There are basically 3 types of exercise and each one is essential for your body. Each type should be performed at least a couple times per week (daily is best) to be completely healthy.
1) Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise is any exercise that gets your heart rate up and keeps it there for a sustained period of time. Walking, running, biking, swimming, using a Stairmaster, an elliptical, or a treadmill are all forms of cardiovascular workouts.
Performing regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens and tones the muscles of your arms and legs and of course, burns lots of calories to help with weight control. But think about this: regularly getting your heart pumping strengthens the muscles of your heart and tones your arteries as well. Not only does it enhance your immune system as discussed earlier, but it also reduces stress and boosts brainpower too.
Cardio helps reduce stress because you are physically burning it out of your system every time you exercise. Stress causes your muscles to tighten. You have felt that in your body after a long stressful week at the office or after dealing with a sudden, unexpected crisis. This is the Fight-or Flight Response working in your body.
The Fight-or-Flight Response is your body’s natural reaction to stress that has been hard-wired into biology for survival. When you experience an excess amount of stress, your body responds by increasing your heart rate, speeding up your breathing, shunting your blood away from your digestive organs to your arms and legs – you might even feel the adrenaline rushing throughout your body when that stress hits you.
You respond to a perceived stress this way now because biologically, your body was designed with this defense mechanism to help you either protect yourself from a Saber-Toothed Tiger (Fight) or run away from it (Flight). However, nowadays, you don’t deal with Saber-Tooth Tigers, thankfully.
But you do deal with busy schedules, work deadlines, traffic jams, crying babies and all kinds of other stresses. While none of these are life threatening like confronting a Saber-Toothed Tiger, your body still goes into Fight-or-Flight mode anyway because of your biological wiring.
The reason why exercise helps you better handle the stress that builds up inside of you because you are using up that muscular energy that was built up for a life-or-death battle. Running on the treadmill dissipates the energy that running away from the Saber-Toothed Tiger did. Lifting weights takes the place of throwing rocks and spears at it.
But there is another component to the stress response that is rarely talked about. There is the Fight reaction, there is the Flight reaction but there is also the FREEZE. The Freeze is the “deer in the headlights” reaction. The fighting and flighting uses movement to dissipate the built up stress. But the Freeze is the reaction your body does the majority of the time now. When a car cuts you off, your boss yells at you or your child throws a tantrum, your shoulders go up around your ears, your head translates forward and your body tightens. Chronic stress like this produces chronically tight muscles. They get knots in them and they become painful.
This is where exercise comes in for you – to work out that muscular stress that gets stored in your neck and shoulders and lower back and hips. Neurologically, there is also a relaxation response that is triggered after exercise that further allows your muscles to soften and release the stress and tension you were carrying before your workout.
Studies have shown that exercise also provides massive stimulation to your brain, which helps keep it healthy and alive. There are nerve receptors in your joints called mechano-receptors, which feed information up to your brain about how the joint is moving and where it is in space. Mechano-receptors allow you to tell if your knee is bent or straight or if your head is tilted to your ear or turned slightly to one side. Even if your eyes are closed, these receptors allow you to feel it and know what is going on in your body.
When you get your whole body moving, massive amounts of information is sent up to your brain telling it everything you are doing in your exercise. Your brain loves this stimulation and needs it to keep functioning properly and functioning at its best. This is why after a workout, often you might finally find the answer to a problem you have been having, or you might feel refreshed enough to sit back down to tackle a task you have been spinning your wheels on because your brain and your mind feel clearer and sharper.
2) Strength-Building Exercise
This is the type of exercise where you lift weights or do some other form of resistance training of your muscles.
The phrase “use it or loose it” is a true principle for many aspects of your body’s functioning and is especially true for your muscles. Without exercising them, you can loose up to 5% of your muscle mass, every 10 years. But people that don’t exercise at all for years and years on end, their weight doesn’t go down 5% every 10 years does it? No, it goes up and up and up every year. That is because their muscle mass is actually being replaced with fat. In addition, since muscle weighs more than fat, their body fat percentage is going way up even if they are managing to keep the scale on the same number. But the good news is with regular strength workouts, they can get that muscle mass all back in a matter of just a few months.
Consider this: for every pound of fat you trade in for a pound of muscle, not only are you going to look better and feel better, but you are also going to be able to burn more calories, even while you are sitting around. This is because muscle tissue actually burns its own calories to keep itself alive, whereas fat doesn’t. This means the more muscle you have in your body, the more calories you are going to burn every minute throughout the day – whether you are working out or not.
This “use it or loose it” principle also applies to your bones as well. The best way to maintain healthy bone density throughout your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond is weight bearing exercise. Lifting weights or doing some other type resistance exercise also stimulates the bones to lay down more calcium so it can better resist the load that you are placing on them. Healthy bone density is important for everyone, but especially if you are worried about osteoporosis or osteopenia. So if you are concerned with loosing bone density, weight-bearing exercise should definitely be a part of your exercise routine.
3) Stretching or Flexibility Training
This is the type of exercise that all too often gets forgotten about, because in the exercise realm, so much of the focus is on burning calories with cardio or building muscles with weights. But stretching is so important for you because with all of the contraction that you are doing with your running, biking, walking, weight training, etc. it leaves your muscles tight and shortened. If you don’t counteract that with stretching, those muscles are just going to become tighter and tighter.
Picture the quintessential body-builder type of physique whose muscles are so huge and so tight that they look like they are going to fall forward at any time. Because their muscles are so overdeveloped and they have not stretched adequately, their shoulders are rounded forward, their elbows cannot straighten out and they cannot move fluidly.
You might not be going for the body-builder look with your workouts, but your muscles can become tight and inflexible too when you lift weights without stretching. This inflexibility can also make you more prone to injury and to more pain as well. Your chronically tight muscles compress your joint surfaces together and this causes more and more inflammation to build up.
Try this to better understand how this works: put both of your hands in front of you and make two fists with them. Now place your knuckles together so that the mountains of your knuckles on one hand fit in the valleys on the other hand. With you looking down onto the backs of your hands it should look like a zipper.
Now contract your chest muscles so that you push your two fists together putting pressure on your knuckles. Do you feel that pressure? Now if you imagine your fists pressing together like this is your knee joint, then the pressure you feel on your knuckles is similar to the pressure on your knees from your chronically tight leg muscles that you don’t stretch. Those tight quads and hamstrings press your knee joint surfaces together and irritates them. These tight muscles also restrict the joint’s normal range of motion so that inflammation cannot be pumped out of the area. If more and more inflammation is allowed to stagnate in the joint capsule, then it is going to cause more and more damage, and more and more pain.
Ironically, this sequence of events is often what prevents a person from doing the moving and stretching they need to do to help the problem they have created by not stretching in the first place. They say their joints and muscles are just too painful and stretching is too uncomfortable. However, experience has shown that by stretching the large muscle groups slowly and consistently, over time, the muscle tension can be released, the circulation improves, and the pain subsides.
So if you feel like you have tight and sore muscles, stretching out is going to make a huge difference for you. You can feel less pain and more relaxed by stretching properly.
If you are already working out regularly, be sure to keep flexible so you don’t injure yourself and so you can keep working out the way you have been. Then you can continue to enjoy all the benefits of your exercise program for days, weeks and years.
*Exerpted from the Being Well Lifestyles Home Study Course by Dr. Jay Warren.
Drawing on over two decades of experience as a hands-on holistic practitioner, Dr. Jay Warren is a primary healthcare provider and licensed chiropractor in the San Diego area. He has spent tens of thousands of clinical hours helping his patients achieve their optimal health potential through holistic approaches bolstered by years of personal experimentation, education and research. Dr. Jay creates customized plans integrating exercise, nutrition and stress management strategies to overcome a myriad of health challenges. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.DrJayWarren.com.