In my last column, I argued that there is no true wealth without good health.
Our vitality and quality of life rest on four essential pillars: a healthy diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and human connections.
Today we’ll discuss the second pillar…
Imagine a pill that helps you lose weight, exchanges fat for muscle, strengthens your bones, fortifies your immune system, prevents heart disease, cancer and stroke, relieves stress, improves your mood, helps you sleep, boosts your brainpower, keeps you looking younger, and significantly extends your life.
You can stop imagining now. There isn’t any such pill. (If there were, I’m sure you’d have heard about it.)
But the good news is you can get this whole smorgasbord of benefits – and more – from about a half-hour of daily exercise.
It’s not breaking news that physical activity is good for you.
However, scientists have recently discovered that exercise is far more beneficial than we previously realized.
They’re also learning just how unhealthy a sedentary lifestyle is.
Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently collected survey data from more than 450,000 adults across all 50 states and found that nearly 80% of Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise each week, setting themselves up for years of health problems – and fueling a national healthcare crisis.
It’s a shame, really.
Exercise slows or reverses muscle loss, weight gain, artery hardening, joint stiffening… even glaucoma.
Regular physical activity cuts your lifetime risk for general dementia by almost half. (It even lowers your odds of getting Alzheimer’s by almost 60%.)
It also makes you smarter. Studies show that exercisers outperform couch potatoes in reasoning, attention, long-term memory and problem-solving tasks.
In A Short Guide to a Long Life, Dr. David B. Agus, one of the world’s leading cancer researchers, writes…
There are 100 billion neurons in each of our brains, and they love a good physical workout. Studies now show that older people who still do vigorous exercise, play competitive sports, or just walk several times a week protect their brains’ white matter from shrinking.
Physical activity is an effective antidote for anxiety and depression as well.
My colleague Dr. Joel Wade, a practicing psychologist and life coach, recently told me, “When I have a client who’s feeling down, the first thing I tell him or her to do is get outside and get moving.”
From an evolutionary perspective, we were made to exercise.
Anthropologists say our ancestors on the plains of the Serengeti covered a lot of ground, walking as much as 12 miles a day.
Why were we moving so far and so fast?
We needed to find new food sources, avoid predators and escape enemies, problems that don’t particularly trouble us today.
Yet our brains – and our bodies – still crave exercise.
Everything from diabetes to high blood pressure, heart attack to cataracts and arthritis to macular degeneration can be reduced as much as 70% with exercise.
It’s okay if you don’t have a lot of time – or stamina. Research shows that – while at least 30 minutes of exercise per day is ideal – the majority of the mortality reductions are due to the first 20 minutes of activity.
On the other hand, if you exercise more, you may be on your way to a lifetime of enviable fitness.
Every bit of exercise helps. But here are the national exercise guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services:
- 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking or lap swimming
- 75 minutes a week of more vigorous aerobic activity, such as running
- Weight training at least twice a week, to ensure that both bones and muscles are healthy.
The inexorable loss of muscle mass that begins in our 40s is called sarcopenia.
Over time, it robs us of independence… of the life we want to live. But weight training combats sarcopenia, changing the dynamics of aging.
However, it is aerobic fitness, not strength training, that is most closely tied to health benefits.
You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership. Just a pair of comfortable shoes.
Aside from walking or running, you can use your body’s own mass for strength training – doing push-ups, pull-ups, squats or planks – anywhere at any time, with all the same cellular benefits of free weights or Nautilus machines.
In short, physical activity is one of the best, easiest and cheapest ways to decrease your mortality risk.
It is one of the most powerful anti-aging tactics we have.
When combined with a plant-based, whole foods diet, exercise can dramatically improve the way you look, the way you feel and – not incidentally – how long you live.
P.S. I recently joined Alexander McCobin on the Liberty Ventures podcast. I got to share my story and insights on the market and investing. Check it out and let me or Alexander know what you think.