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Welcome to today’s episode of the Simple 7 Lifestyle Podcast. I’m Dr. Jerry Duggar and I just want to thank you for taking the time to tune in today. It says a lot about you that when you have some free time, you’re choosing to learn about your health and taking the initiative to upgrade your education. Congrats to you!
Ask just about anyone what health habits are needed for good health and I’ll bet that 99% of people will say, “Eat a healthy diet and exercise”.
We’ve done a pretty good job at drilling those two habits into people’s heads. (unfortunately, 99% of those people won’t actually be incorporating those 2 habits into their own lifestyles. Something we’re trying to change around here).
Of course, we talk about 5 other key lifestyle habits in our Simple 7 Lifestyle model but even if we could get the majority of people to get diet and movement in order, it would create a massive shift in the world.
Today, I want to dive a little deeper into the topic of movement and exercise.
I get a lot of questions about this from patients and coaching clients. Questions like, “What is the best form of exercise? Is exercise always good? How much is enough?
While these are pretty good questions, there are even more foundational questions that need to be answered first.
What are Your Objectives? It is really important to be clear on what we are trying to do with exercise because that will determine the details of how we construct a plan. Is weight loss a top priority for you? Do you want to look a certain way? Do you want to feel a certain way?
Where are we starting? Are you already in pretty good shape but you want to improve your athletic performance? Are you just trying to get back in the action after letting your lifestyle get away from you for a few months or years? Most people unfortunately don’t have any real objective in mind and so they don’t succeed. As one of my mentors often says, “Fuzzy targets don’t get hit”.
What about the element of “Time”?
How long have you been in the process of “de-conditioning”? How long do you anticipate it will take to dig out of that hole (remember, flash-in-the-pan results have a poor record of being sustainable, so faster isn’t always better). Last but not least, “How much time do you have available in your day or week to devote to increased movement?”
How are you planning to track your progress?
We all need some positive motivation when we try to tackle something that is difficult. The good news is that our bodies are amazing in their ability to adapt to our environment and to the ever-changing demands we place on them. In fact, that adaptation is what we are counting on for weight improvement, muscle development, and cardiovascular fitness, flexibility. That being said, the adaptation process isn’t always something that we see. There are benefits to exercise that are “under the surface”. A dramatic change in weight and body composition is pretty visible, but what happens if that isn’t changing as quickly as you might have been led to believe from your social media feed? Are you going to quit and give up?
There is no single answer that is appropriate for everybody but I would strongly suggest that you find 3 or 4 indicators that you can use to track your progress. I’d suggest some “soft signs” like overall energy through the day, mental clarity, or how easy it is to go up the stairs or how your pants fit you, as well as some more concrete signs like measuring your body fat percentage, measuring body circumference, getting your VO2 Max levels tested, or tracking how much weight you can lift. You could even track your running speed or some other performance measurement.
Just about anything we do to increase our movement and exercise will have a positive impact on our health. The only things we have to guard against are injury and over-training, both of which negate the stress-relieving aspects of exercise into a stress-producing effect.
What I’ve found over the years is that while our goals may be different there is a nearly universal goal to not spend too much time exercising. We are all busy and engaged in so many different activities that even finding time to work out is a major challenge. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could compress the time spent working out so that you were able to get maximum benefit in minimal time? Of course, it would.
If you really want to get the metabolic engines burning you need to create a hormonal shift. Weight loss and lean body mass are so much more than calorie counting. It is really about getting your key hormones, the chemicals that control growth and repair, to balance.
For years you’ve been told that in order to burn fat, you had to do long cardio workouts in your “target fat-burning zone”. Not true. That approach is outdated and ineffective for most people.
The latest research is telling us that short, intense bursts of exercise are much more effective in creating improvements in your metabolism. In effect, doing short bursts of intense exercise creates an “afterburn” that lasts between 38 to 48 hours even after just one 12-20 minute session. What is more, this exercise has been proven to increase fat loss around that stubborn midsection.
Burst or Interval training is simple. Basically, you take a few minutes to warm up by walking or doing some jumping jacks then pick your favorite exercise (cardio machine, running outside or on a treadmill, stationary bike, or even bodyweight exercises like squats or “burpees”) Go at the exercise at peak intensity for 30 seconds and then walk or take a rest for 60-90 seconds in between. Repeat 4 to 8 times, monitoring how your body is responding to the exercise. Then do a 5-minute cooldown. Simple. In fact, so simple most people won’t believe that it is enough to do any good but trust me, the science is pretty compelling and the patient results are impressive.
One recent study out of Canada’s McMaster University looked at a specific model of exercise called “sprint interval training” (SIT). In this study, young sedentary males were divided into a sprint interval training (SIT) group, a moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) group, and a group of non-exercising controls. Both exercise arms called for three sessions weekly for twelve weeks. The SIT protocol called for three, twenty-second “all-out” cycle sprints interspersed with 2 minutes of slower cycling; the MICT protocol involved 45 minutes of continuous cycling at ~70% maximal heart rate. Both protocols involved a 2-minute warmup and a 3-minute cooldown. In case it’s not clear, the SIT arm required just one minute of all-out intensity during a session whose entirety lasted only ten minutes, five of which were the warmup and cool down. One minute! Even the most devoted couch potato could do an all-out bike sprint during TV commercials.
The different approaches to exercise resulted in similar effects on insulin sensitivity, skeletal muscle adaptation, and VO2 max (a measure of cardio-metabolic and respiratory fitness). Actually, beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and skeletal muscle were greater in the SIT group. The study’s conclusion says it all: “Twelve weeks of brief intense interval exercise improved indices of cardiometabolic health to the same extent as traditional endurance training in sedentary men, despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment.”
Basically, if you have an exercise bike or treadmill in your basement or garage, you can get a perfectly good workout done in less time than it would take to drive to the gym. (And if you don’t have equipment like that, you can get a similar effect by going all-out with bodyweight exercises. No gym membership to pay for, and not even any fancy machines to buy … excuses gone.)
You might be thinking, “Well that isn’t a surprise that it worked in young males. What about a group that has a harder time losing weight?”
The second study involved a population that notoriously struggles with fat loss: post-menopausal women with type 2 diabetes! (average age 69; average BMI 31 kg/m2)
Once again, this study involved a similar comparison of short-duration high-intensity cycling (60 repetitions of 8-second bursts at 77-85% maximum heart rate, with 12 seconds of active recovery – a total of 20 minutes of exercise) versus a longer bout at a lower intensity (40 min at 55-60% of subjects’ individual heart rate) showed that the shorter, more intense activity had greater benefit than the longer session. The exercises were performed twice weekly for 16 weeks, and the study called for no change to the subjects’ diet. According to the results, total body fat decreased and total fat-free mass (muscle, bone, water) increased in both groups, but significant loss of total abdominal and visceral fat mass was observed only among subjects in the high-intensity arm. Newsflash: these women lost visceral and abdominal fat with intense exercise requiring a whopping twenty minutes twice a week, and no change to their diet. Imagine what the results might have been with a concomitant lower carb and higher protein dietary intervention.
Of course, any exercise is better than no exercise, and the best exercise to do is the one you enjoy doing so that you’ll do it regularly and keep it up for the long term. After all, if you just plain don’t enjoy exercise, you’re not going to make it a priority. So it might help to know that among obese young women, subjects in the high-intensity interval arm of one study enjoyed their exercise sessions markedly more than those in the moderate-intensity continuous training arm.
Beneficial effects of short bouts of high-intensity training (only twenty minutes per session!) were observed in obese women after just three weeks of three sessions per week. On average, the women lost body fat, gained lean mass, had increases in VO2 max, and had improved insulin sensitivity. Not bad for three hours of exercise over the course of three weeks.
If you’ve been putting off starting an exercise program because of the time commitment, short bursts of high-intensity activity might be the ticket to get you moving. You don’t need to train for a marathon. A few minutes a week, properly executed, can get you results.
Remember, progress not perfection. Be clear on your goals. Know how you’re tracking your progress. Make sure it is joyful.
Okay, that’s a good place to wrap this episode up. Until next time, let’s all go out and do some good in the world today.
- Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. Sandbakk Ø, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(4):e0154075.
- Kong Z, Fan X, Sun S, Song L, Shi Q, Nie J. Comparison of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-to-Vigorous Continuous Training for Cardiometabolic Health and Exercise Enjoyment in Obese Young Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Sacchetti M, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(7):e0158589.
- Maillard F et al. High-intensity interval training reduces abdominal fat mass in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab. 2016 Dec;42(6):433-441.
- Smith-Ryan AE, Trexler ET, Wingfield H, Blue MNM. Effects of high-intensity interval training on cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight/obese women. Journal of sports sciences. 2016;34(21):2038-2046.
- DESIGNS FOR HEALTH, Nutrition Notes, (2018, May 18) No Time for Exercise? Think again! www.blog.designsforhealth.com
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