By Dr. Mercola
If you're interested in living a longer, healthier life, nothing beats proper diet and exercise—even low amounts of exercise. A recent study published in the journal Lancet, which included several hundred thousand people between 1996 and 2008 found that a mere 15 minutes of exercise a day can increase your lifespan by three years!
Those who got themselves moving for at least 15 minutes a day, or 90 minutes a week, also had a 14 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality.
"Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum amount of 15 minutes a day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4 percent, and all-cancer mortality by 1 percent. These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks.
Individuals who were inactive had a 17 percent increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group."
How Exercise Increases Life Expectancy
Exercise is known to be effective in the prevention of disease of all kinds which, naturally, will allow you to live longer.
For example, exercise can help:
Researchers have measured the biochemical changes that occur during exercise, and found alterations in more than 20 different metabolites. Some of these compounds help you burn calories and fat, while others help stabilize your blood sugar, among other things. Essentially, being of a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a healthy feedback loop that optimizes and helps maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels through optimization of insulin receptor sensitivity. And, as I've mentioned before, insulin resistance—primarily driven by excessive consumption of refined sugars and grains along with lack of exercise—is the underlying factor of nearly all chronic disease that can take years off your life.
For example, heart disease and cancer are two of the top killers of Americans, and exercise can effectively help prevent the onset of both, primarily by driving down your insulin levels. Exercise also helps lower your estrogen levels, which explains why it appears to be particularly potent against breast cancer.
Exercise may also be imperative for successful treatment of serious diseases such as cancer. In fact, a new report issued by Macmillan Cancer Support argues that exercise should be part of standard cancer care. It recommends that all patients getting cancer treatment should be told to engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two and a half hours every week. Research has shown that exercise can:
- Reduce your risk of dying from cancer. For example, exercise reduces your risk of dying from prostate cancer by up to 30 percent. And a previous study by Harvard Medical School researchers found that breast cancer patients who exercise moderately for three to five hours a week cut their odds of dying from cancer by about half, compared to sedentary patients. In fact, any amount of weekly exercise increased a patient's odds of surviving breast cancer. This benefit also remained constant regardless of whether women were diagnosed early on or after their cancer had spread.
- Reduce your risk of cancer recurrence. Research has found that exercise reduces risk of breast cancer recurrence by about 40 percent
- Boost energy and minimize the side effects of conventional cancer treatment
According to Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support:
"Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the grueling ordeal of treatment all over again. It doesn't need to be anything too strenuous; doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim, all count."
What's More Important: Diet or Exercise?
Actually, as important as exercise is, it only accounts for about 20 percent of the health benefits reaped from a healthy lifestyle. The bulk of the benefits are really derived from proper nutrition...
Here, Dr. Doug McGuff, author of the book "Body by Science," explains how going back to a "paleo" way of eating – similar to the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate – can help you optimize your health and live a longer, more disease-free life. The paleo diet is not a fad – with proven science behind it, a growing number of physicians and health advocates are embracing this back-to-basics diet, which may be better at lowering body fat than exercise.
During the Paleolithic period, about 12,000 years ago, people ate primarily non-starchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and lean meat, including ostrich and bison as well as organ meats and seafood—a far cry from the standard American diet. Today, these healthy staples have been largely replaced with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, bread, potatoes and pasteurized milk products … which are doing you no favors in terms of health. During the Paleolithic period our ancestors didn't die of heart disease, diabetes and cancer -- which are among the leading causes of death today, and all are related to diet.
The primary disease-causing culprits in the modern diet are sugars, particularly fructose, and grains. If you want to avoid heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes or even cancer, you'll want to severely restrict your fructose and grain consumption.
My Diet Plan—Summary of Basic Concepts
If you're still confused about what a "proper diet" is, I suggest reviewing my Insulin Diet Plan, which is designed to guide you through the dietary changes in a step-by-step fashion, moving from beginners to intermediary to advanced. When properly applied, it can improve just about anyone's health.
Following is a summary of the basic recommendations:
- Limit fructose to less than 25 grams per day. Ideally, you'll also want to limit the amount of fructose from fruit to 15 grams per day, as you're likely consuming 'hidden' fructose if you eat even small amounts of processed foods or sweetened beverages
- Limit or eliminate all processed foods
- Eliminate all gluten, and highly allergenic foods from your diet
- Eat organic foods whenever possible, preferably locally-grown
- Eat at least one-third of your food uncooked (raw), or as much as you can manage
- Increase the amount of fresh vegetables in your diet
- Avoid artificial sweeteners of all kinds
- Swap all trans fats (vegetable oils, margarine etc) for healthful fats like raw butter or coconut oil
- To re-balance your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, take a high-quality omega-3 supplement, such as krill oil, and reduce your consumption of processed omega-6 fats from vegetable oils (trans fats)
- Drink plenty of pure water
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, either through appropriate sun exposure, a safe tanning bed, or as last resort an oral vitamin D3 supplement
Five Principles of Exercise
Getting back to exercise, variety is the name of the game. You also need to pay attention to intensity or level of difficulty. When an exercise becomes easy to complete, it's a sign you need to work a little harder and give your body a new challenge.
There are five types of exercises that will turn your peak fitness regimen into a truly comprehensive exercise plan:
- Interval (Anaerobic) Training: This really is aerobic and anaerobic, but the research shows that the anaerobic phase if far more important. The BEST way to condition your heart and burn fat is NOT to jog or walk steadily for an hour. Instead, it’s to alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods. This type of exercise, known as interval training or burst type training, can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities.
Another major benefit of this approach is that it radically decreases the amount of time you spend exercising, while giving you even more benefits. For example, intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which allow more fat to be burned from under your skin within the exercising muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation increases weight loss. So, short bursts of activity done at a very high intensity can help you reach your optimal weight and level of fitness, in a shorter amount of time.
It also promotes the production of human growth hormone (HGH), known as “the fitness hormone,” which can help you add youthful vigor to your years, in addition to promoting weight loss and improved muscle building.
- Aerobic: Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and walking fast are all examples of aerobic exercise, which will increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and increase endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. Aerobic exercise also activates your immune system, helps your heart pump blood more efficiently, and increases your stamina over time.
Just don’t make the mistake of using aerobic as your primary or only form of exercise, as you’ll forgo many of the most potent health benefits exercise has to offer if you do...
- Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program. You need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability.
Pilates and yoga are great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer. Even if a personal trainer is not in the cards for you right now, please watch these sample videos for examples of healthy exercise routines you can do with very little equipment and in virtually any location. Focusing on your breath and mindfulness along with increasing your flexibility is an important element of total fitness.
Exercise Tips for Those with Chronic Health Problems
Remember that even if you're chronically ill, exercise can be a potent ally. That said, if you have cancer or any other chronic disease, you will of course need to tailor your exercise routine to your individual scenario, taking into account your stamina and current health. For example, you may at times need to exercise at a lower intensity, or for shorter durations, but do make a concerted effort to keep yourself moving. As mentioned above, even cancer patients should aim for a minimum of 2.5 hours of exercise a week, at moderate intensity, to boost their chances of successful recovery.
Always listen to your body and if you feel you need a break, take time to rest. But even exercising for just a few minutes a day is better than not exercising at all.
In the event you are suffering from a very weakened immune system, you may want to exercise in your home instead of visiting a public gym. But remember that exercise will ultimately help to boost your immune system, so it's very important to continue with your program, even if you suffer from chronic illness or cancer.