succeed in getting more movement into your life, you will want to add other activities. Some of my personal favorites are: Core training High-intensity cardio Peak fitness Strength training Stretching Dr. Mercola

    • Sore Muscles? Why You Should Exercise Anyway

      By Dr. Mercola If you’ve been active at all — gardening, lifting weights or trying a new workout routine — you’ve very likely experienced some type of muscle soreness, whether acute or delayed onset. While it is common to experience post-exercise muscle soreness when you have just resumed activity after a period of inactivity, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur even during periods of consistent exercise. Understanding why your muscles are sore and how you can both minimize and accommodate sore muscles will help you deal with muscle discomfort, tenderness and stiffness. You might be surprised to learn that sore muscles are not always a reason to skip your workout. Why Exercise? If you are still wondering why exercise is important, I’d like to remind you of a few of the reasons why your body needs physical activity on a regular basis. Because most of these benefits are temporary, not permanent, you will benefit most by getting active and staying active. In terms of benefits, exercise: Boosts your metabolism and helps you to maintain a healthy weight Helps you avoid chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes Reduces depression symptoms and improves sleep quality1 Soothes anxiety and improves your mood2 Supports your neurological system and brain so it resists shrinkage as you age; improves your cognitive abilities3 Tones and strengthens your muscles Dealing With Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness Very often when you exercise, especially if you’re trying something you’ve never done before or ramping up the intensity of an exercise you’ve been doing for a while, you experience muscle soreness, which can also be accompanied by cramping, pain and stiffness. Generally speaking, most of these outcomes are usually not a cause for concern. Later in this article, I will share some ways to treat muscle soreness at home. While most people expect short-term muscle soreness, some are not prepared for DOMS — the gradually increasing soreness known to occur between 24 to 48 hours after you’ve been active. "DOMS is a common result of physical activity that stresses the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to," said David Draper, professor of athletic training in the department of exercise sciences at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. As a result of the strain, says Draper, "Small microscopic tears occur in the muscle.”4 The act of creating these micro tears automatically signals your body to send amino acids and other nutrients to help repair stressed muscles. The more you exercise and stress your muscles, the more your body activates the muscle-repair process. Over time, your muscles continue to grow bigger and stronger. To help support the growth and rebuilding of your muscles, you’ll want to eat moderate amounts of high-quality protein as part of your daily diet. According to Draper, DOMS occurs when your muscles are performing an eccentric or lengthening contraction, such as the portion of a bicep curl when you are lowering the weight back to its starting position. Some other activities normally associated with DOMS include jogging or running downhill, pushups, squats and weightlifting.5 In addition to DOMS-related pain, you may also experience sensitivity to touch, soreness, stiffness or weakness in the affected area. Fortunately, DOMS generally peaks in 24 to 72 hours and resolves completely in three to five days.6 "The aches and pains should be minor and are simply indications that [your] muscles are adapting to your fitness regimen," says Carol Torgan, Ph.D., health strategist and educator with the National Institutes of Health and spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine.7 Who Is Affected by Muscle Soreness? Although you may think only hard-core exercisers or bodybuilders would be at risk for muscle soreness, especially DOMS, the truth is both beginners and longtime exercisers alike experience it. "Anyone can get cramps or DOMS, from weekend warriors to elite athletes," stated Torgan. "The muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time."8 Given your susceptibility to muscle soreness, especially if you are just beginning to exercise, it’s important to set yourself up for success by understanding what your body may go through as it begins to build tolerance to regular exercise. If you experience a great deal of discomfort after your first workout and have not received proper knowledge or guidance, you may give up. About the need to coach new exercisers through pain, Torgan said:9 "The big problem is with people that aren't very fit [who] go out and try these things; they get all excited to start a new class and the instructors don't tell them that they might get sore. [B]ecause they aren't familiar with it, they might worry they've hurt themselves. Then they won't want to do it again." Because your body adapts and builds tolerance to new exercise routines when you continue performing them, DOMS should become less of an issue for you over time. As your muscles gradually become conditioned, the frequency and intensity of DOMS will diminish. In fact, notes Torgan, “[T]he next time they do the activity, there will be less muscle tissue damage, less soreness and faster strength recovery.”10 How to Soothe Sore Muscles Even if you begin to accept muscle soreness and pain as beneficial to the growth and development of a healthy body, chances are you’ll still want a few suggestions on how to soothe your sore muscles. Below are some suggested natural remedies:11,12 Anti-inflammatories Instead of reaching for an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, you might want to try natural anti-inflammatories such as ginger, tart cherry juice or turmeric, to name a few. Some find the topical application of arnica or the use of arnica montana homeopathic pellets to provide relief. Be advised that NSAIDs are dangerous, particularly when taken for long periods of time. Baths For temporary relief from muscle pain and soreness, you might try taking a warm bath with Epsom salt. Foam rolling A light 10- to 15-minute session of foam rolling on sore muscles post-workout may help soothe aches and pains and reduce the effects of DOMS. Heat For muscle aches and pains, applying a heat pack will help bring blood flow to the area, which promotes healing, soothes pain and increases flexibility. The increased blood flows brings a greater flow of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area, while removing waste materials responsible for the pain. Ice If you suffer a sudden injury while working out, especially if it involves swelling, you can apply ice for the first 48 to 72 hours to ease pain and reduce secondary tissue damage. Apply ice for about 20 minutes once an hour. Be sure to protect your skin by wrapping ice packs in a towel and, as best you can, wrap or compress the ice around the injured area to minimize swelling. If you are not sure if heat or ice would be better, check out my article When to Use Ice, When to Use Heat. Light exercise Swimming or walking may help loosen tight muscles and reduce pain. Since DOMS usually affects only a subset of the body parts that were worked, you may be able to focus on other muscles while the fatigued ones recover. "Since there's a loss in muscle strength … it's best to plan a few days of easy exercise to prevent further muscle damage and reduce the likelihood of injury," states Torgan.13 Massage Massage releases endorphins, which help induce relaxation, relieve pain and reduce levels of stress chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline. Beyond that, massage therapy can also reduce anxiety and boost your health-related quality of life. Rest If you are experiencing head-to-toe muscle soreness or a great deal of fatigue in a particular muscle group, it’s OK to take a day or two of rest to allow your body to recover. Just don’t drop out for an extended period or you may lose most or all of the benefits you’ve achieved. On top of that, you’ll likely suffer even more pain and soreness later on when you try to get restarted. Stretching I prefer active to passive stretching and my favorite type is Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), which was developed by Aaron Mattes. With AIS, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation, increase the elasticity of muscle joints and help your body repair itself. Five Reasons You Should Skip Your Workout While skipping a workout is something you should do only selectively, certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins, author of “Lift to Get Lean,” told Women’s Health there are a few particular occasions when you will be better off taking it easy than exercising. Below are five reasons to skip your workout:14 Big event If you have a big exercise-related event, such as a bike excursion, marathon or triathlon, coming up in the very near future, you’d be wise to skip your workout for a couple of days beforehand to ensure you’ll be adequately ready for the big day. If you’ve been consistently training hard over the months leading up to your event, taking a day or two off won’t be detrimental. Typically, doing an intense workout the day before a big event will most certainly do more harm than good. Certain Illnesses If you’re suffering from a serious illness or the flu, your body will appreciate you giving it a break from working out, especially because exercise can tax your immune system. If you’re exhausted or feeling very ill you’ll want to avoid going to the gym where you would likely spread germs and put the health of others at risk, while possibly impeding your healing process. That said, if you have a simple cold and you feel up to it, exercise can actually be beneficial. Increasing your body temperature enough to break a sweat may even help you to kill off invading viruses (it's sort of like a do-it-yourself fever). Injury If you have suffered a recent injury, or are still recovering from a past injury, to an area of your body that will be involved in your workout routine, it may be time to take a break. In some cases, you may be able to work around the injury, such as riding a stationary bike or doing a leg workout with a fractured finger, for example. If your injured area features prominently in most exercise, such as a twisted ankle, you’d be wise to skip your workout until your ankle has fully healed. After that, you can ease back into exercise cautiously. States Perkins, "There does come a time when it's essential to start using the injured body part again, usually around three to four weeks after a mild injury."15 Intensity If you routinely do intense workouts, it’s important to realize your muscles will need a certain amount of recovery time between workouts for you to receive maximum benefit. To achieve a higher level of fitness and strength, your muscles need the stress of exercise and a period of recovery. Perkins suggests you rate your soreness on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is a “you can’t get out of bed” soreness. "If you are a 7 or 8 on that scale, let your muscles recover a bit more before going after a big workout," suggests Perkins. "Working out when those muscles are sore is interrupting the recovery process.”16 Overtraining While the symptoms of overtraining aren't always clear-cut, Perkins suggests if you perform a typical workout five or more times per week — or work out intensely two to four times a week — you are a candidate for overtraining. This might be you, particularly if you can identify with these overtraining symptoms: 1) You're not making steady progress on your fitness goals; 2) you're feeling increasingly weaker after workouts; 3) you’re dealing with increasing levels of exhaustion, particularly after completing multiple workouts in a row; and 4) you begin to dread going to the gym. "This can be your body telling you take a break," Perkins says.17 The Bottom Line: Keep Exercising Even When You Feel Sore As you would expect, it takes weeks and months of consistent exercise to achieve noticeable results. As you go along, you might choose to accept tired, achy muscles as a signal they are being effectively worked and developed. Of course, soreness is not necessary to see improvements, but it is a likely outcome, especially if you are trying something new that involves considerable effort, such as weightlifting. Even when it’s painful, experiencing some muscle soreness may encourage you to continue pursuing your fitness goals. "Soreness can serve as encouragement in a workout program because people like immediate results,” says Draper. "So, something like soreness can give people encouragement that they are in fact working the muscle."18 That said, if you have experienced a sudden injury, consistently have pain while exercising or have pain that lasts more than a few days, it may be time to check in with your doctor. The sooner you get checked out and begin healing, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to exercising. In spite of occasional muscle soreness, I can testify to the good feelings that come from exercise and the many, many positive benefits you’ll receive from being active. If you need help getting started with an exercise program, check out my fitness plan. Dr. Mercola

    • Even Short Bursts of Exercise Can Decrease Disease and Risk of Death

      By Dr. Mercola Time and again, fitness research reminds us that physical activity is one of the best preventive “drugs” available, capable of improving or even reversing a number of common ailments, including mental health problems, diabetes and heart disease.1 For example, one meta-review2 of 305 randomized controlled trials comparing the effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes was unable to detect any statistical differences between exercise and medications for prediabetes and heart disease. In other words, exercise can replace most drug treatments for these conditions. Even cancer patients stand to benefit tremendously from exercise, extending their lifespan and lowering their risk of recurrence. Exercise has also been proven to be key for longevity, which isn’t particularly surprising considering it helps correct the metabolic problems underlying most chronic diseases that lead to an early grave. The question is what type of exercise is the most effective and how much exercise is “enough?” There are no hard and fast rules here, but studies do offer some valuable clues and guidelines. As a general rule, something is better than nothing, and one of the foundational fitness guidelines is to get regular movement throughout your waking hours. In other words, avoiding sitting as much as possible is key, as the simple act of bearing weight on your legs helps stimulate a biochemical cascade that benefits your health. Over and beyond that, the research is quite clear on the type of exercise that is the most effective — both in terms of delivering powerful health benefits and being time-efficient — and that is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Study Investigates Exercise Dosage Required for Longevity According to one of the most recent studies looking at what it takes to lower your mortality risk, mini bursts of activity are as effective for extending your life as longer, dedicated fitness regimens. As noted by Forbes,3 “The life-extending benefits of physical activity may add up, regardless of whether you do it in one concentrated session or short bursts throughout the day.” For this study,4,5 published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the team analyzed data from 4,840 American adults aged 40 and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The exercise portion of this survey required participants to wear accelerometers around their waist for up to a week to track their physical activity levels. The data recorded by the device allowed the researchers to compile detailed information about the amount of moderate and vigorous activity each participant was engaged in. The goal of the investigation was to ascertain “whether moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity needs to be accumulated in bouts to provide mortality benefits.” As noted by the authors:6 “The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults accumulate at least 150 min/wk of moderate or 75 min/wk of vigorous‐intensity physical activity for substantial health benefits. The guidelines also direct that activity be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes. The 10‐minute bout criterion originated in 1995 and was intended to provide flexibility in achieving the recommended dose. This messaging shift emphasized the importance of accumulating a total volume of moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity and has remained a central feature of guidelines as they evolved. Surprisingly, evidence supporting a minimum bout of 10 minutes is limited.” Total Daily Activity Regardless of Bout Duration Provides Valuable Benefits Activity measurements included the total number of minutes spent in activity and the number of high-intensity bursts lasting longer than five and 10 minutes respectively (allowing for interruptions of up to two minutes). Death records were also reviewed to see how many people died during the 6.6-year follow-up. As noted in the featured article:7 “With all of this information, the researchers could determine whether there was any association between the total amount of physical activity and death and whether this association was different when you only counted bouts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity that was greater than five minutes or 10 minutes in duration.” What they discovered was that the more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity you get, the lower your likelihood of death, regardless of whether that activity is done in bouts lasting a certain number of minutes or done in longer, continuous sessions. At the low activity end, those who got at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day had a mortality risk that was one-third lower than those who remained sedentary. (This finding echoes previous results from one of the largest studies8 ever done, which found those who got 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week [just over 21 minutes per day] lowered their risk of death by 31 percent during the 14-year study period, compared to those who did not exercise.) Mortality rates got even lower from there. Those who got between 60 and 99 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day lowered their risk of death by about 50 percent, and those who stayed active for at least 100 minutes or more each day were 75 percent less likely to die. Again, a key finding was that it didn’t really matter if this activity was done in short bursts throughout the day or in longer concentrated sessions. As explained by the authors: “Sporadic and bouted moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity was similarly and strongly associated with mortality risk. Mortality risk reductions associated with moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity are independent of how activity is accumulated … The key message … is that total physical activity (i.e., of any bout duration) provides important health benefits. Practitioners can promote either long single or multiple shorter bouts of activity in advising adults how to progress toward 150 min/wk of moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity. This flexibility may be particularly valuable for individuals who are among the least active and likely at greater risk for developing chronic conditions.” Limiting Your Sitting Is a Foundational Aspect of Good Health Since it’s the overall amount of physical activity each day that brings you the greatest rewards — at least in terms of life extension — you can accumulate “fitness points” either by doing burst-type exercises several times a day, or simply walking and moving about a lot. In this study, no distinction was made between intentional exercise such as taking a brisk walk and unintentional activity such as vacuum cleaning or walking up a flight of stairs. Just about any physical activity counts. In earlier research, the greatest longevity benefits were in fact reaped by those who primarily walked for an hour or more each day.9 This makes sense when you consider that chronic sitting has health and mortality risks similar to smoking, raising both your risk of lung cancer and all-cause mortality by about 50 percent. Importantly, it elevates your risk for an early death independently of your fitness and other lifestyle habits. It’s ok to sit some, and you don’t have to go under an hour like I have, but ideally you’ll want to limit your sitting to three hours or less, and aim for 10,000 steps a day, over and above your scheduled workout. A fitness tracker can be a helpful tool to monitor your progress and ensure you’re hitting your mark. Simple Ways to Get More Activity Into Your Daily Life That said, it’s worth stating that HIIT has been shown to have physical benefits that surpass mere walking — such as boosting human growth hormone (HGH) and building strength and stamina — but at least in terms of reducing your risk of death over the long term, staying active, in whatever way works for you, is the most important factor. The great news is there are countless ways of getting more movement into your daily life. Here are a handful of suggestions: Walk or bicycle whenever possible rather than driving your car. Walking can easily be turned into a high-intensity bout exercise by intermittently quickening your pace Take every opportunity to get out of your office chair and move. For example, deliver a message to a colleague in person rather than sending an email or test (provided they’re within walking distance); stand up when talking on the phone; conduct walking meetings or standing meetings Opt for less convenience. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; park further away from the store entrance; use a push mower rather than a sit-down mower to cut your grass; rake your own leaves and your own garden rather than paying someone to do it Get active with your children; play ball, Frisbee or any other activity the whole family enjoys Science-Backed Seven-Minute Routine In related news, science correspondent Erin Brodwin writes10 about her experience with the Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout app,11 designed by exercise physiologist Chris Jordan, who has worked as a fitness consultant for the U.S. Air Force. Each HIIT session consists of 12 exercises done in quick succession. “The first four exercises I did — 30 seconds each of jumping jacks, wall sits, pushups and crunches, with 10 seconds of rest in between — were easy,” Brodwin writes.12 “But by the time I got to planks, I was starting to feel a bit winded. At this point, I'd also done stepups onto a chair, squats and tricep dips … Next came running in place while lifting my knees as high as I could, lunges, alternating pushups and rotations (raising one arm in the air while balancing on the other), and side planks … I'm satisfied overall with the 7-Minute Workout, and I've been doing it as an addition to my regular yoga routine every so often. But don't take my word for it — it doesn't take long to try it out yourself.” Optimize Your Fitness With HIIT While there are many conflicting views on fitness, I believe an ideal approach focuses on balance and variety. So, while daily nonexercise movement lays the foundation for good health, more intense exercise is needed to really optimize physical fitness and maximize the health benefits you can get from all the other positive lifestyle strategies you engage in. A growing body of clinical research maintains that the ideal fitness regimen is one that mimics the movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, as these movement patterns are what your body is hard-wired for. This includes: A variety of physical activities performed regularly (including walking, weight training, burst-type cardio and stretching). As a general rule, HIIT would be performed once or twice a week and weight training at least twice a week Alternating more intense activity days with less active days Ample time for rest after physical exertion Part of what makes HIIT so beneficial for your body composition and general fitness and longevity is that it engages more muscle tissue than conventional aerobic cardio exercise. You have three different types of muscle fibers: slow, fast and super-fast. Only the super-fast muscle fibers will impact your production of HGH, also known as “the fitness hormone,” which is key for strength, health and longevity, and HIIT is the only way to effectively engage these super-fast fibers. If you're over the age of 30, especially if you lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, you've likely entered a phase known as somatopause (age-related growth hormone deficiency). As your HGH levels decrease, your levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 also decrease. This is another important part of what drives your body's aging process. Another tremendous benefit of HIIT is that it produces anti-inflammatory myokines in your muscles, which very effectively reverses metabolic syndrome by increasing insulin sensitivity, glucose utilization inside the muscle, and the liberation and burning of fat from adipose cells. Myokines also act as chemical messengers that inhibit the release and effect of inflammatory cytokines produced by your body fat. They also significantly, via an inhibitory effect, reduce body fat irrespective of calorie intake. Four-Minute Exercise Three Times a Day May Be an Ideal Alternative The take-home message here is simply to remain as active as you can, all day long. Whenever you have a chance to move and stretch your body in the course of going about your day, do so. That said, there’s no doubt that an ideal fitness regimen requires a little more effort. The good news is HIIT is extremely time-efficient. Aside from the seven-minute routine highlighted above, there are many others, most of them requiring mere minutes. My current favorite is the Nitric Oxide Dump, a four-minute exercise that can improve mitochondrial health and slow down age-related muscle decline. Nitric oxide (NO) is a soluble gas stored in the lining of your blood vessels (endothelium). It’s produced inside your endothelial cells from the amino acid L-arginine, where it acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body. Along with promoting healthy endothelial function and heart health, NO supports healthy blood flow by helping your veins and arteries dilate. This, in turn, allows vital oxygen and nutrients to flow freely throughout your body. NO 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. When you exercise, it takes only 90 seconds for your blood vessels to run out of stored NO, triggering the process of making more. This is why working your major muscle groups for 90 seconds can be so effective, despite appearing limited.13 The Nitric Oxide Dump workout was developed by Dr. Zach Bush based on this premise. Less really is more when you know how to harness your body’s NO-generating powers! Short bursts of high-intensity activity are the most effective. It’s also important to wait at least two hours between sessions because that’s how long it takes for NO to synthesize in your body for subsequent release. I recommend doing the Nitric Oxide Dump three times a day. And, since you don’t need any equipment, you can do it just about anywhere. For a full demonstration, see the video above. Dr. Mercola

    • Should You Exercise When Your Knee Hurts?

      By Dr. Mercola Arthritis is a general term encompassing over 100 different conditions affecting your joints and surrounding tissues.1 Any joint may be affected, but the most common are the knees, hips, hands and wrists.2 One of the most common forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), contributes to the ever-rising prevalence of knee pain across the world. In one study of elderly people living in Korea, researchers found knee pain in 32 percent of men and 58 percent of women.3 Another study,4 using a representative sample of the U.S. population from the Framingham study, found the prevalence of knee pain had increased substantially over a 20-year period, but obesity accounted for only a small portion of this increase. This study found frequent knee pain affected approximately 25 percent of all men and women, limiting function and mobility and impairing quality of life. Among those suffering knee pain from OA, the pain was a major reason cited for undergoing knee replacements.5 Risk factors for knee pain are not limited to arthritis, but also include sprains and strains, patellofemoral syndrome, overuse, misuse and referred pain from the hip, femur or spine.6 Determining whether or not you should continue exercising when you experience knee pain will depend upon your symptoms and the reason for the pain. The Rule of Pain Sometimes pain is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to take it easy. At other times, pain may be the result of becoming active after a period of inactivity. How do you know the difference? Although you may have heard “no pain, no gain” is a necessary evil when starting an exercise program, the reality is there are two different kinds of pain or discomfort associated with activity. In some instances it's important to continue to stay active through the pain, while in others it's important to rest. Understanding the differences can help reduce your knee pain in the long run. There are two simple rules of pain7 to use as you evaluate whether remaining active is the best choice or not. To track changes in the pain you experience it is helpful to keep a calendar or diary in which you’ll record a rank immediately after you exercise and again the next morning. These two pain rankings will help you determine if the pain you experience can be safely worked through and will in fact help reduce your overall day-to-day pain, or is just making the situation worse. Using a zero-to-10 scale where zero to 2 is considered safe, 2 to 5 is acceptable and 5 to 10 is pain to be avoided, you'll rank your pain immediately and the next morning. For instance, if your usual pain level is 2 and after exercising it rises to 4, a 2-point bump may be considered safe. If however, it rises to 7, you've likely done too much and should cut back. Using the same scale, if your normal morning pain is 2 and it remains at 2 the following morning, then you likely didn't do too much exercise. However, if the pain rises the next morning more than two points over your normal then you should back off and lower the level of intensity. You also want to evaluate the type of pain you're having. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common occurrence when you start a new exercise program. Often referred to as post-exercise muscle soreness, this stiffness is not usually a cause for concern and may be treated at home. However, if you experience sharp shooting pains or a dull, deep-seated pain not relieved by changing position, you may be experiencing bone pain or neurological pain requiring further evaluation. A Sedentary Lifestyle Damages Joints and Increases Pain A visit to orthopedic specialist Dr. Bridget Quinn from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston gave NPR journalist Richard Knox hope his knee pain had not permanently sidelined him from his exercise of choice, running. Instead Quinn pointed out:8 "One thing about your history that's very telling is this all started after a period of inactivity. Your tissues, when you're not active, get tight and weak. And this can predispose you to this condition, called chondromalacia of the patella." Instead of rest, Quinn prescribed months of physical therapy to focus on the journalist’s knee, hip, back, abdomen and quadriceps muscles, all important in helping the kneecap track properly. The physical therapist treating Knox finds the mechanics of the entire lower extremities, from the core to the feet, are needed to correct the problem in the knee.9 A program of stretching and strengthening is often prescribed to reduce increasing pain caused by biomechanical problems. This type of pain is different from minor aches and pains often experienced after beginning an exercise program following months of sedentary activity. A sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk for slight injuries to your knee. It can also influence pain caused by arthritis. In a study10 analyzing over 1,500 people who died between 1905 and 1940, and another 819 who died between 1976 and 2015, researchers found OA in the knee was 2.5 times greater when you were born in the post-industrial age as when you were born in the late 1800s. Senior study author Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D., paleoanthropologist at Harvard University, believes the study demonstrated the rising number of people suffering from OA is a result of an increase in sedentary lifestyle habits. Lieberman believes this might be triggered by weaker cartilage and leg muscles, causing the joint to break down more quickly than expected.11 Thus, research data has demonstrated the rising incidence in knee pain may be related to declining strength in muscles supporting your knee and the answer to your knee pain is likely not more rest but, instead, more exercise. Exercise May Change Your Mind About Joint Replacement How much pain relief you experience may depend upon how much exercise you do and the quality of your biomechanics. In a study of nearly 10,000 people suffering from knee and hip OA,12 researchers found those who exercised at least twice a week for six weeks experienced a 25 percent pain relief on average. This has an impact on reducing the intake of painkillers and improving productivity in the workplace. In another study,13 researchers enrolled individuals with severe arthritis who fulfilled the criteria to have a knee replacement surgery. The participants took part in supervised exercise twice a week for eight weeks, saw a dietitian if they were overweight and maintained their pain during exercising using the parameters discussed above. Half of the participants were randomized to continue with their knee replacement surgery. Only 25 percent of those who were not immediately scheduled for a joint replacement went on to have the knee replaced within a year, stating their pain relief was significant enough from exercise to delay their surgery for at least a year. Although physical activity is often prescribed to treat a range of diseases, many don't follow the advice as they fear exercise may harm joints that already hurt. While global studies14 have demonstrated exercise is the treatment of choice for painful joints in middle-aged and older individuals, encouraging patients to put this recommendation into practice is sometimes challenging. Initially, some experience a 10 percent increase in pain15 when they begin an exercise program. This is not a warning sign of a medical problem but rather a signal you're doing something you're not used to. Research continues to provide high-quality evidence16 indicating therapeutic exercise provides benefits of reducing knee pain sustained up to six months after stopping formal treatment. The magnitude of the effect is comparable with estimates reported for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and thus demonstrates safer and healthier treatment is available to those who suffer from OA. The benefits of remaining active with arthritis also include17 controlling pain and swelling, slowing deterioration of the joint, reducing anxiety and improving mood and sleep. Rest should be considered when the pain you experience is not from muscles having had a healthy workout, but acute pain resulting from hurting an arthritic joint. However, once you're feeling better you should return to your activities and consider modifying your exercise to accommodate a painful joint.18 For example, try water aerobics for a few weeks to reduce stress on the knee. Lower Body Mechanics Focused on the Knee In this short video, podiatrist Dr. Ian Sadler describes some of the biomechanical triggers of knee pain. These changes contribute to cartilage damage in the knee, and ultimately OA. As the knee sits between the hip and foot, there's often a relationship between your knee pain and the biomechanics of your foot and hip. For every 1 degree of pronation in the foot, your tibia internally rotates 1 degree, which in turn affects the knee joint as it takes stress generated by the rotation.19 Internal or external rotation of the tibia can cause displacement of the path your kneecap takes as you bend and straighten your knee. As well, internal or external rotation of your hip will be compensated at the knee. This means, if you continue to have muscle-related, increasing knee pain with exercise, you may want to have your lower extremity biomechanics evaluated to determine if you have tight muscles negatively impacting the way in which you walk. These tight muscles and tendons are contributing factors to strain on ligament structures wrapping around the knee and lower leg, and thus increase the potential for pain. Although some of this biomechanical challenge may be addressed using orthotics, these devices do not encourage strengthening of your muscles supporting your foot, knee and hip. Instead, orthotics work much like a cast or splint, actually weakening some of your muscle while the device changes the way in which your foot works. A strong physical therapy program or knowledgeable personal fitness trainer may help you improve your biomechanics through flexibility and strength training.20 Sometimes simple walking exercises can help to retrain weak muscles, therefore reducing knee pain and increasing your functional ability. Psychological and Physical Benefits of Exercising in Groups One study suggested you experience significant improvements in your physical, mental and emotional health when you work out in a group setting. In contrast, those who work out alone tended to put in more effort in the study but experienced little to no change in their stress level, or perceived level of fitness.21 Those who worked out in a group setting lowered their stress by 26 percent on average. While this study did not demonstrate whether physical improvements were stronger working out as a group or solo, it does suggest reduced stress and improved emotional well-being may be tremendously motivating. Increasing your motivation may also lead to improvements in physical strength and ability. While these are positive benefits, it's important not to push yourself to the point you experience greater knee pain from overexertion. Rob McGillivray, personal trainer and founder of RETROFIT, commented on the growing trend of group classes:22 “Group activity may not be a new concept but it has certainly seen massive international up-trends over the last 20 years with rapidly rising numbers in spin cycling, aerobic and dance-based classes and the emergence of CrossFit and its tribe mentality. I believe it to be a key indicator that working out in a motivational pack or using it as a tool to enhance internal or external competitive performance is fast becoming the preferred form of exercise.” Other benefits of group exercise include working in a social and fun environment reducing the potential you'll quit because of boredom.23 Groups are designed to be safe and effective, using a consistent exercise schedule, increasing your accountability for participating in the class and often having specific classes for those who have no prior exercise knowledge or experience. Whether working out in a group or solo, exercise improves your release of endorphins and creates feelings of happiness and euphoria.24 Exercise helps improve your self-confidence, prevents cognitive decline,25 alleviates anxiety, boosts overall brain performance and sharpens your memory.26 Pain Management at Home Exercise should not trigger significant pain or discomfort above your normal pain level. In fact, research has demonstrated exercise may reduce your normal pain level by building strength and flexibility in muscles supporting your joints, thus reducing stress to the cartilage, tendons and bone. However, occasionally you may experience DOMS. To reduce the potential muscle discomfort may sideline your activity, consider using these “13 Mind-Body Techniques That Can Help Ease Pain and Depression.” If you also suffer from OA, the addition of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) may help reduce inflammation and provide your body with sulfur, the third most abundant mineral in your body based on percentage of total body weight.27 MSM has been used as a supplement to help treat pain, especially associated with arthritic conditions. Studies28,29 of patients with OA of the knee demonstrate significant physical improvement in physical function, compared to those taking a placebo. However, while MSM offers relief from pain related to OA, a single dose may also reduce oxidative stress following exercise and thus improve pain related to DOMS.30 Results from studies31 of MSM suggest oral supplementation will reduce oxidative stress, muscle damage and pain. Since oxidative stress contributes to muscle pain this reduction following MSM administration may help reduce recovery time and markers of muscle damage.32 For more information about supplementation with MSM, see my previous article, “The Benefits of Sulfur — Why You Need Epsom Salt, Broccoli and MSM.” Dr. Mercola

    • Exercise in Old Age Strengthens Your Immunity and Heart

      By Dr. Mercola New research once again underscores the value of and need your body has for regular exercise. In one study,1 older adults who exercised regularly were shown to have stronger immune systems, as evidenced by higher T-cell activity, than their nonexercising peers. While you might expect such a result, researchers found the immune function of this particular group of very active adult cyclists, ages 55 to 79, to be comparable to young adults in their 20s! Related research indicates a pattern of lifelong exercise also enables you to retain healthy levels of muscle mass, muscle strength, body fat and cholesterol as you age. In a separate study,2 moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise at least four days a week was shown to boost the heart health and circulatory function of middle-aged adults, as compared to more moderate exercise three days a week. If you have been putting off exercise, now is the time to reprioritize it, especially if you're over 45. One researcher called these middle years the "sweet spot" for your heart and blood vessels because they still have some plasticity, and exercise promotes elasticity and oxygen flow. Whatever you do, reduce the amount of time you spend sitting and look for ways to get more exercise and movement into your daily routine. You're certain to feel better and your immune system and heart will thank you. Fit Older Adults Have Stronger Immune Systems New research published in the journal Aging Cell3 highlights the importance of exercise for older adults, noting the positive effect it can have on your immune system. Previous studies have validated the health benefits of exercise, at all ages, to prevent conditions such as back pain, bone loss, physical disability and cognitive decline. In the current body of work,4 researchers in the U.K. analyzed the blood of 125 very active adult cyclists, ages 55 to 79, for markers of T-cells. T-cells, which help your immune system fight infections, are produced in your thymus, a gland that gradually shrinks as you age. Notably, T-cell activity was not only higher in active versus inactive older adults, but the very active cyclists were also producing a level of T-cells common among young adults in their 20s. According to Science Daily, these findings are significant to adults in the U.K., in part, because:5 Less than half of adults over age 65 get enough exercise to stay healthy More than half of adults aged 65 or older suffer from at least two chronic diseases  "[The study] really tells us that staying physically active all of your adult life can prevent much of what we think of as aging, including immune aging," said study author and professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the U.K.'s University of Birmingham.6 She added:7  "The immune system declines by about 2 to 3 percent a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer. Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues." Professor Emeritus Norman Lazarus, 82, of the Center of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King's College London, who was a study participant and coauthor of the research, said, "If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it." Professor of human and applied physiology and Center director Steve Harridge stated, "Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active."8 Older Adults Who Exercise Regularly Do Not Lose Muscle Mass or Strength According to Science Daily,9 the research drew from a particular subset of fit older adults. To join the study, the 125 participants had to meet the following criteria: Men had to be able to cycle 100 kilometers (km), roughly 62 miles, in under 6.5 hours Women had to be able to cycle 60 km, about 37 miles, in 5.5 hours Excluded from consideration were smokers and heavy drinkers, as well as those suffering from high blood pressure or other health conditions Given those baselines, the exercising group was compared to a group of nonexercisers — 75 healthy older adults ages 57 to 80 and 55 healthy young adults ages 20 to 36. About the comparisons NBC News Health said, "Here's more evidence that regular exercise really is the best medicine: Avid cyclists as old as 79 had healthy muscle and immune function as good as people 30 years younger who did not exercise."10 In a related study,11 interestingly, the exercise group showed no loss of muscle mass or muscle strength. Beyond that, researchers noted participant body fat and cholesterol levels did not increase with age. Moreover, they observed testosterone levels among the men remained high, aiding the participants in avoiding most of the effects of "male menopause." Brian Matkins, 82, a member of the internationally recognized cycling organization Audax that organizes long-distance bike rides all-around the U.K., said, "One of the first results I got from the medical study was I was told my body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old." Lord stated:12 "[I]mportantly, our findings debunk the assumption that aging automatically makes us frailer. Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer, but not healthier, [lives]." Exercise at Middle Age May Revitalize Your Heart and Circulatory Function Similar to your thymus gland, as mentioned, your heart also stiffens and shrinks as you age.13 It is also affected by the amount of exercise you get. A study published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation,14 focusing on the exercise habits of older adults, indicates regular physical exercise can, in effect, revitalize your heart. Ben Levine, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, in Dallas, and his team recruited 53 adults for a two-year study. The participants, ages 45 to 64, were randomly assigned to one of two exercise groups. Group 1 engaged in nonaerobic exercise that included basic yoga, balance training and weight training three times a week. Members of the second group were assigned a trainer and performed moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise at least four days a week. After two years, says Levine, the group involved in higher-intensity exercise saw dramatic improvements in their heart health. "We took these 50-year-old hearts and turned the clock back to 30- or 35-year-old hearts," he noted.15 The hearts of participants in the higher-intensity exercise group processed oxygen more efficiently and were notably less stiff. "And the reason they got so much stronger and fitter," Levine said, "was because their hearts could now fill a lot better and pump a lot more blood during exercise."16 This is significant because even healthy older adults, as they age, are subject to their hearts becoming smaller, less flexible and less efficient at processing oxygen. While these signs generally begin to appear in your 50s or early 60s, a lack of exercise may speed up the process. Levine and his colleagues suggest if you are in midlife, now is the time to get in shape. While you may think it's too late — especially if you are 45 or older — the study reflects that even nonexercisers who get in shape at middle age may be able to avoid or reduce heart declines due to aging. "The sweet spot in life to get off the couch and start exercising … is in late middle age when the heart still has plasticity," Levine says.17 One aspect of the study that caught my attention was the use of high-intensity interval training, one of my favorite exercise regimens. I love it because it stresses my heart and forces it to function more efficiently. In Levine's study, the moderate- to high-intensity exercise group performed what is referred to as 4x4 intervals — four minutes of intense activity at 95 percent maximum ability, followed by three minutes of active recovery. The sequence is repeated four times and serves to strengthen both your heart and circulatory system. A Sedentary Lifestyle Is Associated With Poor Health and Chronic Disease Switching back to the study involving older cyclists, the fact active adults participating in the research were shown to be in better health than their nonexercising peers was not much of surprise. The benefits of exercise are both long-standing and well-known. The real news was with respect to how the group of active older adults compared to nonexercisers who were a fraction of their age. According to NBC News Health,18 "[T]they also looked as healthy, biologically, as a group of people aged 20 to 36 who did not exercise … By some measures, their bodies had not aged at all." About the risks and consequences associated with inactivity, Harridge stated:19 "The findings emphasize the fact the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives. Their bodies have been allowed to age optimally, free from the problems usually caused by inactivity. Remove the activity and their health would likely deteriorate." His point is well taken given the current statistics about the health and activity levels of older adults. For example, in the U.S.:20 Approximately 80 percent of older adults suffer from at least one chronic disease, while 77 percent are battling at least two21 Less than 5 percent of adults get 30 minutes of daily physical activity, and only 1 in 3 adults meets the exercise recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)22 for weekly physical activity Just one-third of adults ages 65 to 74 are physically active More than 80 percent of adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities Keep in mind the exercise recommendations made by the CDC23 of at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity or a combination of both, should be seen as a starting point. Every little bit of movement and exercise you can incorporate into your day beyond those markers will be beneficial. Research24 published in 2015 concluded the ideal exercise dose for health and longevity is actually 7.5 hours per week, or just over an hour a day.  Those who met the guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise lowered their risk of death by 31 percent during the 14-year study period, compared to those who did not exercise. Those who tripled the recommended amount of exercise and engaged in activities such as walking for 450 minutes per week lowered their risk of premature death by 39 percent, compared to nonexercisers. Bear in mind the amount of time you spend exercising will be greatly influenced by the types of exercise you choose. The more intense the exercise, the less time you need to spend at it. In my opinion, the best way to achieve optimal health is to adopt a comprehensive fitness routine (along with proper diet and sleep). Some forms of exercise I recommend include: core training, high-intensity interval cardio, peak fitness, strength training, stretching and walking. With respect to walking, I suggest you set a goal for 15,000 steps a day and challenge your family members and friends to achieve the same. Sitting All Day Is Bad for Your Health Chances are you may be sitting down while reading this article. It's a common practice for many to sit in a chair all day for work, only to return home and spend even more hours sitting on a couch or chair. While it may sometimes be necessary and even comfortable, a growing body of research suggests this all-too-common practice is detrimental to both your physical and mental well-being. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, sedentary behavior is the fourth leading cause of premature death worldwide.25 Prolonged sedentary time — generally defined as sitting for eight hours or more each day — has been associated with a number of health risks, independent of how much exercise you do. As noted in the Annals of Internal Medicine,26 after evaluating 47 meta-analyses, researchers concluded, "Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity." By sitting too long, the study authors suggest you increase your risk of: Death from any cause Developing and dying from cancer Developing and dying from cardiovascular disease Suffering from Type 2 diabetes The British Medical Journal says adults, on average, spend nine to 10 hours each day sitting.27 The damaging effects of this level of inactivity simply cannot be offset by a 30- or 60-minute workout a few days a week. The key is to get more nonexercise movement into your day. As featured in the video above, to help reduce sitting and encourage movement, I use a standing desk. I also do most of my reading on a Kindle when I go for my daily walks on the beach. Some other tips you might consider to help you reduce sitting include: Interspersing active tasks with sitting tasks as much as possible throughout your day Taking small breaks hourly and incorporating stretching and other exercise into those breaks Inviting co-workers to take part in standing or walking-and-talking conversations and meetings (you can try this approach at home with your spouse and kids, too) Tracking how long you spend sitting and setting goals to reduce your inactive hours Setting goals to limit your sitting time and inviting others to join you in actively reducing the amount of time you spend sitting Using reminders to trigger you to get up and move around after periods of sitting Dr. Mercola

    • A Polar Plunge Can Provide Lasting Relief From Pain

      By Dr. Mercola Could taking a swim in cold water be a viable solution for pain relief? It was for one man, a 28-year-old who was suffering from severe, persistent pain after receiving surgery for excessive facial flushing. The surgery involves cutting nerves in the chest, and while it served its purpose for the facial flushing, it left the man — a former triathlete — dealing with debilitating chronic pain.1 Conventional pain treatments did little to help, and the pain was made worse by movement so physical therapy was of no use. “Desperate to get some relief,” he told the BBC he decided to go for a swim in a cold body of open water. He figured the cold swim would be a “long shot” to help his pain, but he took the plunge anyway, climbing to the top of a rocky outcrop and then jumping into the frigid water.2 He stayed in the water for only about a minute, and when he got out he was pain-free. Cold, Open-Water Swimming Leads to Immediate Pain Relief In a case report of the incident published in BMJ Case Reports, authors describe “a case of unexpected, immediate, complete and sustained remission of postoperative intercostal neuralgia after the patient engaged in an open-water swim in markedly cold conditions.”3 While pointing out that it’s possible the pain relief occurring after the swim occurred by chance, the fact that it occurred immediately afterward makes a causal relationship possible. Further, the benefits of cold thermogenesis, or cryotherapy, are well-known. As for what may have led to the pain relief in this man’s case, the authors suggested the sudden immersion in cold water may have triggered a “wave of nervous system activity” that, along with the fear of drowning, may have altered his perception of the pain. It may also have served as a high-intensity form of distraction that had a lasting effect on his pain perception. In addition, since the pain was causing the man reduced mobility on land, which may have ultimately made the pain more persistent, moving freely in the water may have broken the pain cycle. It should be noted that jumping into a cold body of water is not without risk in itself. This particular man’s athletic history may have played a role in the favorable outcome. He noted:4 “I initially thought ' … this is so cold I'm going to die!' and I just swam for my life … Once I was in the water, I had tunnel vision — for the first time in months, I completely forgot about the pain or the fear of shooting pains in my chest if I moved. My entire body tingled with the cold. I just knew if I didn't keep swimming, I'd soon freeze. After a few moments I actually enjoyed it — it was just an immersive rush of adrenaline. When I came out of the water, I realized the neuropathic pain had gone away. I couldn't believe it." Czech Seniors Credit Their Health, Vitality to Cold-Water Swimming The BMJ case isn’t the first report of cold-water swimming leading to health benefits. In the Czech Republic, a number of seniors, some in their late 80s, credit the practice with their ability to resist illness and maintain vitality. Jitka Tauferova, who’s in her mid-70s, told Time that since starting cold-water swimming, "The last time I had flu was 25 years ago … [My] back pain disappeared. Better blood circulation improves healing broken bones and my heart is like a hammer. I feel great."5 In fact, people in Russia and Scandinavia have been taking so-called polar bear plunges for centuries, often right after coming out of a hot sauna. In the Czech Republic, about 20 cold-water swimming competitions are held annually, every weekend during the cold months of October to March.6 Once people try it they often get hooked, Tauferova told Time:7 "The story is always the same … They start in summer and continue until fall and winter, gradually hardening to the cold. Then their dream — to swim in a river in winter — comes true, but they never stop. They become winter swimmers forever." The U.S. is also home to so-called “polar bear clubs” of its own. The oldest “winter bathing club” in the U.S. is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, an early advocate of physical fitness and natural foods, who believed immersing yourself in the ocean during the winter was “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”8 Today, members swim every Sunday from November to April. Cold Thermogenesis Is Not Only for Pain Relief — It’s for Health Exposing your body to cold temperatures for short periods of time improves health by inducing incredibly mitochondrial-dense brown adipose tissue (BAT) to improve metabolic function. One of the physiological functions of body fat is to be used as fuel to heat your body if you have active BAT metabolism. This is accomplished by uncoupling the mitochondria from producing ATP and actually producing heat instead. By regularly exposing yourself to cold, you build up a mitochondria-rich tissue in brown fat and help your body generate heat, which actually lowers your blood sugar and decreases insulin resistance. Beige fat is a derivative of brown fat and is recruited through your white fat, which can then be used to heat your body and maintain a more active-passive metabolism. Indeed, the conclusion I reached after many decades of studying health is that burning fat as your primary fuel is a key to preserving and maintaining your health. There are a number of ways to reach this goal, including through diet, but there’s also a tremendous synergy with cold thermogenesis. Human newborns have a supply of brown fat to keep warm, but by adulthood they lose most of their stores of it. Brown fat has been located in the neck area, around blood vessels (helping to warm your blood) and "marbled" in with white fat in visceral fat tissue. In one study, scientists found that they were able to activate brown fat in adult men by exposing them to cold temperatures.9 Research published in 2009 also found that cold temperatures increased activity in the subjects' brown fat regions, and cold-induced glucose uptake was increased by a factor of 15.10 More recently, a study published in Bioscience Reports looked at the impact of cryotherapy — exposure to cold — on the mitochondrial structure in BAT and skeletal muscle, both of which are thermogenic sites,11 revealing that cold exposure increases whole-body metabolic rate via the following mechanisms: Oxygen consumption increases Enzymatic activity in the mitochondria of your muscle is upregulated Fibroblast growth factor 21, IL1α, peptide YY, tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin 6 are induced, and appear to play an important role in coordinating the various physiological adaptations to cold, and in the cross-communication that occurs between BAT and muscle Insulin and leptin are downregulated BAT becomes browner The number of mitochondria increases Cold Temps Benefit Your Brain, Stress Tolerance Aside from the metabolic benefits, when you're exposed to cold your body increases production of norepinephrine in the brain, which is involved in focus and attention. It also improves mood and alleviates pain, partly because it lowers inflammation. You can increase norepinephrine twofold just by getting into 40-degree F water for 20 seconds, or 57-degree F water for a few minutes, according to biological scientist Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D. While best known as a neurotransmitter, norepinephrine also acts as a hormone. One of its functions is causing vasoconstriction, which helps your body conserve heat. Norepinephrine also acts as a signaling molecule to make more mitochondria in your fat tissue (your main energy reserves), and a byproduct of energy production is heat. This also helps prepare you for the next time you're exposed to cold. The more times you're exposed to cold, the more mitochondria you make in your fat cells and the better you can withstand lower temperatures, a process sometimes referred to as “hardening.” Hardening is the exposure to a natural stimulus, such as cold water, that results in increased tolerance to stress and disease. This was demonstrated by a study involving 10 healthy people who swim regularly in ice-cold water during the winter. “A drastic decrease in plasma uric acid concentration was observed during and following the exposure to the cold stimulus,” the researchers explained,12 which is notable because when your uric acid level exceeds about 5.5 mg per deciliter, you have an increased risk for a host of diseases including heart disease, fatty liver, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and more. The cold stimulus also increased glutathione, which is an intracellular antioxidant found inside every cell in your body that aids detoxification. Whole-body cryotherapy has even been found to cut anxiety and depression scores by about half,13 while taking a cold shower has been suggested as a potential treatment for depression. According to researchers:14 “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.” Cryotherapy may also temporarily relieve pain from diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia (in the latter case the cryotherapy involved cold air cooled by addition of nitrogen blown on the patients in an open cabin).15 In another study, fibromyalgia patients who received whole body cryotherapy reported significantly improved quality of life, with the beneficial effects lasting for at least one month after treatment. “Based on recent findings, it can be expected that whole body cryotherapy can improve health-reported quality of life by alleviating the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain and fatigue,”16 the researchers noted. How to Use Cryotherapy to Boost Your Health Using cryotherapy to your advantage may help to improve your health by boosting mitochondrial function and metabolic efficiency. If you want to give it a try, there are many options, from expensive cryotherapy booths found at high-end spas to taking a cold shower at home. Some of the simplest options include: Applying an ice pack or cold gel pack Applying an iced towel (simply wet a towel and freeze it) or massaging with ice cubes Taking a cold shower or alternating between cold and hot in your shower Taking an ice bath Exercising in cold weather wearing few articles of clothing Jumping into an unheated pool following sauna or exercise Swimming in the ocean when water temperatures are low Turning down the thermostat in your house in the winter to about 60 degrees F Be sure to start off gradually and keep exposures short — no more than a few minutes to 10 or 20 minutes after you have acclimated. Further, cryotherapy is contraindicated for pregnant women, young children and those with high blood pressure or a heart condition. Cold causes acute vasoconstriction, which can be potentially dangerous if you have high blood pressure or heart failure. A quick cold shower would probably be OK, but avoid ice baths or other extreme cold water immersion techniques. If you’re planning to try cold-water swimming, as in the featured study, use extra caution and be sure you have a buddy with you. Jumping into a body of near-freezing water is not an activity to be taken lightly, and if you do decide to do it, you should be in relatively good shape first. To put it simply, the cold water will generate an enormous shock to your system, which will result in: An initial “cold shock,” which will leave you gasping for air and unable to hold your breath Blood vessels along your outer body will constrict, attempting to shift blood to your inner organs Your muscles will get very cold and may become paralyzed or weak Drowning, even after just one or two minutes, is therefore a very real risk if you’re not careful. To gain benefits, however, it is not necessary to swim in ice water. Instead, start slowly around 70 degrees F or so and gradually work your way down to the 40s, giving your body a chance to acclimate in the process. Always listen to your body, but you may be surprised at how invigorated you feel following a cold shower or a quick dip in a cold pool. Regularly exposing yourself to cold temperatures is a simple way to help improve your mitochondrial function, which is a foundation of good health, and if you’re suffering from chronic pain, it may help to provide lasting relief for that, too. Dr. Mercola