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    • New Twists on Yoga

      By Dr. Mercola Fitness trends come and go, and time will tell if the latest craze is here to stay: goat yoga. That's right, yoga sessions with goats. The CBS News video above features some of the instructors and enthusiasts of this unusual pairing. At Laughing Frog Yoga studio in Santa Monica, California, pygmy goats Floyd and Rosco are part of the ensemble. According to Michelle Tritten of Hello Critter Care, goats have the uncanny ability to "bring out the best in people." Many others agree. Lainey Morse, one of the first to introduce goat yoga to the world in 2016 at her farm in Albany, Oregon, tells CBS "it's impossible to be sad and depressed when you have goats around you." Since then, goat yoga has spread around the country, with a number of celebrities testing it out and spreading the word on social media. Writing for Viva Glam Magazine, actress-writer Malorie Mackey writes about her goat yoga experience at Laughing Frog, saying:1 "As the goats enter, giggles and happiness ensue. Roscoe enjoys jumping and climbing on people while Floyd enjoys walking under them. Together, they move around the class jumping on yogis and having fun under the supervision of Michelle. Perhaps it isn't the most calm, meditative yoga class, but it breaks up the norm and adds lighthearted fun to your yoga routine." Yoga Is a Powerful Mind-Body Practice While I believe anaerobic exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is key for optimal health, there's no doubt yoga can be an important part of a comprehensive exercise program. And research reveals potent mental and physical benefits from yoga, regardless of your current state of health or fitness. Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise, it's really a comprehensive lifestyle practice that integrates mental, physical and spiritual elements. With regard to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another.  As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well. In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may also gain some much-needed flexibility. A report2 by the Institute of Science in Society details how meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, just to name a few, can actually alter your genetic expression through their impact on your mind. Indeed, thousands of genes have been identified that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state. Examples of genetic effects obtained through yogic- and other meditative practices include the down-regulation of cellular stress response genes and genes associated with the pathway responsible for the breakdown of proteins, while expression of heat shock proteins and immune function are increased. One study investigating genetic changes triggered by the relaxation response determined that meditative or mindfulness practices affect no less than 2,209 different genes. Health Benefits of Yoga It's no wonder then that studies have found a variety of health benefits from regular yoga practice, which include: Improved immune function3 Reduced food cravings4 Reduced risk for migraines5 Improved heart health,6 including improved atrial fibrillation7 (irregular heartbeat) Improved cognitive function8,9 (doing Kundalini yoga for one hour per week actually outperformed standard brain training, and 20 minutes of Hatha yoga has been shown to improve mental processing speed and accuracy to a greater degree than 20 minutes of jogging10,11) Reduced anxiety, depression,12 aggression and stress,13,14 in part by boosting vagus nerve activity, which decreases levels of stress hormones like cortisol while triggering the release of mood-boosting hormones such as serotonin.15 Yoga has also been shown to improve emotional resilience and anger management,16 and enhance mindfulness Better sleep17,18 Lower resting blood pressure19 Improved leptin sensitivity20 (leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure) Improvement in symptoms of schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder21 and post-traumatic stress disorder22 Improved sexual performance and satisfaction23,24 Increased flexibility, better balance, improved strength, stamina and body alignment, low-back pain relief Yoga Also Aids Weight Loss Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, yoga has also been shown to aid weight loss. In one study,25 overweight yoga participants lost an average of 5 pounds over the course of four years whereas the non-yoga group gained 13 pounds. This held true even when accounting for differences in diet. Typically, HIIT is the most effective for weight loss, and the key to its effectiveness is the intensity. So how can the effectiveness of yoga — which is the converse of HIIT in terms of intensity — be explained? According to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, yoga's benefits are related to the fact that it does the opposite of strenuous exercise. Rather than boosting your heart rate and stimulating your nervous system, yoga puts you in a parasympathetic state that lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, thereby promoting a positive cascade of health effects. This makes sense if you consider the adverse biological effects of stress. By promoting systemic inflammation, chronic stress can be a factor in everything from weight gain to high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia. What's worse, stress-induced weight gain typically involves an increase in belly fat, which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. Stress actually alters the way fat is deposited because of the specific hormones and other chemicals your body produces when you're stressed. For example, research26 shows chronic stress stimulates your body to produce betatrophin, a protein that blocks an enzyme that breaks down body fat. So, by reducing stress you reduce inflammation, and along with it your risk for any number of health problems, including stubborn weight. Introduction to Restorative Yoga In a series of Very Well Fit articles,27,28 yoga teacher Ann Pizer discusses restorative yoga, a gentle practice well-suited for stressed-out souls who want to practice at home. "Restorative yoga is a practice that is all about slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching," she writes. "If you take a restorative class, you may hardly move at all, doing just a few postures in the course of an hour." In other words, the main focus of this practice is to allow deep muscle relaxation. To allow your muscles to relax fully, props are extensively used to hold your body in position for up to 10 minutes at a time. "Postures are usually adapted from supine or seated yoga poses with the addition of blocks, bolsters and blankets to eliminate unnecessary straining," Pizer explains. In addition to these props, a timer with a gentle chime is helpful to alert you to the passing of time. Following is a sampling of restorative yoga poses. For a visual demonstration, see each reference: • Restorative seated forward bend29 — Begin seated on the floor with legs outstretched. Elongate your spine and gently bend forward at the hip while exhaling. Stop when you feel you have to round your back to go any further. Place a thick folded blanket on your legs to allow your head and torso to lay comfortably folded forward. A block can also be used to prop up your head if you like. You can rest on your forehead or with your head to one side. Be sure to switch directions now and then to avoid neck stiffness. • Legs up the wall30 — Begin by placing a bolster or folded blanket parallel to a blank wall. Sitting with one side facing forward on the bolster, gently lower your torso to the floor by leaning to the side and swinging your legs up the wall. Rest with your buttocks on the bolster, arms outstretched to the sides, legs stretched vertically along the wall. After 10 minutes, bend your knees and roll to the side to exit the pose. • Reclined goddess pose31 — Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees, then allow your knees to fall out to the sides. Bring the soles of your feet together. Place blocks or folded blankets under your knees or thighs for support. Your arms can rest in any comfortable position, either out to the sides or overhead. • Restorative heart opener32 — Sitting on the floor, legs outstretched, slowly lower your torso toward the floor with a bolster or rolled up blanket beneath your back. The bolster should hit right beneath your shoulder blades; your head will hang off the side of the bolster. If you're not yet flexible enough to allow your head to reach the floor in this position, place a block, folded blanket or towel underneath your head for support. Arms can be kept out to the sides or overhead. Relax and allow the entire front of your torso to stretch and expand. • Restorative bridge pose33 — Position yourself for a normal bridge pose: knees bent at a 90-degree angle, arms parallel to the sides with the weight on your shoulders. Then raise your hips. To make this pose restorative, place a yoga block underneath your sacrum to allow your body to rest. To make it more challenging, turn the block vertically on its tall end. To exit the pose, raise your hips and remove the block before lowering your sacrum to the floor. Which Type of Yoga Is Right for You? When it comes to yoga, there's no shortage of variations. Yoga practices have sprung up to satisfy all sorts of different physical needs and temperaments. While the poses may differ, all are still aimed at unifying mind, body and spirit. Here's a sampling of the many different forms of yoga available.   Hatha yoga Considered the most popular type of yoga taught in the U.S., hatha involves basic breath-controlled exercises and yoga postures that are great for beginners. Ashtanga yoga Ashtanga is a vigorous form of yoga that involves quick movements, with the aim of improving strength and endurance. Bikram yoga Bikram involves 26 patented poses, practiced in a room that's heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 40 percent. Its aim is to help loosen muscles, cleanse the body and relieve symptoms of chronic diseases. Vinyasa yoga Vinyasa is adapted from the traditional ashtanga techniques, which means that it's also an active form of yoga. The only difference between these two types is that vinyasa involves varying poses, while ashtanga sticks to a single routine. Kundalini yoga Kundalini emphasizes fast-paced flow of poses, proper breathing techniques and meditation to improve balance of the body. This form of yoga is more challenging than others, so it may not be suitable for beginners. Hot yoga Similar to bikram, hot yoga is also performed in a heated room. However, the room temperature and humidity for this yoga style is not defined. The routine may also be composed of varying poses.34 Core power yoga Also known as power vinyasa, core power yoga is a strenuous routine that's aimed to stretch, strengthen and tone the muscles while emphasizing mind-body connection.35 Prenatal yoga Prenatal yoga includes a series of postures that are specifically designed to help pregnant women prepare for labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. Yin yoga Yin yoga asanas focus on stretching the connective tissues around your spine, sacrum and pelvis, as well as your knee joints. Each pose is typically held for three to five minutes, allowing for slow and gentle but very deep fascia release.36 It is also said to be a way of cultivating compassion and kindness, helping you "let go of your inner control freak."37 Aerial yoga Aerial yoga makes use of soft, fabric hammocks that are held up by carabineers, straps and support chains. The hammock is used for support while you perform aerial adaptations of traditional yoga poses.38 A significant benefit for those suffering from chronic low back pain is the ability to reduce the compression on your lower back without using an inversion table. The hammock sling also enables you to attain more difficult poses you may not be able to do without the support of the material. The sling allows you to slip into poses and explore movement without the added stress to your knees and hips that may make the pose impossible for you. Dr. Mercola

    • How to Support Joints and Reduce Injuries if You're a Runner

      By Dr. Mercola The benefits to regular exercise are amazing. Science continues to discover how movement and muscle work affect nearly every system in your body. The opposite is also true. Inactivity is associated with a greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and depression. Exercise has far reaching effects on your health, as it helps to normalize your glucose, insulin and leptin levels by optimizing insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity. This reduces the inflammatory response in your body and thus reduces your potential risk for developing a number of chronic illnesses. The benefits to exercise increase when you are consistent with your workouts. In fact, your body loses muscle tone and conditioning far faster than you may anticipate. Research has demonstrated those who exercise consistently over years may only lose 5 to 10 percent of their aerobic conditioning in a two- to three-month hiatus,1 but those new to a sport may lose up to half of their conditioning2 if they stop for two to three months.3 Injury is one of the reasons you may need to take a break in your routine. If you enjoy jogging and running as I did for many years, you may have already experienced an injury that sidelined you. There are several common running injuries you may prevent by taking care to support your joints.4 Runner's knee, Achilles tendonitis, hamstring injuries and stress fractures are common injuries that may be prevented by supporting your ankles, knees and hips. The Anatomy of a Joint A joint is an area in your body where two or more bones meet. Most of your joints are mobile and allow motion and movement. The joints that take the greatest impact while running are located in your feet, knees and hips and have a number of structures that help to support and cushion the joint. Each joint has tough bands of connective tissue providing support and keeping the joint stable as you move forward and side to side. Ligaments connect one bone to another, while tendons connect your muscle to the bone. Joints also use several mechanisms to reduce friction between the bones. This reduces damage to the head of the bone and enables you to move more freely. Cartilage covers the surface of bones where they meet, helping to reduce resistance. Your joints also have synovial membranes that secrete a sticky synovial fluid providing lubrication. This membrane lines the joint and seals it into a joint capsule. Between the bones and ligaments are also fluid filled sacs called bursa adding an additional layer of cushion in the joint. These structures are part of the system that protects your joints from injury and overuse. The Benefits and Risks of Running Knowing the benefits and risks of any activity helps you take advantage of the first and avoid the second. Like other forms of exercise, running has the potential to help you maintain a healthy weight, balance your insulin and leptin receptors, relieve stress and boost your self-confidence. Running can boost your lung function, reduce your blood pressure and support your immune system.5 Running short distances increases your heart rate and may improve your cognitive performance.6 Cardiovascular fitness in aging adults may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Regular morning runners also report improvements in sleep quality and concentration during the day.7 A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology demonstrated that running even five to 10 minutes each day at slow speed is enough to reduce your mortality and add up to three years to your life.8 Alongside the long list of benefits are several potential risks. The strategies in this article may help you prevent injuries. Without appropriate support, women run the risk of damaging Cooper's ligament, which supports breast tissue, and ultimately develop sagging breasts.9 This means you should wear an appropriately supportive athletic bra no matter what speed you are running. There also seems to be a higher potential risk for abuse when running, compared to other cardiovascular activities. This may be related to the stressors on the body and the effect on the endorphins system, leading to addictive running and an increased risk of injury.10 Running compulsively may lead to running longer distances, which may also increase your risk for heart disease. Studies11 have demonstrated extreme endurance may lead to increased oxidative stress, inflammation and damage to your heart muscle that may lead to a cardiac event.12 Choose the Right Foundation Choosing the right shoe may help you develop the right running form and help develop muscles that support your joints. Wearing shoes changes the way your feet interact with the environment, and often their biomechanical function.13 When you watch a toddler running barefoot you'll notice their toes grab the floor. Wearing shoes changes this function in your feet. The same is true when you wear shoes that have minimal foundation or support, or even when you run barefoot. In a recent study from the University of Exeter, data revealed those who run without cushioning use their feet to provide the cushion to their joints by landing on the ball of their feet and not their heels.14 The researchers evaluated how the loading rate — force — acts when runner's feet hit the ground. This has been demonstrated as a significant risk in the development of leg and lower back injuries. Running in cushioned shoes encourages a rear foot strike, which increases the vertical forces with each footfall. Dr. Hannah Rice, lead author, commented on the results of this study, saying:15 "So many people use running as a means of reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but about three quarters of runners typically get injured in a year. Footwear is easily modifiable but many runners are misguided when it comes to buying new running shoes. This research shows that running in minimal shoes and landing on the balls of your feet reduces loading rates and may therefore reduce the risk of injury. Our research tells us that becoming accustomed to running with a forefoot strike in shoes that lack cushioning promotes a landing with the lowest loading rates, and this may be beneficial in reducing the risk of injury." Another study evaluated the influence of barefoot running on impact force and muscle activation over 16 weeks.16 Tests were done on instrumented treadmills and measured vertical ground reaction force and electromyographic (EMG) signals. Researchers found progressive barefoot training effectively reduced impact force, improved shock and reduced muscle activation intensity. Barefoot running and using minimalist shoes may also improve your gait efficiency and result in better performance.17 Researchers found that moving from a cushioned shoe to a minimalist shoe requires a gradual adaptation phase to reduce the risk of injuring muscles you might rarely use. Achilles tendonitis or calf strain can occur when you no longer run with a heel lift on a shoe. Running barefoot may also expose you to environmental debris and cuts on your feet. Strength Train Your Heart and Legs The large muscles around your knees and hips help support those joints and prevent injury. Research suggests that maintaining strong leg muscles may help prevent the development of osteoarthritis (OA). In research evaluating the remains of nearly 2,500 people spanning 6,000 years, scientists found the average American is more than twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis (OA) as those born before 1940.18 The researchers theorize one factor increasing your risk may be a reduction in leg muscle strength that support your knees. Strength training may help to reduce your risk of OA as well as reduce your risk of injury to your knees and hips. However, it's important to not only address the strength and stability of your legs, but also your core muscles that improve your overall balance and strength. A functional personal trainer may help design a program that helps reduce your risk of injury while running.19 Addressing the needs of your whole body may reduce your potential risk for falls, overuse and other types of injuries. Oftentimes you run at a specific pace for your entire workout. This lowers your heart variability or the function of how well your heart responds to the second-by-second oxygen needs of your body. Heart rate variability has been evaluated as a prognostic factor for individuals with heart disease and diabetes. Research demonstrates an increase in variability improves this population's prognosis, potentially through angiotensin II and nitric oxide mediators.20 In the last 20 years, trainers of elite athletes have been using heart rate variability to determine how well the athlete has recovered from their last workout.21 Consistent high variation in heart rate is a strong indication of recovery. In past years these measurements required expensive equipment, but today many fitness and sleep trackers have this function built in. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a healthy strategy to improve your heart function and strength so heart rate variability increases and your oxygen needs are met consistently throughout your run. HIIT may be performed with your resistance training, cross training on a bike or rowing machine, or during one of your runs during the week. The benefits of HIIT far exceed heart rate variability and includes an improvement in VO2 max, increased release of nitric oxide, reduced blood pressure and loss of body fat. Read more about HIIT at my previous article, "Can You Really Get Fit in Six Minutes Per Week?" Your Running Form May Increase Your Risk of Injury and Joint Damage In this short video, running coaches Sage Canaday and Sandi Nypaver demonstrate correct running form to help reduce your risk of injury and the vertical impact forces on your feet, knees and hips. Running is a repetitive movement, so when you don't have the motions correct you increase the risk of suffering an overuse or repetitive motion injury. Repeating the same motions thousands of times each week is a recipe for disaster when those motions are not biomechanically correct and place additional stress on your joints. Alternatively, you may increase your risk of repetitive strain when you wear the same shoes each day, run the same route, run at the same pace and never vary your workout.22 There are multiple ways of introducing variety into your routine. You can vary your: Mileage Speed Route Schedule Elevation Shoes Terrain Subtle changes impact the distribution of force through your legs. You may try running in minimalist shoes for half your run and barefoot the other half. Reducing repetition may help prevent injury to your joints. Remember, as you vary your mileage, do not increase your distance by more than 10 percent in one week as this one factor may be enough to trigger an injury.23 Overtraining is another factor that often leads to repetitive injuries. Taking at least one day off each week and interspersing light days in the rest of the week helps to reduce the risk of over training. Schedule a light day after hills or interval training, and restrict those heavier workouts to once weekly. Pay Attention at the Table What you eat also has an impact on your risk of injury. Cellular nutrition may either increase or decrease inflammation in your body. The greater the inflammatory response in your body, the greater the risk you'll experience pain and discomfort. Lectins-rich foods may increase inflammation, soreness and swelling.24 Wheat and gluten-containing grains also bind with glucosamine, a natural compound found in your cartilage that helps reduce friction between bones inside your joints. Lectins can also be found in high concentrations in corn, corn-fed meats, peanuts, cashews and soy products. For more information on how to reduce your intake of lectins, see my article "How to Reduce Lectins in Your Diet." Other foods that may increase the inflammatory response in your body include: Refined sugar Soda Carbohydrates Caffeine Aspartame Food additives Junk foods Pasteurized dairy Nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant Avoiding inflammatory foods and eating more anti-inflammatory ones may reduce your inflammatory response even further. Following a low-net-carbohydrate ketogenic diet will literally change the way your body uses energy, allowing it to burn fat for fuel, which creates fewer reactive oxygen species and free radicals that damage your DNA and cellular and mitochondrial membranes. These factors have the effect of a lower inflammatory response and may even slow the aging process. Don't Forget the Benefits of Collagen and Stretching Many of the common injuries experienced by runners involve joints and connective tissue, such as ligaments and tendons. Keeping these tissues strong and supple may help to reduce the number of injuries you experience. Collagen is one nutritional substance your connective tissue uses to repair after a hard workout or an injury. Collagen fibers are the main structural components of connective tissue and made of a large family of proteins.25 Aloe vera gel may increase collagen production when applied topically. Consider an aloe vera massage after a workout to benefit collagen production and reduce muscle soreness.26 Vitamin C is critical in the production of hyaluronic acid, which one study demonstrated may help boost collagen production.27 Hyaluronic acid decreases as you age, so eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, kale, red peppers, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries, may increase production and support collagen. Cilantro contains vitamin C, and also linoleic acid that fights free radicals and supports collagen production.28 Ginseng has antiaging effects due to the support of collagen production and protection against UVB rays,29 so consider including ginseng tea in your daily nutritional choices. Regular stretching will also help reduce overly tight ligaments and tendons and increase the stability of your joints. Yoga practice may assist with flexibility and help improve your athletic performance, improve the utilization of oxygen and improve your lung functions. Each of these factors support the health and stability of your joints. Dr. Mercola

    • Why Saunas Are Ridiculously Good for You

      By Dr. Mercola Some of the simplest strategies have tremendous impact on your health. Many of these produce increasing benefit, in much the same way compound interest works. Little changes each day can build to produce significant impact over time. Exposure to extreme temperatures is one that serves as a catalyst to improve your health. Saunas have historically been a strategy used in Eastern European, Asian and Finnish countries for relaxation, detoxification and more. Athletes are using the extreme heat of saunas for more than post-workout stress reduction and relaxation. Increasing core temperature actually offers conditioning that may improve athletic performance by increasing endurance.1 Exposure to extreme temperatures also has a beneficial effect on mitochondrial functioning, the minute powerhouses in your cells that provide your body with the energy required to function. The key to continued energy production is to remove old and worn-out ones and generate new mitochondria, a process called biogenesis. Researchers had previously determined that extreme heat can help reduce your risk of cardiac death and hypertension (high blood pressure). They have now identified the direct effect that sauna heat has on vascular health, blood pressure and heart rate.2 Sauna Benefits Vascular Health, Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Blood pressure is recorded using two different measurements.3 The top number, your systolic measurement, is the pressure inside your blood vessels as your heart beats. The bottom number, your diastolic measurement, is the pressure in your vessels when your heart is at rest between beats. The higher the numbers, the greater the pressure in your arterial system against which the heart must work. The team publishing the current study also published data from a previous study that was purely observational and suggested sauna use improved health outcomes, including sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.4 During the current study the team recruited 102 people and monitored the biological effects of sauna use immediately before and after a 30-minute session.5 Cardiovascular and blood-based biomarkers were measured in the participants to evaluate arterial stiffness and blood pressure.6 Data was collected just prior to and after a single session of 30 minutes in a sauna set to 164 Fahrenheit (F) (73 Celsius [C]) with 10 to 20 percent humidity. The participant's systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements both decreased after the sauna session and carotid-femoral pulse velocity7 decreased, indicating beneficial effects on arterial stiffness. The study's co-author, a cardiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, Dr. Jari Laukkanen, believes that while a sauna session does not give the same muscular benefits as exercise, the cardiovascular responses may be similar.8 Mitochondrial Health Is Foundational to Your Overall Health The health of your mitochondria is vital to your life and in the prevention of chronic disease. These tiny organelles reside in cells, nearly 2,000 in most cells, although red blood cells and skin cells have little to none. In order for your body to function you require energy, and your mitochondria provide that source of energy. As mitochondrial function is at the heart of disease prevention and in the treatment of chronic illness, it is important to use strategies that support their health and function. Were all your mitochondria to simultaneously fail you would immediately die. Mitochondria are also responsible for apoptosis, programmed cell death, without which cancer cells freely replicate and grow. Mitochondria also serve as important signaling molecules to help regulate gene expression. As with most cells, your mitochondria are supported by some of the foods you eat and harmed by others. Nutrition is an essential factor in supporting the health and function of your mitochondria. The vast majority of people who eat mostly processed foods are burning carbohydrates as their primary fuel, which has the devastating effect of shutting down your body's ability to burn fat and support your mitochondria. This is why obesity is so prevalent, and why so many find it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off. Extreme Heat Benefits Mitochondrial Health Download Interview Transcript In this video, biological scientist Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., discusses how exposure to extreme heat and/or cold help support the creation of new mitochondria, called mitochondrial biogenesis. While there are strategies to support the health of mitochondria, there are four specific strategies to help your body regenerate new ones. These include exercise, exposure to extreme cold or heat, intermittent fasting and certain supplements like resveratrol. Patrick believes the most efficient means of regenerating mitochondria is exposure to extreme cold, followed by extreme heat and exercise. This strategy exposes your body to a short burst of stress, activating response pathways encoded in your genes for survival. She explains: "It turns them on because they're thinking, 'I've got to prepare for war. This is stress. I need to make sure I fight this off.' Not only does it activate all these really good pathways to fight off the stress you're dealing with immediately, but it is preparing for future war. [Your body] is basically thinking to itself, 'I may encounter this stress again. I have to activate all these good pathways that can help me deal with stress. That way, the next time I encounter it, I'm ready to fight it off.' That's really one of the main reasons why short bursts of stress are so good for you, because we have so many amazing genes in our body that are so powerful. The problem is that as we age, they don't become activated as often. We need to find ways to activate them more ..." Exposure to sauna heat and exercise raises your body's core temperature, essentially creating a short burst of heat stress. This activates genes that optimize heat shock proteins in your cells. Since these proteins are damaged with time, and accumulation can lead to plaque formation in your brain and vascular system, it is important to prevent this adverse chain of events. Mild heat stress, as experienced in exercise and sauna use, increases the expression of mitochondrial biogenesis regulatory genes.9 Heat Stress Affects Brain Health Heat has a robust and profound effect on your brain health as your brain benefits from lower blood pressure, greater vascular health and enhanced relaxation.10 Research11 has also demonstrated it increases levels of prolactin, which may promote myelin growth, helping your brain to function faster and repair more efficiently. Researchers have also discovered a possible link between heat stress and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This factor activates your brain stem cells to convert new neurons and triggers other chemicals to promote neurological health. Researchers have discovered that when you exercise in hot weather it increases the amount of BDNF, as opposed to exercise in cold weather.12 This further supports the use of heat stress to improve your brain health. Your body also responds to heat by attempting to cool down, increasing production of dynorphin, the opposite of endorphin. Dynorphins sensitize your brain to endorphins, which may explain the mood boosting effect you experience with exercise and heat stress. When you are exposed to heat, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are generated, which in turn increase the production of growth factors such as BDNF. As you age, neurons in your brain may be lost. This strategy may help to slow or prevent the loss of these cells and brain aging. Multiple Ways Sauna Use May Improve Athletic Performance While exercising in the heat, your body expends a great deal of energy seeking to control and regulate your internal temperature. Therefore, if you are not acclimatized to training on a hot day, you'll likely find it more uncomfortable and your performance may be less than stellar. Heat can be a limiting factor in athletic performance. In one study,13 researchers asked an experimental group of competitive male endurance runners to use a sauna for 30 minutes after training four times a week. They compared performance results against a similar group of athletes who did not use a sauna. After three weeks, the experimental group performed 32 percent better than the control group in an endurance run to exhaustion, and on average decreased their 5K time by 1.9 percent. The athletes also demonstrated an increase in red blood cell production responsible for transporting oxygen to the cells. Sauna use also stimulates the production of growth hormone, necessary for the reinforcement of bone, muscle growth and longevity, and plays a role in homeostasis. In one study,14 using a sauna for 30 minutes seven times doubled the amount of growth hormone produced and increased the amount of prolactin in participants. The ventricles in your heart are the main pumping chambers, sending oxygenated blood out to your body. An ejection fraction is the measurement of percentage of blood that leaves the chamber with each pump. Use of a sauna has demonstrated improvements in left ventricular ejection fraction.15 This is particularly useful in times of increased physical stress and athletic performance. A Variety of Sauna Types Offer Differing Advantages and Disadvantages Saunas are built to contain heat in a small area, typically elevating air temperature between 158 and 212 F (70 to 100 C).16 Traditional Finnish saunas use dry heat with relatively low humidity, while Turkish saunas use moist heat with relatively high humidity. There are several different types of saunas from which to choose, depending on the heat source: Wood burning saunas: use wood to heat rocks and the room. This produces high temperatures, and you can influence the humidity by pouring water on the rocks, or not. Electrically heated sauna: rooms are high heat and low humidity, generated by an electrical heater attached to the floor of the room. Never pour water onto an electrical sauna heater. Infrared, near- and far-infrared saunas: use special lamps to heat your body from the inside out, and not the entire room. Temperatures in the room are typically lower than other sauna types, but the light heats your body to a similar temperature. Steam rooms: are different in that they provide high moist heat, steam and high humidity. Infrared, near- and far-infrared saunas are known for their ability to promote detoxification. By heating tissue several inches deep, an infrared sauna may enhance your natural metabolic process and improve blood circulation, helping to oxygenate your tissues. There are several benefits to near-infrared saunas17 over the others, as these offer greater tissue penetration and interaction with chromophores in your body. Chromophores are light-sensitive molecules in your mitochondria and water molecules that absorb light. The specific light absorbing molecule, called cytochrome c oxidase (CCO), is involved in energy production within the mitochondria. Many don't realize that light is an important fuel for your cells, like food. When your bare skin is exposed to near-infrared light, CCO increases the production of energy in your mitochondria. It is also involved in healing and repair, as well as other biological functions. These light waves are absent in artificial light sources, such as fluorescents and LEDs, which is one of the reasons these light sources are so detrimental to your health. We now know that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the heart of most health problems and chronic diseases, including many signs of aging.18 For these reasons, I strongly recommend using a sauna that offers 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. Also beware that most infrared saunas emit dangerous non-native electromagnetic fields (EMFs). So, look for one that emits low or no non-native EMFs. To learn more about this issue, please see my interview with Steve Benda, who has spent many years developing low-EMF saunas. Essential Tips for Safe Sauna Use Your skin is a major organ of elimination. However, in many the skin has become inactive. In other words, you just don't sweat very efficiently. Consistent use of a sauna slowly helps your body restore elimination through sweat, allowing for the removal of toxic chemicals and metals. This daily habit pays serious dividends, including detoxification, improved cardiac health, physical performance, endurance and brain health. Moderate use of a sauna is safe for most people. However, if you have a heart condition it is wise to consult with your physician first.19 Further precautions include: • Stay safe: Avoid using a sauna alone as a sudden drop in blood pressure and dehydration may lead to a potentially lethal situation. Avoid the sauna if you are pregnant or if you are ill. Return to the sauna only after you are feeling better, don't have a fever and are fully hydrated. Always listen to your body when deciding how much heat stress you can tolerate. If you've never used a sauna, you may need to start with just four minutes the first time, adding 30 seconds to each subsequent sauna until you've reach 15 to 30 minutes. In some cases, the detoxification process may be severe. This schedule helps your body to slowly acclimate to sweating and eliminating toxins. • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol increases your risk of arrhythmia, hypotension (extremely low blood pressure), dehydration and sudden death. In a study from Finland, researchers found those who experienced sudden death within 24 hours of using a sauna had a high probability of consuming alcohol at the time.20,21 Avoid the sauna if you've had too much to drink in the past 24 hours as well. While you may have heard sauna use will shorten a hangover, it actually increases your risk of dehydration at a time when you are already dehydrated from alcohol use. • Prevent dehydration and mineral loss: Sauna use increases the amount of fluid you lose through sweating. It's important to replace that fluid by ensuring you are well hydrated with clean, pure water before using the sauna and paying close attention to rehydrating afterward. Dr. Lawrence Wilson is the author of "Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing," one of the better resources I've read on sauna use.22 Wilson recommends not spending more than 20 minutes in a near-infrared sauna unless you are also on a nutritional balancing program. This recommendation stems from the profound chemical changes a near-infrared sauna can effect in your body. Although most are beneficial, if you already have unbalanced mineral ratios the process can potentially worsen the problem. Many minerals are lost through sweating. Wilson recommends taking kelp and using a high quality, unprocessed salt in your cooking. My preference is Himalayan salt in combination with magnesium as most of us are deficient in magnesium. Dr. Mercola

    • For Optimal Brain and Nervous System Health, You Need to Exercise Your Leg Muscles

      By Dr. Mercola While exercise is primarily valued for its influence on physical health, strength and mobility, there’s ample evidence showing physical exercise, especially strength training, is just as important for healthy brain and nervous system function. A number of studies, which I’ll review below, have linked muscle strength, and leg strength in particular, to various cognitive benefits. This fascinating link was again demonstrated in a recent study1,2 published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, which shows that neurological health is as dependent on signals from your large leg muscles as it is on signals from your brain to your muscles. In other words, it’s a two-way street, and neither “lane” is more important than the other. As noted by the authors: “Both astronauts and patients affected by chronic movement-limiting pathologies face impairment in muscle and/or brain performance. Increased patient survival expectations and the expected longer stays in space by astronauts may result in prolonged motor deprivation and consequent pathological effects. Severe movement limitation can influence not only the motor and metabolic systems but also the nervous system, altering neurogenesis and the interaction between motoneurons and muscle cells. Little information is yet available about the effect of prolonged muscle disuse on neural stem cells characteristics. Our in vitro study aims to fill this gap by focusing on the biological and molecular properties of neural stem cells (NSCs) … The overall results support the existence of a link between reduction of exercise and muscle disuse and metabolism in the brain and thus represent valuable new information that could clarify how circumstances such as the absence of load and the lack of movement that occurs in people with some neurological diseases, may affect the properties of NSCs and contribute to the negative manifestations of these conditions.” The Importance of Leg Exercise for Brain and Nervous System Health According to the press release,3 the finding “fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine — giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.” In other words, whenever you’re unable to perform load-bearing exercises, you not only lose muscle mass due to muscle atrophy, your body chemistry is impacted in such a way that your nervous system and brain also begin to deteriorate. To reach this conclusion, the researchers prevented mice from using their hind legs for 28 days. The animals could still use their front legs, however, and were able to eat and groom normally without getting stressed. At the end of 28 days, the sub-ventricular zone of the animals’ brains was examined. This is an area of the brain responsible for the health of nerve cells. Remarkably, neural stem cells — undifferentiated stem cells that can develop into both neurons and other brain cells — had declined by 70 percent in the animals that had not used their hind legs, compared to unhindered controls. Neurons and oligodendrocytes (glial cells that insulate nerve cells) also failed to fully mature in the treatment group. According to the press release:4 “The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells — some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.” Your Body Was Made for Weight Bearing What’s more, by not using the leg muscles, two genes were adversely impacted. One of them, known as CDK5Rap1, plays an important role in mitochondrial health and function, which is yet another important reason for getting weight-bearing exercise. As you may be aware by now, healthy, well-functioning mitochondria are crucial for optimal health, and mitochondrial dysfunction is a root cause of virtually all chronic disease, including neurodegeneration, as your brain requires the most energy of any organ — about 20 percent of the energy generated in your entire body. As noted by lead author Dr. Raffaella Adami,5 “It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things. Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles 'lift,' 'walk,' and so on." Previous research fully supports the notion that muscle use plays an enormously important role in brain health. Indeed, weight-bearing against gravity itself is a crucial component of life that allows the human body and brain to function optimally. This has been clearly elucidated by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, in her book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.” How Stronger Muscles Benefit Your Brain Previous research has shown exercise is a key way to protect, maintain and improve your brain health and optimize your cognitive capacity. It’s even been shown to help fight dementia. There are a number of different mechanisms behind this body-brain link. One, perhaps key, factor is related to how exercise affects brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is found in both your muscles and your brain. Exercise initially stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5. This protein in turn triggers the production of BDNF, which is a remarkable brain and muscle rejuvenator. In your brain, BDNF helps preserve existing brain cells,6 activate brain stem cells to convert into new neurons (neurogenesis), and promote actual brain growth, especially in the hippocampus area; a region associated with memory. In your neuromuscular system, BDNF protects your neuromotor, the most critical element in your muscle, from degradation. Without the neuromotor, your muscle is like an engine without ignition. Neuromotor degradation is part of the process that explains age-related muscle atrophy. Yet another mechanism at play here relates to a substance called β-hydroxybutyrate, which your liver produces when your metabolism is optimized to burn fat as a primary fuel.7 When your blood sugar level declines, β-hydroxybutyrate serves as an alternative source of energy. β-hydroxybutyrate is also a histone deacetylase inhibitor that limits the production of BDNF.8 So, your body appears to be designed to improve BDNF production via a number of different pathways in response to physical exertion, and BDNF’s cross-connection between your muscles and your brain helps explain why a physical workout can have such a beneficial impact on both muscle and brain tissue. It, quite literally, helps prevent and even reverse brain decay as much as it prevents and reverses age-related muscle decay. Exercise also helps protect and improve your brain function by: Improving and increasing blood flow (oxygenation) to your brain Increasing production of nerve-protecting compounds Reducing damaging plaques in your brain, and Altering the way these damaging proteins reside inside your brain, which appears to slow the development of Alzheimer's disease Studies Demonstrating Muscle-Brain Link Here’s a sampling of studies demonstrating this fascinating muscle-brain link: In a 2011 study,9 seniors who walked 30 to 45 minutes, three days per week for one year, increased the volume of their hippocampus by 2 percent. Typically, your hippocampus tends to shrink with age. The results prompted the authors to claim exercise is "one of the most promising nonpharmaceutical treatments to improve brain health." Research10 also shows exercise helps preserve gray and white matter in your frontal, temporal and parietal cortexes, which also helps prevent cognitive deterioration. A 2016 study11 in the journal Gerontology found that working your leg muscles helps maintain cognitive function as you get older. According to the authors, simply walking more could help maintain brain function well into old age. The study followed 324 female twins, aged 43 to 73, for a decade. Cognitive function such as learning and memory was tested at the outset and at the conclusion of the study. Interestingly, leg strength was found to be a better predictor for brain health than any other lifestyle factor they reviewed. Consistently, the twin with the greatest leg strength maintained higher cognitive functioning over time compared to her weaker twin. The stronger of the pair also experienced fewer age-related brain changes over time. A Georgia Tech study12 (featured in the video below) found that 20 minutes of strength training enhanced long-term memory by about 10 percent. In this experiment, 46 volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two groups — one active and one passive. Initially, all of the participants viewed a series of 90 images. Afterward, they were asked to recall as many images as they could. The active group was then told to do 50 leg extensions at personal maximum effort using a resistance exercise machine. The passive participants were asked to let the machine move their leg, without exerting any personal effort. Two days later the participants returned to the lab, where they were shown the 90 original photos plus 90 new ones. Interestingly, those in the active group had markedly improved image recall even though two days had passed since the exercise. The passive control group recalled about 50 percent of the original photos, whereas the active group remembered about 60 percent. Project leader Lisa Weinberg commented on the results saying,13 “Our study indicates that people don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time to give their brain a boost.” Other research published in 2016 also found a link between exercise and improved long-term memory retention. Here they found that exercising four hours after learning something new helps you retain what you’ve just learned long-term. Curiously, this effect was not found when the exercise was done immediately after learning.14,15 Why this four-hour delay boosted memory retention is still unclear, but it appears to have something to do with the release of catecholamines, naturally occurring chemicals in your body known to improve memory consolidation. These include dopamine and norepinephrine. One way to boost these catecholamines is through exercise, and delayed exercise appears to be part of the equation.16 Animal research17 has also shown that exercise both activates and promotes the growth of hippocampal neurons. The hippocampus belongs to the ancient part of your brain known as the limbic system, and plays an important role in the consolidation of information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory, as well as spatial navigation. In one such study,18 exercising mice grew an average of 6,000 new hippocampal brain cells in every cubic millimeter of tissue sampled. As expected, the mice also showed significant improvements in the memory recall. Similarly, a 2010 study19 on primates revealed exercise helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as quickly as nonexercising monkeys. A number of other studies have also investigated the impact of exercise on brain performance and IQ in students and employees Research highlights20 include the finding that 40 minutes of daily exercise increased IQ by an average of nearly 4 points among elementary school students; among sixth-graders, the fittest students scored 30 percent higher than average students, and the less fit students scored 20 percent lower; among older students, those who play vigorous sports have a 20 percent improvement in math, science, English and social studies; students who exercised before class improved test scores 17 percent, and those who worked out for 40 minutes improved an entire letter grade. Employees who exercise regularly are also 15 percent more efficient than those who do not, which means a fit employee needs to work only 42.5 hours in a week to do the same work as an average employee does in 50. The Many Mechanisms by Which Exercise Boosts Brain Health I’ve already discussed how BDNF links muscle strength and brain rejuvenation, but exercise also influences a number of other biochemical pathways that end up affecting your cognitive function and health, including the following: Normalizing insulin and preventing insulin resistance Exercise is one of the most effective ways to normalize your insulin level and lower your risk of insulin resistance. This not only lowers your risk for diabetes but also helps protect your cognitive health, as diabetes is linked to a 65 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's.21 Insulin actually plays an important role in brain signaling, and when proper signaling of insulin in the brain is disrupted, dementia follows.22 Improving blood flow and oxygenation to your brain Your brain needs a significant supply of oxygen to function properly, which helps explain why what is good for your heart and cardiovascular system is also good for your brain. The increased blood flow that results from exercise allows your brain to almost immediately function better. As a result, you tend to feel more focused after a workout, which can improve your productivity. Reducing plaque formation In one animal study,23 significantly fewer damaging plaques and fewer bits of beta-amyloid peptides, associated with Alzheimer's, were found in mice that exercised, and by altering the way damaging proteins reside inside your brain, exercise may help slow neurodegeneration. Decreasing bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) BMP slows down the creation of new neurons, thereby reducing neurogenesis. If you have high levels of BMP, your brain gets increasingly sluggish. Exercise reduces the impact of BMP, thereby allowing adult stem cells to perform their vital functions of keeping your brain agile. In animal research, mice with access to running wheels reduced the BMP in their brains by half in a single week.24 Boosting noggin Exercise also results in a notable increase in another brain protein called noggin, a BMP antagonist. So, exercise not only reduces the detrimental effects of BMP, it simultaneously boosts the more beneficial noggin as well. This complex interplay between BMP and noggin appears to be a powerful factor that helps ensure the proliferation and youthfulness of neurons. Lowering inflammation Exercise lowers your levels of inflammatory cytokines associated with chronic inflammation and obesity, both of which can adversely impact your brain function.25 Increasing mood-boosting neurotransmitters Exercise also boosts natural feel good hormones and neurotransmitters associated with mood control, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA. A study by Princeton University revealed exercising creates excitable neurons along with new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter, which inhibits excessive neuronal firing, helping to induce a natural state of calm.26 The mood-boosting benefits of exercise occur both immediately after a workout and continue on in the long term when done regularly. Metabolizing stress chemicals Researchers have also teased out the mechanism by which exercise helps reduce stress and related depression — both of which are risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Well-trained muscles have higher levels of an enzyme that helps metabolize a stress chemical called kynurenine. The finding suggests that exercising your muscles helps rid your body of harmful stress chemicals.27 Daily Walking and a Four-Minute Daily Workout — A Winning Combo Most People Can Do There’s little doubt that — aside from poor diet — inactivity is a major driver of most of our current disease epidemics, starting with obesity, which now affects nearly 40 percent of adults, over 18 percent of teens and nearly 14 percent of children. In addition to a wide array of health problems, obesity is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, which is now the third leading cause of death, right behind heart disease and cancer. Nonexercise movement along with regular workouts could go a long way toward improving these troubling statistics. Most people spend 10 hours or more sitting down each day, and sitting for more than eight hours a day is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, along with increased risks of heart disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.28 The answer is to move more, including during work hours. One solution that can work for many is to get a standup desk. Simply bearing weight on your two legs produce a biochemical cascade that cuts your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Walking more is another key solution. Rather than opting for convenience, take every opportunity you can to walk (or bicycle) rather than drive. Park further away; take the stairs rather than the elevator and so on. In addition to daily walking (I recommend aiming for 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day), consider doing some form of regimented exercise each day. It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time. In the video below, I demonstrate a four-minute high-intensity exercise that will boost your nitric oxide level, a molecule that feeds your muscles and dilates your blood vessels, allowing for better flood flow and oxygenation of all tissues, including your brain. While the movements are really simple, and require no exercise equipment, they work 16 of your largest muscle groups. A typical four-minute workout entails three sets of 10 repetitions, but you can eventually work toward increasing it to 20. Done two or three times a day, spaced at least two hours apart, the Nitric Oxide Dump exercise is an extremely effective and efficient way to give your physical and cognitive health a boost. Dr. Mercola

    • Chess Grandmasters Enjoy Same Longevity Advantage as Elite Athletes

      By Dr. Mercola Discovering a fountain of youth has been part of human history dating back centuries. The name most closely linked to the search is that of 16th century Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who reportedly thought it would be found in Florida, where St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., was founded.1 Although the story makes for good a legend, scholars now believe Ponce de Leon was interested in political gain and not longevity.2 The search for antiaging elixirs and remedies has not abated. Science got closer in the 1930s when telomeres were first discovered.3 In 1973, Alexey Olovnikov discovered telomeres shorten with time as they fail to replicate completely with each cell division.4 This means, as you get older, your telomeres get shorter. In 1984, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., from the University of California San Francisco, discovered how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.5 But the scientific explanation for longevity in individual populations continue to remain elusive. In studying different groups of individuals who live to 100, researchers agree there's no specific pattern. That said, scientists have identified several factors that improve your chances for living longer. A recent study has now demonstrated chess grandmasters enjoy the same longevity advantages as elite athletes.6 Play Chess, Live Longer A meta-analysis7 of 54 peer-reviewed publications evaluated data on the life span of elite athletes participating in baseball, football, soccer, basketball and cycling. While there was no consensus for the reason the athletes enjoyed superior longevity outcomes over the general population, the researchers did conclude participation in an elite sport was generally favorable to life span longevity, resulting in an advantage between four and eight years on average. These results may come with little surprise as it is easy to imagine how significant physical training may manifest in better physical health. For the first time, a recent study demonstrates chess grandmasters have the same advantage.8 The researchers’ aim was to examine the overall and regional survival of international chess grandmasters against the general population and relative survival of other Olympic medalists. Information from over 1,200 grandmasters and over 15,000 Olympic medalists were gathered across 28 countries from publicly available data sources.9 Using this data, the researchers calculated the average yearly survival rate, adjusting for region, age and sex. This gave them information to estimate life expectancies. When the data was compared between the Olympic medalists and the chess grandmasters, the researchers found no difference in the average life expectancy.10 However, both groups did show an advantage compared to the general population. For instance, a chess grandmaster at age 25 was expected to live 6.3 years longer than an average 25-year-old of the same gender, living in the same region. This study was the first to use advanced statistical methods in order to compare longevity between elite athletes, chess players and the general population.11 The researchers chose to compare survival rates of the groups at 30 and 60 years after being named a grandmaster or winning their first Olympic medal. They commented on the reasons grandmasters may enjoy greater longevity and the results, saying:12 “A more likely channel is that to attain the grandmaster (GM) title an individual may be encouraged to make necessary health improvements (e.g., reduced smoking and alcohol consumption, improved nutrition, more regular cardiovascular exercise, etc.) to improve one’s cognitive performance. Although there has been some concern that chess training promotes a sedentary lifestyle that may reduce participation of the chess players in physical activities, this is not supported by existing evidence. The importance of physical exercise and healthy diet for professional chess is well-known amongst GMs, and world championship contenders normally employ a full-time nutritionist and/or physical trainer in preparation for and during world championship matches. While the frequency of health and fitness activities conducted by chess players is apparently less than that by athletes excelling in Olympic sports, there is evidence suggesting that chess players do exhibit a higher level of physical fitness than the general population. Not only does the game of life continue after the checkmate, but excelling in mind sports like chess means one is likely to play the game for longer.” Are Grandmasters More Intelligent? One argument offered to suggest why grandmasters enjoy a longer life is because chess requires a higher level of intelligence and intelligence is one confounding factor with an independent positive effect on longevity.13 In past years there has been a line of research suggesting there is no link between a person's general level of intelligence and ability to play chess.14 However, one analysis15 of previous studies suggests cognitive ability is a main factor enabling individuals to become good at chess. Psychologists have debated the role of intelligence for decades in an attempt to differentiate between expertise, training and practice as pieces of the puzzle. Researchers from Michigan State University carried out the meta-analysis of 2,300 academic articles, particularly those including objective analysis of chess skill and a measure of cognitive ability. Lead author, doctoral student Alexander Burgoyne, said:16 “Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed. We analyzed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill.” This meta-analysis was the first attempt by researchers to systematically investigate scientific evidence on a link between intellect and chess skill.17 Although the study found intelligence was linked to skill for the overall sample, those who were youngest and at a lower level appeared to benefit most. The findings were part of Zach Hambrick's expertise lab at Michigan State University. Hambrick offered another explanation:18 “Imagine that a genius can become a skilled chess player relatively easily, whereas a person with average intelligence may take longer. So the idea is, as you practice more and develop more skills and knowledge about the game, you may be able to circumvent limitations in cognitive ability.” He added that this may be true for chess, but not necessarily for all activities. In an earlier study, researchers found working memory and cognitive ability related to general intelligence predicted the success in sight reading music even among highly practiced pianists.19 In others words, working memory and cognition were greater predictors of a musician’s ability to sight read, rather than hours of practice. Grandmasters Require Physical Stamina to Compete Although the featured study was not set up to determine the reasons for the longevity advantage of chess grandmasters, the researchers offered a few educated guesses based on their knowledge of the players requirements to compete, including competitive training regiments, the importance of exercise and healthy diet for professional chess players and evidence that playing chess may provide an economic and social boost linked to increased life expectancy.20 Playing chess requires stamina on the part of the player to maintain focus on a game, sometimes engaging a player’s attention for hours. To maintain this focus players work to improve their stamina using good nutrition, adequate amounts of sleep and exercise.21,22 The authors also noted playing chess may reduce the risk of dementia23 and physically alter the structure of your brain.24 Players may also quit smoking, get exercise and reduce their alcohol intake in order to improve cognitive performance. These factors are very important to a grandmaster who often employs full-time nutritionists or trainers to prepare for world championship matches.25 Each of these are factors strongly associated with longevity and may be factors influencing the increased longevity in chess grandmasters. Exercise and Longevity Inextricably Connected There is some evidence to suggest grandmasters may have better physical fitness than the general population,26 another factor solidly associated with longevity. Exercise helps reduce your risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, diabetes and high blood pressure, all associated with premature death.27 One study found highly active 65-year-olds may experience an additional five disability-free years. Another demonstrated increasing physical activity after age 50 can also add years to your life. Senior citizens may experience the benefits, as those who exercise 30 minutes a day tend to live longer than their counterparts who spend the time on the couch. Even at age 73, physical activity is associated with longevity.28 In a study from the National Cancer Institute and Harvard University,29 researchers pooled data about exercise habits from six ongoing health surveys including information from more than 661,000 adults. Comparing 14 years of death records for the group, they found those who did not exercise were at the highest risk of early death. People who met the guidelines for exercise, completing 150 minutes per week, enjoyed a 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period. However, the individuals who enjoyed the greatest benefits were those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out a little more than an hour per day. They were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who have never exercised. Another smaller study30 came to similar conclusions. Five Intelligent Health Decisions Related to an Increase in Longevity Longevity is something most people seek, but you don't have to be an Olympic medalist or chess grandmaster to make life-altering choices that have a significant impact on your health and longevity. Here are some powerful positive changes you may consider. Sleep Estimates suggest nearly 33 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night. More than 83 million adults in the U.S. operate sleep-deprived every day. Although some in this fast-paced world believe sleep is reserved for after they retire, there is strong science to suggest sleep may be as important to your health and longevity as other factors. Insufficient sleep may lead to slowed reaction times, increase- neurological problems such as depression or dementia, increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and impaired immune function. If you are already suffering from chronic disease it would be wise to take your sleep hygiene seriously. You'll find an in-depth discussion about the importance of sleep and how to improve your sleep hygiene habits in my previous article, “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.” Nutrition For over 50 years I have been passionate about using food and nutrition to optimize my own health. Diet is clearly one of the foundational strategies for taking control of your health as you simply cannot out-exercise your mouth. Ultimately, your body uses the nutrition you eat to fuel your exercise habits and enables your mind to be creative and productive. Even with an excellent exercise program, adequate amount of sleep and great hydration, if your diet is poor you will not reap the full benefits of your efforts. Unfortunately, dietary advice may feel like a moving target as what is considered healthy one day may make headlines for being harmful the next. I issued my first Optimized Nutrition Plan nearly a decade ago and since then have tweaked it and updated it as needed. I would encourage you to use the food pyramid for optimal health found in my Updated Nutrition Plan — Your Guide to Optimal Health, as a guide to making your own meal plans each day. Following my Optimized Nutrition Plan will help reduce your potential for experiencing vitamin deficiencies, which may not present with immediate symptoms but instead contribute to the development of chronic illness and disease throughout your lifetime. Stress The term psychological stress is actually misleading as no stress is solely experienced psychologically. Chronic stress will interfere with your immune system, cause epigenetic changes and trigger systemic inflammation. Although acute stress may be beneficial if you are in imminent physical danger, chronic stress is damaging over time. Research has found those who work in high-stress positions are 21 times more likely to die of a heart attack during an altercation than during routine activities.31  More heart attacks occur on Mondays than any other day of the week, called the Monday cardiac phenomenon, believed to be related to work stress.32 Stress is also related to diabetes and at least a dozen other serious consequences, including cancer. You'll find more information in my previous article, “Stress Doesn’t Stay in Your Head.” For ideas on how to deal with stress, including the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), see my previous article, ”How Chronic Stress Promotes Spread of Cancer and What You Can Do About It.” Exercise Exercise has a number of biological effects on your muscles, lungs, heart, joints and bones. Exercise is also necessary for optimal brain health as it reduces plaque formation, triggers genetic changes and the release of neurotransmitters well-known for their role in mood control and mood boosting effects. Exercise is also important to preserve existing brain cells and promote the development of new neurons, effectively making your brain grow larger. For a guide on how to begin working out after a long break or if you're just beginning, check out my Beginner Workout Plan. Movement While fitness and exercise on a regular basis is necessary for optimal health, you may still increase your risk for cardiovascular disease simply by sitting too much. Just the act of standing up from a seated position is effective at counteracting the detrimental health effects of sitting too long. These effects include increasing your risk of metabolic problems, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I give you easy suggestions for how to get moving during the day at work in short bursts in my previous article, “Intermittent Movement Benefits Your Health. Here’s How to Get More of It Into Your Work Day.” Dr. Mercola

    • 7 Exercise Tools Everyone Should Have

      By Dr. Mercola Among their many benefits, exercise tools such as foam rollers are useful for releasing tension points, improving range of motion and supporting muscle recovery. Most serious athletes, bodybuilders and exercise enthusiasts own one or more of these handy, inexpensive tools, which continue to grow in popularity. Like the foam roller, most of these tools are designed to be self-administered for the purpose of myofascial release, but you can use them with a partner if desired. Your fascia is a band or sheath of connective tissue, primarily collagen, that provides support and protection for your muscles and internal organs. Fascia also can become tight due to inactivity, overuse or trauma caused by your job activities or workouts, or sometimes due to an accident, poor posture, repetitive-stress injury or surgery. When your fascia constricts, you may experience inflammation, which can result in a thickening of the connective tissue, as well as pain and irritation. By breaking down fibrous tissue, you boost your body’s blood circulation, which, in turn, promotes healing and helps relieve painful symptoms. Besides a foam roller, Prevention magazine1 suggests six other “must have” exercise tools to help you target problem areas and achieve relief in a matter of minutes. Foot Massager: Bringing Relief to Your Hard-Working Feet Caring for your feet is an important consideration no matter what you do for a living, but most especially if your job or other activities involve a lot of walking or standing. After carrying you around all day, your feet deserve special attention. Unfortunately, frequent neglect of your feet can result in serious aches and pains. For example, it’s vitally important you wear high-quality, supportive footwear. If you don’t, you may end up with plantar fasciitis, which occurs when the tendon running along your arch, from your toes to your heel, becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis is extremely painful and may involve weeks or months of treatment and recovery. The pain is often at its worst when you take your first steps in the morning or after long periods of rest. Whether or not you have plantar fasciitis, using a foot massager to roll out aches and pains is an effective way to release tension in your feet and promote blood circulation. Golf, lacrosse or tennis balls can be used on your feet but they can easily slide out or roll away unless used on thick carpet. Foot-specific rollers, which are generally slightly larger than a golf ball, can be used on any surface. Check out the video below for simple instructions on how to use a foot massage ball to address pain such as that caused by plantar fasciitis. Lacrosse Ball: Dig Into Tight Muscles Alone or With a Partner If you’ve ever had a massage therapist dig into one or more tension points on your back or shoulders, you may be happy to know you can use a lacrosse ball to achieve a similar effect. Due to its compact size, a lacrosse ball is perfect for addressing smaller muscles in your pecs and shoulders. You can also use a lacrosse ball to roll out your calves, shins and feet. While it’s possible to work the lacrosse ball into an area by hand, you may be better served by placing the ball on the floor or using it against a wall. After positioning the affected area of your body over the ball, you can easily apply the desired intensity and pressure. Another option is to find a partner and have them administer the lacrosse ball to your affected areas. Whatever you do, take things slowly to avoid causing further injury or irritation. You may need to ice tender areas afterward. Multiple sessions may be needed to address chronic tension points. Medium Ball: A Good Alternative if a Lacrosse Ball Is Too Small Medium balls are a great solution when you want to treat an area for which a foam roller is too big and a lacrosse ball is too small. If you spend a lot of time sitting, you can use a medium ball to loosen up tight glutes and hip flexors. You may also find it useful for addressing tight spots in your calves and hamstrings. Massage Stick: Roll Out Cramps and Tight Muscles in Minutes I personally use a massage stick on a regular basis, and highly recommend one called the Tiger Tail, which retails for less than $30. I keep it by my bedside to address the exercise-related leg cramps I occasionally experience during the night. Since the cramps I generally get attack my smaller muscles, making them difficult to treat with regular stretching, I use the Tiger Tail instead. After a few minutes of rolling over the cramping muscle, the pain typically disappears or at least has been significantly reduced. The massage stick can also be applied to any other area of your body that is stiff and sore. By rolling it over an affected area, the motion increases blood and lymph flow to aching muscles. Getting more blood flow into the area promotes pain relief, improves circulation and relieves tension. Because massage sticks are easily manipulated, you can effectively control the amount and direction of the pressure. You can use a massage stick before your workout to help prevent injuries and increase mobility. After a workout, use it to stretch muscles while they are still warm, making them less likely to shorten and become tight. The video below demonstrates how to use a massage stick to relax your quadriceps and hamstrings as part of your post-workout routine. Resistance Bands: 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 incredibly simple and yet extremely effective at working your muscles — helping you boost stamina, flexibility, range of motion and more. Resistance bands are a quick means of changing up how you do familiar strength-training moves such as arm curls. You can also intensify regular pushups by wrapping a resistance band around your upper body as you do them. Resistance bands are 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. Spinal Roller: Brings the Intensity of the Human Elbow to Self-Massage These peanut-shaped rollers, which some have attempted to make at home by conjoining two tennis balls, can feel intense. It’s been suggested that spinal rollers — sometimes called a massage peanut or peanut ball — have a feel similar to the human elbow during therapeutic massage. For that reason, this tool should never be applied directly to your spinal column. When used appropriately, however, especially on your back, shoulders and neck, a spinal roller can help reduce muscle tension and pain. It’s best to begin by gently rolling against the wall before you lie on a spinal roller. If desired, you can involve a partner in helping you target specific areas of tension. Foam Roller: The Original Exercise Tool Still Adds Value to Your Workout Now that you’re familiar with the six other tools, let’s also take a look at the foam roller, which has long been one of the most popular exercise tools. Despite the many other options, a foam roller can still add immense value to your workout. According to certified strength and conditioning specialist Jeff Barnett, as reported by Breaking Muscle:2 “Foam rolling works by returning your muscles and soft tissue to their native form. Exercise, injury and the rigors of life can cause knots that restrict mobility and performance. By smashing those knots and allowing soft tissue to operate correctly again, foam rolling increases range of motion and improves workout performance.” A 2013 study3 published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research supports the use of a foam roller for myofascial release, indicating it can dramatically increase your range of motion without negative effects on strength. Eleven well-trained men were tested for strength, after which they used a foam roller for two minutes on their quadriceps. Follow-up testing indicated use of the foam roller did not affect strength, but did increase range of motion. In fact, the average improvement in knee flexion, for example, was noted as 8 to 10 degrees, which is significant. Said Joshua Wortman, bodybuilding and strength-training coach, of Breaking Muscle:4 “This study is one of the first peer-reviewed studies on self-myofascial release (SMR), and it proved what many bodybuilders and powerlifters have been preaching for some time — foam rolling works. Not only can it help improve joint range of motion and overall muscle recovery, it does so without sacrificing muscle performance and strength. Perhaps the biggest benefits of SMR are that it can be done entirely by the individual and is very efficient in that it can take as little as 30 to 60 seconds to target the desired muscle group.” 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Foam Roller As with any other exercise protocol, form and technique are extremely important considerations when you are using a foam roller. While a foam roller can provide relief to a tight muscle or sore spot, you can use it more broadly to achieve even greater benefit. The video above, featuring Mercola.com personal trainer Jill Rodriguez, showcases proper techniques for using a foam roller during exercise. She suggests using foam rolling before exercise to improve circulation and range of motion, and afterward to promote muscle recovery and relaxation. To avoid injury or further irritation, be sure to avoid the following common mistakes related to the use of foam rollers:5 1. Rolling Directly Where the Pain Is While your first inclination may be to apply foam rolling directly to a painful area, it’s important to approach your body as whole unit instead of a series of smaller parts. The ache you feel in one area may be the result of issues going on somewhere else in your body. In addition, rolling a painful, inflamed area has the potential to increase inflammation and inhibit healing. It’s better to take a less-direct approach says neuromuscular specialist and manual therapist Sue Hitzmann, who told Huffington Post:6 “Areas of pain are the victims that result from tension imbalances in other areas of the body. If you find a spot that’s sensitive, it’s a cue to ease away from that area by a few inches. Take time and work a more localized region around areas that feel sore before using larger, sweeping motions.” 2. Rolling Too Fast Your movements on the foam roller should be slow and concentrated — avoid rolling too quickly. If you roll too fast, your muscles won't have time to adapt to and manage the compression, which means you will most likely not be successful in eliminating adhesions. Also, rolling slowly gives your brain sufficient time to tell your muscles to relax. 3. Spending Too Much Time on Knots While it's perfectly OK to work on your knots with a foam roller, you could cause damage to your nerves or tissue if you dwell on one spot for too long of a time. This is particularly true if you bear down with your entire weight on the knot. Ideally, spend about 20 seconds on each tender spot and take care with the amount of pressure you apply. When using a foam roller, apply just enough pressure to release tension, and focus on making small movements back and forth. While a mild amount of discomfort is expected with foam rolling, you should back off if you are feeling intense pain in a single area. 4. Using Bad Posture Posture is an important consideration in all forms of exercise. Using a foam roller properly requires you to hold your body in various positions, and the form you use matters. If you slump or slouch during foam rolling, you might exacerbate existing postural issues, create further irritation or cause serious injury. If you are not sure you are using the correct form, it may be worth your time to seek out the assistance of a personal trainer who has experience with foam rollers. Another option for learning proper technique is to participate in a foam-rolling class at your local health club or recreation center. 5. Using a Foam Roller on Your Low Back Whatever you do, do NOT use a foam roller on your lower back! While it’s OK to work your upper back with a foam roller — because your shoulder blades and muscles offer adequate protection for your spine — working your lower back would be totally counterproductive and put you at risk for injury. “The thing that makes me cringe is when people foam roll their lower back,” states National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer Monica Vazquez.7 “You should never, ever do that. Once you hit the end of the rib cage, stop.” To release your lower back, try rolling the muscles connected to it, such as your piriformis (located within your glutes), hip flexors and rectus femoris (a main muscle in your quads). Choose One of These Tools and Get Started Today I cannot stress enough the importance of stretching and mobility to your overall health. While addressing limitations related to your health and fitness is not always “fun,” it is vital to ensure you will continue to be an independent, high-functioning individual for many years to come. While it may be hard to imagine it now, especially if you are young, possessing physical strength and agility, as well as full range of motion in your joints, will ultimately influence your ability to live a full and active life, as well as properly care for yourself in old age. If all this talk about exercise tools is new to you, start small by investing in and getting familiar with just one of the tools. If you’ve been exercising regularly, now may be the time to take your workout to the next level by adding one or more new tools to your routine. Because your muscles adapt quickly to any workout routine, it is important to keep adding variety and new levels of challenge as you go along. None of the tools are complicated or particularly expensive. In less than 10 minutes a day, you can begin to increase your flexibility, while taking the edge off any irritation and pain you may be experiencing. Even a small investment toward optimal health is sure to pay big dividends later. Get started today! Dr. Mercola

    • Exercise Four to Five Times a Week to Prevent Arterial Stiffness

      By Dr. Mercola Many associate the normal aging process with hypertension, chronic disease and heart disease. However, while these conditions are common in an aging population, many studies have demonstrated they are not inevitable outcomes of aging. Heart disease affects approximately 1 in 13 Americans over the age of 18.1 It continues to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., as 1 in 4 deaths is associated with heart disease.2 Mortality from coronary heart disease has been on the decline, likely attributable to improved treatments following heart attack, but the number of individuals living with the disease has not. Those at higher risk for heart disease have high blood pressure, smoke, are overweight, drink excessive amounts of alcohol and are physically inactive.3 In the U.S., the percentage of adults over age 20 with hypertension is near 33 percent.4 The condition is responsible for 3.7 million outpatient hospital visits each year, and 32,000 deaths from essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease. Hypertension is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, with a significant contributing factor being physical stiffening of the large arteries.5 A recent study finds exercising may reverse the aging of your heart and blood vessels as measured by the stiffness of your arteries.6 Activity Reduces Risk of Arterial Stiffness Recent research published in the Journal of Physiology7 analyzed the effect of differing amounts of exercise over 25 years on arterial stiffening in older adults. The study enrolled 100 people in their 60s and evaluated their exercise history throughout their lives.8 After measuring arterial stiffness, they found those who exercised two to three times a week for at least 30 minutes had more youthful middle sized arteries supplying blood to their head and neck. However, the most impressive results were in those who exercised four to five times a week. They had healthier large central arteries as well as healthier midsized ones. Data found there was little effect on the smaller peripheral arteries in either of the groups.9 Researchers measured the larger arteries supplying the chest and abdomen but did not take into account confounding factors, such as diet, education and social background. While these factors may have had an impact on the results, lead author from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Levine commented:10 “This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programs to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels.” In another study, researchers found relatively short aerobic exercise in older adults could reduce arterial stiffness in those who have Type 2 diabetes, hypertension or hypercholesterolemia.11 One study put participants through a 12-week combined exercise program and found improvements in arterial stiffness, functional capacity and body composition in postmenopausal women who suffered stage 1 hypertension.12 Individuals with metabolic syndrome have a threefold increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, in part due to an increase in arterial stiffness. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology,13 data revealed pathophysiological changes associated with metabolic syndrome were improved with aerobic exercise training, thus lowering cardiovascular risk. Another study14 demonstrated intermittent moderate-intensity exercise training for eight weeks could reduce arterial stiffness. Arterial Stiffness May Lead to Early Death Years of research has shown how exercise benefits your arterial system no matter your age. Arterial wall stiffness is dependent on several structural elements within the wall, including muscle, elastin and collagen.15 These components bear pressure as the wall is distended. Diagnosis of arterial stiffness includes arteriosclerosis and atheromatosis, often combined with atherosclerosis. This is a generalized thickening and stiffening of the wall, often related to high blood pressure. Arterial stiffness may be substantially increased in individuals with hypertension, independent of their blood pressure level.16 Stiffening as the result of structural vascular changes and endothelial dysfunction may be associated with vessel impairments in animal models of hypertension. An increase in stiffness has a major effect on pulse pressure — the difference between systolic and diastolic pressure — and on kidney function and cardiovascular risk. The risk is greater in those who suffer hypertension and/or Type 2 diabetes, as well as arterial stiffness. Individuals who are obese may also suffer an increase in arterial stiffness, associated with higher risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.17 This stiffness may be independent of blood pressure level, ethnicity and age, as the pathophysiological mechanism linking arterial stiffness in the aorta to abdominal adiposity is not fully understood. In a study evaluating the risk of cardiovascular disease with arterial stiffness and stroke in apparent healthy subjects, the researchers found aortic pulse wave velocity, an indication of arterial stiffness, is an independent predictor of coronary heart disease and stroke in those who appear healthy.18 Arterial stiffness is an emerging powerful predictor of your risk of death in a number of clinical, age-related conditions and has been identified as a contributing factor in:19 Hypertension Heart attack Stroke Kidney disorders Liver disorders Type 2 diabetes Cognitive decline Cerebral white matter disease Neurodegenerative disorders Many Are Not Active Enough to Enjoy Health Benefits With nearly 300 bones in the human body, humans were designed to move. For hundreds of years, that's exactly what happened. However, following rapid technological advances in the mid-20th century, everyone began sitting more frequently. In a study from Vanderbilt University evaluating over 6,300 people, researchers estimated the average American spends 55 percent of their waking hours in sedentary behaviors.20 This number jumps further if you have a desk job. Some estimates are the average person sits 12 hours a day and inactivity contributes to 3.2 million deaths each year.21 With increasing numbers of hours spent in a chair, it is more challenging to meet healthy exercise requirements. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 80 percent of adult Americans are not getting enough exercise each week, likely setting themselves up for years of health problems.22 Data collected from over 450,000 adults ages 18 and older reveal only 20 percent of those surveyed met the total recommended amounts of exercise.23 Those who were most likely to exercise were between the ages of 18 and 24 and those least likely were ages 65 and older. In these groups, 51 percent reported they met the physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity but only 21 percent met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening.24 In another survey including nearly 500 U.S. adults, most reported they wanted to be in better shape and looking good was very important to them. However, despite those feelings, only 31 percent reported making exercise a habit and 45 percent admitted they weren't active at all.25 Data from the American Time Use Survey tells the same story.26 The most commonly performed activity, after eating and drinking, was watching TV or movies. Just under 5 percent of those interviewed said they engaged in activities such as swimming, running or strength training. Exercise — Source of Multiple Health Benefits As fewer are engaging in vigorous exercise, fewer are also enjoying the accompanying health benefits. Regular fitness has a wide range of positive effects, including lowering your risk of cancer and stroke, improving your cardiovascular health and slowing loss of bone density often associated with age.27 Exercise is linked to better brain health and emotional well-being. In a study published in the journal Circulation, researchers found those who exercised, even without weight loss, tended to live longer.28 Another study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion29 evaluated data from more than 6,000 Americans and found even small amounts of physical activity adding up to 30 minutes a day could be as beneficial as longer workout sessions at the gym. Exercise also helps you to control your weight and reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.30 Exercise improves your balance and strength, which in turn improves your ability to do daily activities and prevents falls. Research also demonstrates high-intensity interval training triggers protection of energy-producing mitochondria and effectively delays aging at the cellular level.31 In the study, researchers split 36 men and 36 women into two age groups: those between 18 and 30 and those between 65 and 80. These groups were then further split into those who participated in high-intensity interval biking, strength training using weights, or a combination of interval and strength training. Once data collection was complete, the team found although strength training was effective at building muscle mass, those participating in high-intensity interval training had the greatest improvement at the cellular level.32 The researchers compared proteomic and RNA sequencing data, finding exercise promoted cells to make more RNA copies coded for mitochondrial protein. The younger volunteers carrying out interval training experienced up to a 49 percent increase in their mitochondrial capacity. However, even more impressive, the older group experienced up to a 69 percent improvement. In addition, those who participated in interval training improved their insulin sensitivity and lowered their risk of developing diabetes. The researchers believe the study demonstrated how exercise may improve the function of specific organelles, supporting previous research finding exercise enhanced mitochondrial electron transport chain activity and was related to an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis.33 Benefit From Four Minutes Three Times a Day This simple four-minute exercise is a new concept for fitness designed to release nitric oxide into your blood. Dr. Zach Bush is triple board-certified with expertise in internal medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, and believes his four-minute workout is anaerobically efficient and works better the more you do it, within reason. It may be hard to believe, but in those few minutes, you can get some of the same benefits as if you'd worked out in the gym for an hour. This short series of exercises is a new version of high-intensity interval training designed to release nitric oxide, a soluble gas and free radical stored in the lining of your blood vessels. Nitric oxide is made by your body to enhance blood vessel dilation as you work anaerobically to deliver more oxygen and nutrients where they are needed. The exercise is designed to be done three times a day with at least two hours between sessions to allow time to restore your nitric oxide reserve. Hand weights are not necessary or even recommended in the beginning, although you can use them later if you'd like. It's important to focus on form and speed initially. There are four movements done in three sets of 10 repetitions. As you become more comfortable, you can increase it up to 20 repetitions. Most importantly are your form and your breathing. As you exercise, do not breathe through your mouth. Keep your mouth closed and breathe only through your nose. Mouth breathing can lead to over breathing, chronic hyperventilation, depletion of carbon dioxide levels and reduced blood circulation. The goal of this exercise is to release higher amounts of nitric oxide, making your blood vessels more pliable and deliver greater amounts of oxygen to your muscles. Mouth breathing works in opposition to these goals. In the video above, I demonstrate this series of exercises, also known as the Nitric Oxide Dump. You can perform these exercises no matter where you are — I even do them at the airport as I'm waiting for my luggage. You might think you look a little odd, but remember, it's an extremely effective workout and totally free. Best of all, it will help you take control of your health. Dr. Mercola

    • Strength Training Can Relieve Depression

      By Dr. Mercola Resistance exercise training, commonly referred to as weight training or strength training, is often viewed as an activity aimed at building large muscles. While it certainly does build muscle mass and strength, its benefits don't end there, as strength training offers bodywide benefits from your heart to your brain. In fact, recent research published in JAMA Psychiatry revealed it's even beneficial for your mood and may help to alleviate symptoms of depression.1 A meta-analysis of 33 trials involving nearly 2,000 people showed that strength training led to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms, and this held true regardless of the participant's health status, improvements in strength or how much strength training they completed. According to the study's lead author, Brett Gordon, a postgraduate researcher in the department of physical education and sports sciences at the University of Limerick in Ireland, the greatest improvements were seen among people with symptoms of mild to moderate depression, as opposed to those without depression, which suggests strength training may be most effective for people with greater depressive symptoms.2 Strength Training May Be as Effective as Antidepressants While strength training may not provide an all-out cure for depression, Gordon noted in an email to Time that it may improve depressive symptoms as well as antidepressants and behavioral therapies.3 Many different strength training programs turned out to be beneficial, so Gordon recommended strength training for two days a week, with eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 strength-training exercises, to boost mental health, which are the guidelines suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine.4 The World Health Organization's (WHO) physical activity guidelines for adults 18 to 64 also recommends at least two days of strength-based exercises each week.5 Past research has also highlighted strength training's psychological benefits, including a study on stroke survivors, which found improvements in strength are associated with a reduction in levels of depression.6 Yet another review revealed impressive mental health benefits of strength training in adults, including:7 Reductions in anxiety symptoms in healthy adults Improvements in cognition among older adults Improvements in sleep quality among older adults with depression Reductions in symptoms of depression among people diagnosed with depression Improvements in self-esteem Further, in a study of older depressed adults, 80 percent experienced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms after taking up strength training for 10 weeks, such that researchers concluded, "PRT [progressive resistance training] is an effective antidepressant in depressed elders, while also improving strength, morale and quality of life."8 In yet another study of older adults with depression, those who took part in high-intensity strength training three days a week for eight weeks experienced a 50 percent reduction in depressive symptoms,9 whereas separate research showed strength training exercise reduced depressive symptoms in older Hispanic/Latino adults as well (endurance, balance and flexibility exercises were also beneficial for mood).10 What Makes Exercise so Good for Your Brain and Mood? The featured study in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that both strength training and aerobic exercise appear to be effective for depression. As for why such activities are so good for your brain and mood, it could be related to increased blood flow to your brain or the release of mood-boosting chemicals like endorphins, norepinephrine and dopamine, helping to buffer some of the effects of stress.11 It could also be that exercise improves people's perceptions of their quality of life and sense of coherence — or how meaningful and manageable their life is. People who are depressed tend to have both poorer quality of life and weaker sense of coherence than nondepressed individuals, and both of these measures were found to improve after study participants attended resistance training twice a week for three months.12 Exercise also leads to the creation of new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter, which inhibits excessive neuronal firing, helping to induce a natural state of calm13 — similar to the way anti-anxiety drugs work, except that the mood-boosting benefits of exercise occur both immediately after a workout and continue on in the long term. What's more, anandamide levels are known to increase during and following exercise. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter and endocannabinoid produced in your brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression. Strength training also improves sleep quality,14 a critical factor since insomnia may double your risk of becoming depressed.15 Then there's a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), levels of which tend to be critically low in people with depression. Exercise initially stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5, which in turn triggers the production of BDNF. BDNF, in turn, helps preserve existing brain cells and activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and effectively makes your brain grow larger. However, researchers are finding that there's a strong link between physical activity, depression and BDNF. As reported in the journal Neural Plasticity:16 "Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin that is vital to the survival, growth, and maintenance of neurons in key brain circuits involved in emotional and cognitive function. Convergent evidence indicates that neuroplastic mechanisms involving BDNF are deleteriously altered in major depressive disorder (MDD) and animal models of stress … [S]tress-induced depressive pathology contributes to altered BDNF level and function in persons with MDD and, thereby, disruptions in neuroplasticity at the regional and circuit level. Conversely, effective therapeutics that mitigate depressive-related symptoms (e.g., … physical activity) optimize BDNF in key brain regions, promote neuronal health and recovery of function in MDD-related circuits, and enhance pharmacotherapeutic response." Many Types of Exercise — Even One Hour a Week — Benefit Depression Strength training is a definite bonus for your mood, but it's only one type of physical activity that's good for mental health. Ideally, you'll want to incorporate a variety of types, including high-intensity interval training, strength training and flexibility work, such as yoga or stretching. Fortunately, each has unique benefits for your mind and body. Even a minimal amount of exercise may be enough to combat depression in some people — as minimal as one hour a week. A large study involved nearly 34,000 adults who were healthy, with no symptoms of common mental disorders, at the start of the study. The participants were followed for 11 years, during which time it was revealed that people who engaged in regular leisure-time exercise for one hour a week were less likely to become depressed. On the flip side, those who didn't exercise were 44 percent more likely to become depressed compared to those who did so for at least one to two hours a week.17 "The majority of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was observed regardless of intensity," the researchers said, adding that, "assuming the relationship is causal, 12 percent of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity each week."18 Further, in 2013 a meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that exercise is moderately more effective than a control intervention, which in some cases was pharmaceuticals, for reducing symptoms of depression.19 Separate research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that aerobic exercise "at a dose consistent with public health recommendations" is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.20 As for mind-body exercise, Iyengar yoga, which focuses on detail and precise alignment of posture combined with deep breathing, reduces symptoms of depression in those who are not taking medication or who have been taking the same medication for at least three months.21 The bottom line is virtually all types of physical activity appear to be great for your mood and may even facilitate healing from depression. If you're currently sedentary, adding even a small amount of activity to your routine may be enough for you to experience a noticeable mental change, and you can gradually increase the amount over time. Strength Training Is Crucial for Optimal Health As far as strength training is concerned, it sometimes gets overshadowed by aerobic-type exercises, but rest assured it's equally, if not more, important for optimal health. In a large study comparing mortality outcomes using different types of exercises, researchers discovered those who incorporated strength training experienced a 23 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 31 percent reduction in cancer-related death.22 Researchers also found that simple body weight exercises that may be performed at home or in any setting were as beneficial to your health as those done at the gym using weight equipment. This means that virtually anyone can enjoy the benefits of strength training — there's no special equipment or gym memberships necessary. In the U.S., only just over half of adults meet physical activity guidelines for aerobic exercise, but when strength-training activities are added in, only 22 percent make the cut.23 In short, most Americans are not doing enough (or any) strength training workouts. Meanwhile, rates of depression have risen by a significant 33 percent since 2013, according to a report by health insurance company BCBS, and this jumps to 47 percent among millennials and adolescent boys and a striking 65 percent for adolescent girls.24 Strength training is a simple, accessible and side effect-free intervention that could help to drive these rates down and improve countless people's quality of life. One of the great things about strength training is that simple exercises you do at home with your own body weight are all you need to enjoy the benefits of a strength-based program. Mountain climbers, burpees and countless variations of pushups, pullups and squats are some of the hardest bodyweight exercises you'll find, but you can weave them into even the busiest of days. Please keep in mind that physical activity should include not just "exercise" but also plenty of nonexercise daily movements, such that you're in motion more so than not (except while you're sleeping). Nonexercise movement is a foundational piece of optimal physical and mental health — perhaps even more so than a regimented fitness routine, but ideally you should strive to do them both. If you're new to strength training, there are many options to choose from. Below is just a sampling for you to explore, and the more varieties you try, the less likely you are to get bored (and the more comprehensive workouts you'll receive). Consistency is key, however, especially if you're struggling with depression, so enlist a buddy to keep you on track or consider working with a personal trainer for motivation as well as to learn the correct form and technique for the types of strength training of interest to you. 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 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 improved 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 degrees F (37 degrees C). Raising your core temperature above 104.8 degrees F (40.4 degrees 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

    • 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