Stay Consistent to Stay Vital
What happens to your body when those resolutions go south and you stop exercising?
Sorry gang…if you think you can take a break, stop exercising, and “just stay the same”’ for a while, think again. Those gains are not permanent. They slip away much faster than we like to think.The benefits of exercise range from immediate to long term. Some benefits happen immediately after an exercise session. Others take weeks to develop. And some require several months of consistency.
Your mood improves.
Exercise increases levels of serotonin, the same brain chemical that antidepressant drugs target to stimulate to fight off depression and anxiety. Endorphins are feel-good drugs that create the feeling of wellbeing and happiness. Your day can always improve with exercise. Dopamine, the “reward chemical” that is secreted in response to any form of pleasure is another beneficial hormone secreted (Craft, Perna, 2004, Broman-Fulks, Berman, Rabian, Webster 2004).
Blood pressure drops.
Life’s little annoyances don’t seem so bad after a workout.
Blood sugar improves. Exercise will help regulate energy swings, facilitating in weight loss or maintenance, and also makes it easier to eat healthier, which in turn reinforces the cycle of wellbeing.
Your metabolism gets a boost.
Both cardio-based-interval workouts and strength workouts have been shown to increase the amount of oxygen burned, thus calories burned, when the workout is completed for a period of 2 to 48 hours. The phenomenon is called EPOC: excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function, or homeostasis. EPOC is highest in intense workouts such as strength or interval training.
Big Benefits After 2-4 weeks of consistency, and beyond!
Better body composition.
Through consistency your body composition will change to include more lean muscle mass and less fat mass.
Decreased incidences of vascular disease including heart attacks and strokes.
Being physically active will help you avoid and/or manage a variety of health problems. It helps lower triglyceride levels of the blood, boosts HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), to name just 2: this is a wide topic broadly researched.
Better glucose metabolism.
Glucose metabolism is an important risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Both aerobic conditioning and strength training were found to positively effect glucose metabolism. This positive outcome in training has been shown to be true for those who have both decreased body fat through training, and those who have not (Hurley et al, 1988, Smutok, Reece, & Kokinos, 19993).
Decreased incidence and risk of diabetes.
Regular exercise plays an important role in the maintenance of blood sugar levels. Exercise is the fastest, most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance. Exercise is so powerful in the benefits of preventing and even reversing diabetes, it should be the primary focus of our society: Type 2 diabetes is largely a disease that is avoidable and lifestyle related (diabetes.org).
Increased bone mass.
One of the best ways, and arguably THE best way to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis is by getting regular exercise.
The three types of exercise that help build bones are weight-bearing exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Weight bearing exercises include hiking, walking, running, dancing, etc.
Swimming is great for your heart and lungs and easy on the joints, but does not help increase bone mass.
Bicycling has been shown to increase bone mass in the hips, but has minimal impact on the spine and femur. Cyclists should be supplementing their workouts with strength or a gravity based cardio program like walking or jogging.
Strength training helps build bone around the entire body, and should be a priority for all adults: 2 to 3 times a week is recommended.
Flexibility training not only keeps joints injury free, but also the tug on the muscle on the bone while stretching, can help promote the formation of osteoblasts (bone cell growth), (Kaspar, Seidi, Eeidlinger-Wilke, Ignatius, Claes, 2000).
Better function and less pain for those who suffer with arthritis.
Exercise is vital for those with arthritis. It not only helps to alleviate joint pain and stiffness, it contributes to keeping body weight down, strengthens muscles around the joint, helps maintain bone mass, helps with sleep, improves your balance, as well as the myriad of other physiological and psychological benefits cited (http://www.mayoclinic.org/arthritis/art-20047971).
Better memory and brain function
Don’t wait until you are a senior to take this one seriously. Exercising between the ages of 25 and 45 boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent the degeneration of the hippocampus: an important center of the brain for memory and learning.
Exercise has been shown to boost memory and the ability to do new tasks in seniors, but like many things, don’t wait until you lose it to try and get it back. That is a much more difficult path than being proactive. (Intlekofer, Cofman 2012).
Exercise has been proven to improve self-esteem and self-confidence regardless of age, gender, or body fat percentage. (Elavsky, 2010, Schmalz, 2007).
Research confirms that consistent exercisers get more done than their peers (Schwartz, Hasson, 2011).
Regular exercise will help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. The caveat: don’t exercise too close to your bedtime; you may be too energized to fall asleep at your regular time. Have insomnia? Exercise has been shown to help those who already have a sleep disorder, however the process takes consistency (Baron, 2013).
Researchers noted that creativity is boosted post-workout (Steinberg, Sykes, 1997), and is further enhanced if that exercise was outdoors (Berman, Jonides, Kaplan, 2008).
Helps control addiction.
Dopamine, the reward chemical, often linked to substances like alcohol and drugs, is also released when exercising. It has been shown that short exercise sessions can effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts making them de-prioritize cravings in the short term (Brown, Abrantes, Read 2009) and has had similar effects on cigarette smokers (Taylor, Ussher, 2007). The coined phrase, “Positive Addition” associated with exercise, is linked to this hormone.
Affects and inspires others.
Studies have shown that exercising with others boosts performance. When subjects were paired up with a buddy, both partners improved their scores on the tests. Researchers found that being on a team boosted the athletes’ tolerance for pain. The fitness world is no different; even beginners were able to push harder when paired with a workout buddy (Irwin, Scornianchi, Kerr, 2012, Cohen, Ejsmond-Frey, Knight, Dunbar, 2010, Feltz, Irwin, Kerr 2012). For more on buddies, click HERE.
Once you stop a consistent exercise program, a cascade of negative events is almost immediate.
Immediate losses include
Your mood is at risk.
Your brain relies on the consistency of exercise in order to secrete all those feel-good hormones such as serotonin and endorphins. Without exercise, those hormones take a vacation.
Your metabolism will take a dive.
The same person with more muscle burns more calories per day. Add to that, the EPOC of a workout, and the body becomes an efficient calorie-burning machine. Take that away, and suddenly the calories that sustained you, are now going to become excessive, setting up the stage for weight and fat gains.
Through the first month:
Your cardio conditioning will disappear.
Once you get a good base from working out, it takes less effort to maintain it, and with good strategies, the time invested into your workout can decrease to keep your fitness from falling. If you stop altogether, a rapid decline in your endurance will be the first fall-out.
Strength begins to wane
You may feel your endurance decrease first, but it’s also the quickest thing you will get back if you start working out again. Strength losses are sneakier. The loss is a slow progression, not as noticeable from day to day…until that day when something happens making it painfully obvious how much you have lost. It is hard to build strength; if you can continue one thing during a busy time in your life, have it be a basic strength routine.
Your clothes get tight
If you add up a slower metabolism, less total activity, lack of endurance, losses in strength, higher blood sugar and insulin levels, it does not take a genius to see that increased body fat will be the result.
By Month Two and Three
It doesn’t seem fair, but within about 3 months, even the fittest friend you have who hits the skids will slide back to ground-zero. Even those lucky people with the best genetics are going to have similar losses.
Is There a Bare Minimum? What is optimal?
For someone without performance goals (i.e. not those who are training for a marathon or a century bike race for example), but those who are working out for wellness only, optimal is about 1 hour per day, most days of the week, with variety being the buzzword: some strength, some endurance, some intervals, some flexibility work throughout the week.
In 2013 the Surgeon General Report on Physical Activity and Health made their recommendation after plenty of heated debate. It was decided to recommend 30-45 minutes of exercise per day. The recommendations were dialed back from 60 minutes on most days in order to make the recommendation more do-able for the general population. It was argued that 60 minutes was too much time and most people would give up if the recommendations were too difficult. This debate, by the way, has been going on for decades.
With all that said, try for 60 minutes per day, and if your day is crazy, get 30 minutes in.
And the Bare Minimum?
You will minimize losses if your workouts are short and intense. You can maintain fitness for a limited amount of time if you do 3 x thirty-minute workouts per week that focus on strength and/or interval training. Combine the 2 (i.e. squat jumps for 60 seconds) and you have an effective workout that will keep the fitness decline at bay. Keep in mind though, that this kind of schedule is not optimal, but a good stop-gap for those weeks that are crazy busy.
Working out is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth or a magic pill. The benefits far exceed the obvious of looking great. True health starts with your cells…starts inside and radiates outside. There is nothing else that is within your grasp that does so many good things to your body with such a minimal time investment. Exercise is the only magic we know, and consistency is the key.