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Healthy Weight Week Day Two: Your Exercise Program

8 min read

Yikes! Exercise might seem scary for some–heart pounding moves that promote sweat, burning muscles and a tight bod. OK, I couldn’t think of a third promoter of exercise that sounded bad. Actually, all of those sounded quite good to me, and might to your, too, if you exercise regularly and feel the benefits of your daily movement.

Exercise not only promotes a healthier body figure and weight, but it also plays vital roles in various other physical and mental parts of your body. Daily movement and exercise influences cells in your body, preventing them from erosion and death, and also aids in proper mental agility and function. First I will go over what exercise does for your body, before I get into what exercises to do for the health of your body.

  1. Exercise promotes better sleep. If you are looking for a natural way to help you sleep at night, without the use of over the counter or prescription drugs (which can lead to dependancy), then exercise is your way to go. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day (45-60 minutes is optimal, depending) will provide an energy expenditure that will promote a tired sensation at the end of the day, thus promoting sleep. This will also last for many hours, preventing you from awakening during the middle of the night.
Besides the obvious effects exercise has on sleep, we also find it affects our circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms are the biological rhythms that occur throughout a 24- hour period. The circadian rhythm is mainly focused around our sleep hormone, melatonin. This hormone rises in the evening when darkness sets (making us feel tired and sleepy), and decreases during the day. This hormone is secreted much more strongly when exposed to natural sunlight, as proper sun exposure to the eyes and skin during the day help influence a stronger increase in the hormone at night.
Studies have shown that regular physical activity increases the level of melatonin that issecreted at night. A study performed at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada, found that exercise increased levels of melatonin secretion, especially if the exercise was performed later in the day. However, I believe that exercise in the morning to be optimal. But, if you are trying to fall asleep naturally, break up your exercise routine during the day, morning and afternoon. Exercising too close to bed time, inversely, will actually inhibit your sleep, according to this study.

2. Healthy exercise promotes a better mood, and helps fight depression.
Exercise is one of the most powerful natural “drugs” available, and it is incredibly effective in combating depression and mood disorders. When we put a healthy exertion on our bodies, as through exercise and movement, we start to release hormones in our brain, namely serotonin and endorphins–“feel good” hormones). The endorphins that are released have similar effects as morphine, but without the risk of dependancy. Neurotransmitters are also released to provide the transport of the hormones throughout your mind and body, elevating your mood. Too much exertion, however, can have an opposite effect.
The Mayo Clinic also states that exercise boosts mood by elevating body temperature (a warmer body temperature has a calming effect) and increasing the immune system, which has been linked to mood, as well. A study reported in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine used exercise as the only treatment for depression, and found that depression symptoms were cut almost in half in the subjects who participated in the 30-minute aerobic exercise sessions.
3. Fights cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Exercise lowers insulin levels and makes your bodies cells more sensitive to insulin. I believe insulin resistance to be one of the culprits behind the rise of degenerative and preventable diseases seen in America today. Lack of exercise and poor diet can lead to these complications, and exercise has been shown numerous times to prevent these illness, and even some controversial evidence suggests it can help reverse them (I am NOT condoning a treatment plan–only an alternative preventative strategy!).
4. Makes you smarter. Exercise has been shown to grow new cells in the brain, and also strengthens the inner cortex within the brain associated with cognition and attention. Using exercise as a tool for ADD or ADHD (learning disabilities that I really don’t believe exist) along with other healthy approaches (diet, sun exposure, proper sleep and hydration, etc.) can be incredibly beneficial. It always amazes me to see that moving your body every day can actually grow brand new, physical parts of your brain. This is very important as we age, and even for us college students (and all students, everywhere)!

5. Helps fight off illness. Exercising activates the immune system, helping your body fight off illness. The #1 issue people have when they get colds or the flu is that there immune system is down or not functioning properly. Exercising and eating right improves the immune system dramatically.
6. Promotes a healthy body weight and appearance. To be healthy, and to weight less (or more, depending on your needs), it is absolutely crucial that you apply exercise to you life. It is a valuable key nutrient that helps speed up your basal metabolism (how many calories you burn at rest), activates your growth hormone secretion (from the pituitary gland in the brain) and leads to greater flexibility and strength by toning the muscles and bones.
Like I said before, exercise is a powerful natural “drug” that most people have available to themselves and that can even replace dangerous, and often expensive, conventional drugs. Many stuides already show that antidepressants don’t work, so why risk the side effects and pay the price (mentally, physically AND monetary)?
Since I am talking about how to move into a healthier weight with exercise, let’s go over the types of exercise that are best. Each type of exercise won’t address weight loss, but will, overall, make you healthy. A proper balance of each type will keep your insulin and weight levels low, your energy high and your muscles and body toned and fit.
  1. Interval Training. This is a really cool type of exercise that I’m extremely fond of. Recent research has shown that interval training is the best way to burn fat. This exercise combines intense cardio bursts with periods of rest in between. In fact, the “rests” are actually smaller, less intense movements of the intense cardio movements. Let’s say you are walking. For 30 seconds you will do intense sprinting across your path. Then you will go back to walking for 60-90 seconds. Then, you will do the same sprints (bursts of cardio) for 30 seconds. Now back to the walking for 90 seoncds, and so on and so forth.
According to Darrin Steen, health and fitness expert, our bodies continue to burn more calories at rest up to 8 hours after an interval training exercise! This is amazing, seeing how after most aerobic cardio, like light jogging, your body’s metabolism slows back down again. However, your metabolism stays elevated much higher after an interval style cardio exercise. You can jump rope, do jumping jacks, or perform sprints for this exercise– anything that will be intense enough to do for 10-30 seconds. 20 minutes of this exercise is usually enough to compare to an hour’s worth of jogging (cardio bursts and rests).
Push yourself HARD during the 10-30 seconds of burst activity to start seeing results and reduction in your weight, to to see a more toned, fit body. Your body produces adequete amounts of growth hormone with this type of exercise which slow down the aging process, increases muscle mass and aids in reducing fat. Doing too much of this good thing will cause an opposite effect and make your body store more fat by producing cortisol, the stress hormone. 20-40 minutes every other day is fine. However remember–this exercise is best performed every other day, so that you can incorporate other forms of exercise into your lifestyle and to prevent injury.
2. Resistance training. This type of exercise involves using weights, or your own body weight, as resitance in sculpting your body and your muscles. Lifting weights is the common way to go, but you can also find something handy and heavy to use instead. To have a lean body, to have a muscular body, to be fit and have a sculpted look, resistance training is a must. Watch the video below to see an example of this type of exercise.


Please start off with smaller weights if you are just beginning.
Building muscle mass helps your body burn more calories at rest, helping you lose weight faster. However, like interval training, this should be done every other day. Exercising the same muscle groups day after day can result in injury. It’s always important to alternate your exercise routine for optimal health.
3. Core exercises and flexibility. These exercises (yoga, pilates, stretching techniques) focus on the core abdominal muscles, promotes balance and flexibility. It is always important to round your exercises off with stretching, and even more important to incorporate a flexibility routine, like yoga and/or pilates, into your practice. My favorite form of yoga is Vinyasa yoga, which combines cardio moves with yoga poses.
The Take Home

Like I said before in my descriptions of the exercises above, it is always important to involve every single one into your healthy lifestyle. Only doing cardio for hours on end will result in energy drainage, increased production of free radicals and cortisol (thus increasing the rate of aging, disease and fat storage), and will provide no enjoyment in the long term. Starting off with just cardio is also more likely to deter you away from exercise later on due to the energy burnout.
For optimal fat burning and muscle building (and for a healthier you), alternate interval cardio with strength and resistance training throughout the week. If you are already at a healthy weight, don’t have insulin or cholesterol problems and don’t need or want to gain/lose weight, then 3 times a week of exercise will suffice. I like to strive for physical activity every day, but only push my body to the point it feels where it needs to go. Listen to your body, and your body will thank you.
On Friday I will have Day Two posted, telling you about healthy foods that will boost calorie burning, help sculpt muscles and promote optimal nutrition. It isn’t just about reducing or adding calories–exercise is a critical nutrient that will help sculpt your body in a healthy way.
I wonder how many times I can use the word, “healthy”, in a paragraph? Count them all up in this post and win a prize! 🙂
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