Exercise – how it benefits your health
Exercising. Is there anything new we can say about the benefits of exercising? You have seemingly heard it all from the exhortations to buy the latest exercise tape to the knowledge that this is a nation of larger and larger people – fat. There was a tiny note in the news many years ago that the seats at Wimbledon were being increased by 2” – too many “strawberries and cream.”
So tell me something new.
It seems that too many of us are not exercising at all. We know that. But the flipside is that too many of us may actually be over-exercising. The most illustrative example is extreme sports. There is a terrific toll being taken on those pursing the really extreme sports – Iron Man competition and similar events.
As we age, we know that our physiology and “internal furnace” or thermostat changes. What we could eat indiscriminately as a teenager is no longer tolerated. We could eat all the root beer floats, cheese burgers, and fries and never gain significant amounts of weight. But advancing age and various internal hormonal and biochemical shifts no longer afford us this indiscreet behavior.
My good friend, Dr. Frank Shallenberger in Reno, Nevada has developed a highly unique and innovative system of measuring the quality and efficiency of your exercise routines. It is a variation of VO2Max determination (maximal oxygen uptake efficiency). He has determined that as we age we shift from fat-burning, a more powerful source of energy at 9 kcal/gram, to carbohydrate-burning, a less efficient source of energy at 4.5 kcal per gram. The quite obvious conclusion is that we lose the ability to burn extra fat as a source. It accumulates in all those unsightly areas. Meanwhile, we pursue a less efficient source of energy which leads to glucose and insulin intolerance and ultimately … diabetes.
So what does this portend for exercises? How can we shift back to fat burning our our source of fuel? One of the more successful exercise tape series has a trailer telling you that the ideal burn time is about 43 minutes. According the Dr. Shallenberger’s research we do best to exercise for about 45 minutes at a high burn rate in our younger years but this decreases to about 25-30 minutes as we age. After that point, we enter the anaerobic zone – the place where we longer efficiently burn fat but shift to more cannibalistic or catabolic sources. We defeat the purpose of exercising.
Now that does not mean that a good game of tennis for an hour or so is not as healthy. It is very healthy. Our focus is on maximal burn rates.
While treadmills are not the most fun form of exercise, they do provide us with some quite valuable insights. It becomes quite clear that a pace of 2.5 miles per hour feels different than even 2.8 and certainly different than 3.5 or 4.0 miles per hour. A typical “long walk” later in the afternoon may be more like a stroll at 2.0 to 2.5 miles hour, rather than a truly brisk walk of 3.5 to 4.0 miles hours. One way of knowing you are optimally exercising while walking: you feel slightly short of breath [assuming no underlying heart disease].
You want to be in the burn zone. The aerobic zone. If you could do a stress treadmill, that is normally done for purposes of determining a state of coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease, what you really want reported are METS achieved. How many METS at maximal exercise can you achieve? METS are metabolic equivalents. It is a true measure of power output. It can be measured on a treadmill using the Bruce Protocol. Scientifically defined as
How much power can you generate while exercising on a known platform? The ideal goal is about 10-12 METS. Highly trained athletes can burst at significantly higher rates but this is a good measure. Some of the more sophisticated treadmills at your gym will read out in METS. Go for these higher numbers. They are more indicative of successful exercising than anything else.
There are three forms of exercises that you should pursue at various times – aerobic, resistive and stretching.
Aerobic is what conditions and rehabilitates the entire cardiovascular system. “Just get the blood moving.” This is also conditioning the heart.
Resistive exercises are for toning, definition, obvious strength and aesthetics. But there is a more subtle notion that as we age we are losing our kinesthetic sense. That is sense of balance. Exercising keeps our kinesthetic sense more highly tuned. The result – less falls or certainly less catastrophic falls.
And finally stretching. Yoga, Tai Chi and any other forms of warm-up exercises are so important to preserving ligament and tendon integrity. You are far more likely to tear a tendon than muscle. These tend to become firmer and less elastic. Tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow relate to this.
There is final sobering note learned from hours on a treadmill. No matter how much you exercise, it will never make up for indiscreet eating as we age. So eat right and eat sensibly. Eat enjoyably, but increase your protein, healthy and sensible fat and decrease carbohydrate intake.
Balance and moderation keep you in the optimal zone. That is the AntiAging zone.
Philip Lee Miller, MD
Founder, CEO, California Age Management Institute formerly Los Gatos Longevity Institute
Author, the Life Extension Revolution
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last revised: January 23, 2016