Written by: Drew Canole
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” - Henry David Thoreau
Exercise is awesome. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Moving your body is a beautiful way to create health in your body, mind and soul. Exercise can increase your well-being, happiness level and your lust for life.
Being actvie is not only fun, but it is also non-negotiable for your health and well-being. Read on to learn more about the benefits of exercise, different forms of exercise and how to fuel your body properly when exercising.
“All great thoughts are conceived while walking” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Making time to workout is not a useless drag, but rather, it is a non-negotiable must with countless benefits. It is actually fun too, but we will get to that later. Let’s look at the many benefits of exercise first:
Control Your Weight
Exercise - and other physical activity you may not think of as ‘exercise’ (eg. cleaning your house, taking the stairs at work, playing fetch with your dog, etc.) - play a critical role in controlling and maintaining your weight. Exercise helps you burn calories, burn fat, speed up your metabolism and build muscle.
Scientific evidence shows that exercise can help you lose weight and maintain your weight over time. The key term is over time: one session at the gym won’t do much, but moderate levels of regular and consistent exercise can make a difference over the course of weeks, months and years.
Reduce Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease and stroke are the top two causes of death in the U.S. Statistics are similar all over the Western world. But even regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol. Just 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can make a difference.
Reduce Your Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a growing problem in today’s society. It is a combination of high blood pressure, too much fat around your waist, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and low good cholesterol. The same 30 minutes a day that can improve your cardiovascular health can also reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome. It can also reduce your blood sugar, decreasing your risk of type 2 diabetes or can improve your condition and even help you recover if you are a type 2 diabetic.
Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer
Research shows that regular exercise and physical activity can lower your risk of colon, breast, lung and endometrial cancer. Generally speaking, exercise can improve your quality of life and health, which can improve your life and aid your recovery if you are a cancer fighter or survivor.
Strengthen Your Bones And Muscles
Your bones, muscles and joints are the crucial players that support your body during your daily activities and even periods of inactivity. Research has found that moderate-intense levels of aerobic, muscle and bone strengthening exercises can slow bone density loss as you age, decrease your chances of hip fractures in elderly years, improve and prevent arthritis, protect your joints, help you to build muscles and protect your muscles.
Improves Your Mental Health And Mood
Staying active can keep your brain working more effectively, aid learning, keep your judgment skills sharper and help you think more clearly. Exercise is full of mental health benefits, increasing your happy hormones, keeping you happier, less stressed and more confident.
Improve Your Ability To Do Daily Activities
Aging or chronic pain can lead to limitation of your ability to do everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, taking your dog for a walk, climbing stairs or playing with your grandchildren. With elderly, the risk of losing balance and falling is an added problem. Exercise, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, can help improve your abilities, helping you keep up with your everyday routine and prevent your risk of falling at old age. Exercise can keep you younger longer, reducing the typical signs of aging.
Increase Your Chances Of Living Longer
Exercise can increase your physical and mental health and reduce your risks of serious and chronic health conditions, including heart problems and cancer. Therefore, exercise can reduce your risk of dying from the leading causes of death: cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer. While keeping you healthier, exercise can also allow you to live a quality life for a longer amount of time.
“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” - Winnie the Pooh
“Use it or lose it.” I bet you’ve heard this before. There is a lot of truth to this. If you don’t exercise regularly or at all, you not only will miss out experiencing the benefits of exercise, but your body will also suffer from the lack of it.
If you don’t exercise, you may experience the following:
“Movement is the song of the body.” -Vanda Scaravelli
Reading this, you can’t be anything but convinced that exercise is necessary for your physical and mental health. But how do you start an exercise routine if you haven’t exercised for a while (or ever)?
Don’t try to overstress your body by jumping into a marathon at day one. A sudden jump to vigorous intensity aerobic activity can increase your chances of injury and in some cases even cardiac events. Starting slowly and gradually increasing the intensity, length and frequency of activity is the smartest and safest choice. Start where you are: it may be a 2 or 5 minute walk in your case or already a 1-2 mile walk-jog. Keep challenging yourself, but don’t over-do it.
Professional support, such as hiring a trainer or a coach, can be helpful with keeping you motivated, helping you perform safe and effective exercises and getting results quickly. Even if you don’t hire a trainer, it is suggested to get a free introductory session with a trainer at your gym or watch some youtube videos to help you with good form and safe technique.
Online trainers are also a great and affordable option that is becoming more popular! Taking group classes and joining exercise groups can be helpful to keep you motivated and to find supportive friends with similar goals. Online support groups can help you with your goals as well, so can asking for support from family and friends.
Talk To Your Healthcare Professional
If you have chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, it is important to talk to your doctors to learn about the limits of your condition and to find the type of exercise that is best for your abilities and conditions. Even without any known health conditions, it is a good idea to get a physical before starting an exercise routine and to work with your healthcare professional.
A health coach can help you with your overall lifestyle goals and nutrition, whereas a registered dietician can help you with specific nutritional advice. In case of an injury, make sure to rest and work with a physical therapist to get stronger and recover quickly.
Different Types Of Exercise For Your Specific Needs And Personality
“Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements. Once you understand the grammar of yoga; you can write your poetry of movements.” - Amit Ray
You may be one of those people who thinks that exercise is just not for you. You may find it boring, difficult, emotionally taxing or simply have bad memories from high school gym class. You may think that you are too unhealthy or too overweight to exercise.
The truth is that exercise is not only essential for you health and well-being, but it can also be fun for everyone - even for you. Really.
The key is to find the workout that is the most enjoyable for you and fits your needs the best. If you don’t like fitness classes, but enjoy running, go for a run. If you like yoga, but dislike swimming, take yoga classes. If you haven’t exercised for a while (or ever) and have no idea where to start, just start anywhere.
Pick one form of exercise that looks interesting or perhaps your friend suggested and try it out. Perhaps try out different classes at the gym. Stick to one or two types of workouts for at least 3-4 weeks before giving anything up. It may take a little bit of time to get used to it. If you still don’t like it, try something new.
Once you find your jam and as you get fitter, it will be so enjoyable to workout, that you will start looking forward to it.
The good news is that there are so many different exercises to choose from, including gym, home and outdoor workouts.
Many workouts can be performed at various settings. You can do yoga at a yoga studio, at home using a video, or outdoors listening to your intuition. You can do HIIT workouts and body weight training workouts indoors and outdoors, at the gym or at home. You can run outside, on an indoor track or a treadmill.
Many forms of exercise don’t require much or any money either. To run, all you need is a pair of running shoes, you don’t need any extra equipment or a gym membership to run outside. You can find plenty of workout videos online for free, including yoga, pilates, HIIT, barre, stretching and lifting. Just check YouTube or Google.
To do yoga or pilates, all you need is a yoga mat or a soft carpet or rug. For HIIT and bodyweight workouts, all that is needed is you and some good shoes. For barre workouts and other workouts that require a barre or other funky equipment, you can usually substitute is with a chair. You can use water jugs instead of weights for some exercise. DIY hacks can also be found online.
No matter what your specific needs, health situation, personality, or financial circumstances are and no matter what the weather is like, you can find what you are looking for.
For optimal results, mix cardiovascular exercise (running, swimming, walking, roller-blading, etc.) with some form of strength training (weight lifting, pilates, yoga etc.), or do HIIT workouts that combines cardio and strength training.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much exercise.
If you are new to working out or have a tough time keeping yourself motivated to exercise regularly, you may think this section is not for you. I still encourage you to read it - once you find the right exercise for you that brings you joy and passion, you don’t want it to turn into an addiction.
If you are one of those people who loves working out all the time, feel guilty when having to skip a day or may love it too much, you should definitely read on.
Over-exercise can be defined as, but is not limited to:
You get the memo. For athletes, training requirements are usually rigorous with multiple workouts a day. For them, over-exercise may be defined as prolonged training above and beyond what’s required for a sport. If in doubt, talk to your coach, trainer or exercise instructor for healthy guidelines.
Over-exercise can lead to:
How To Overcome Over-Exercising And How To Stop It Before It’s Happening:
The sooner your recognize the problem, the easier you can work through it. You can enjoy a healthy amount of exercise without obsessing while also maintaining happy relationships, enjoying healthy food, loving yourself and living a balanced life.
“Let food be thy medicine.” -Hippocrates
While exercise is an essential factor to create health, to lose and maintain weight, to remedy diseases and to feel better mentally and physically, it is not enough. Good nutrition is absolutely essential to achieving optimal health and to experience the benefits of your exercise routine.
A healthy diet is mostly (or completely) made up of whole foods, preferably organic and mostly (or fully) plant-based with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, pseudograins, beans, legumes, herbs and spices and is also free from processed food, processed sugar and artificial ingredients. This sort of diet is anti-inflammatory and alkaline for your body, enhancing recovery and health.
A diet full of unprocessed, plant-based and whole foods ingredients includes all necessary macro (protein, carbs and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body needs to thrive. Make sure to also drink plenty of water (8-10 glasses a day minimum, more if very active) to stay hydrated.
What Are Macros?
You might’ve heard some fitness fanatics talking about macros. But what are macros and why are they so important anyways?
Macros are short for macronutrients, specifically:
Your body needs all three of them to function and to thrive.
Carbohydrates are there to fuel your body with energy. Fats keep you satiated. Proteins build and repair your muscles.
Calories are not created equal. Calories coming from processed junk food are not equal to calories coming from healthy whole foods. Calories coming from different macronutrient ratios also vary, serving different functions in your body. For instance, 10 calories of carbs can give you fuel to workout, but 10 calories from protein can help your recovery and your muscles to grow while 10 calories from fat can keep you satisfied longer.
When it comes to macros, everything is about the right balance.
What Is the Right Macro Ratio For Your Body?
The right balance and ratio of macronutrients really depends on the individual.
Generally speaking, endurance athletes tend to need more carbohydrates than weight lifters. For athletes, different parts of the competition cycle means different ratios of macros. Marathon runners tend to carboload a few days a week before their big race. Ultrarunners tend to focus on carbs pre-race and early in the race and then move onto more fats later in the competition. Though everyone needs fat for brain and hormonal health, healthy fats tend to be especially important for woman.
Start With Your Daily Calorie Needs
Calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) can be a helpful guide to figure out how much energy your body uses and therefore, how many calories you need just to stay alive. Then taking into consideration your activity level, you can figure out your daily calorie target. This is of course just a general guide, your body may need a bit more or less depending on your metabolism, health conditions and individual body in general.
To Calculate Your BMR Use The Mifflin St. Jeor Equation
To Calculate Your Daily Calorie Needs Use the Harris Benedict Formula
If you don’t want to do the math, there are plenty of online calculators out there for you.
Break It Down To Macros
Once you’ve figured out your daily calorie target, you can break it down into macronutrient ratios. You don’t have to be a nutritionist or a math genius to do this. There are plenty of online calculators and apps out there to plug your daily food intake in to calculate your macro ratios. You can plug in individual ratios to check the data for unprocessed and simple foods.
You should also always look at the back of any packaged foods for macro ratios. While you’re at it, make sure that these packaged foods are made of natural ingredients without anything artificial or GMO or any processed sugar.
Figuring out the right macro ratio can take a bit of trial and error. You may want to work with a holistic nutritionist or health coach. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your body. Note how you feel before and after different ratios of macros and different types of foods.
Listen to your body. Listen to your cravings. If you tend to get hungry a few hours after eating or tend to have emotional cravings, you may need more fats in your diet. It is also possible that you may need more calories with the same macro ratio. Always check your daily caloric needs.
Once you figure out the right macronutrient balance for your body, temptations to eat unhealthy foods and to eat out of boredom will be greatly reduced. Your body will have enough energy to function and enough fuel to recover, making it so you won’t be feeling exhausted to workout or wiped out for days after exercising. Tracking your macros can also help you be more conscious of your food choices.
Proteins are known as the key building blocks of your body. Proteins come in a variety of forms and with different functions and are found in every single cell of your body.
Proteins have a significant role in repairing your tissues as wear and tear occurs. They help your body to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. They also provide building blocks for your bones, muscles, skin, cartilage and blood. Clearly, proteins are vital to your body and all of your living processes.
Depletion of protein can lead to a variety of problems in your body, including:
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
The recommended daily intake of protein is:
These guidelines can vary depending on the individual, so talking to a dietician and your doctor can help you determine how much protein you need.
Where Should You Get Your Protein From?
Trying to get your protein in, your first instinct may be to just run and slam as much meat as possible. However, protein sources are not created equal. Deli meats, hot dogs and sausages are full of processed ingredients and are linked to cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. Cheese is full of saturated fat, is high in calories and can lead to various chronic diseases.
It is important to get your protein from the right and healthy sources. Despite common belief, you can actually meet your protein requirements from plant-based sources and thrive as a result.
Healthy plant-based sources of protein:
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What About Non-Plant-Based Protein?
Eating a plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, meeting your macro- and micro-nutrient needs and eating an anti-inflammatory and alkaline diet keeps disease away. It is the best if most of your food intake, including most of your protein, comes from plant-based sources.
However, if you are not (yet) a vegan or vegetarian and want to include some non-plant-based protein sources in your diet, there are some options that are better than others:
How Do You Make Sure You Get Enough Protein?
To make sure that you are meeting your protein and other nutritional needs, it is beneficial if you use a nutrition calculator. The best calculators show your micronutrient intake as well.
The Truth About High Protein Diets
When you listen to body builders, you may get the idea that all you need to build muscle is protein and more protein. The truth is, there is only one thing that can help you build muscle and that is exercise. However, you also need a moderate amount of protein to build muscle, as well as all other macro- and micro-nutrients and an overall balanced diet.
Don’t Forget About Your Micros Either
You should, of course, make sure to get the necessary amount of protein into your diet, but instead of focusing on only protein, focus on an overall healthy diet - which includes micros.
Micros are you micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals. You want to figure out the right macro ratio for your body, but you don’t want them to come from the empty calories in junk food. Because, yes, it is possible to get balanced macro ratios from processed foods such as white pasta, sugary peanut butter, crackers and soda, but the same can’t be said for micros.
You want to make sure to eat a well-balanced, whole foods diet with all micro-nutrients and plenty of minerals and vitamins through mostly plant-based whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and pseudograins. You want to eliminate artificial ingredients, processed sugar, processed foods and GMOs as much as possible.
The Meaning Behind Your Cravings
Cravings can help you determine if you are lacking something. Sometimes they mean you are lacking some macros or calories, but often they mean you are lacking some micronutrients.
What You Should Eat
May be a magnesium deficiency or you are lacking antioxidants; focus on raw cacao and antioxidant berries.
May be an iron deficiency; focus on pumpkin seeds, kale and collard leaves.
May be a sign you’re low in chromium; focus on broccoli, green beans and nuts.
May mean your body needs more sodium; focus on seaweed, artichoke and himalayan or celtic sea salt.
Blood tests looking at your complete micronutrient profile can be helpful in spotting potential deficiencies. Working with a holistic nutritionist or health coach to guide you with dietary changes can be helpful. You may benefit from short-term supplementation to correct deficiencies, but diet modification and creating a whole foods, mostly plant-based, diverse and balanced diet will be the key for long term success.
Benefits Of Pre/Post Workout Foods
While you may want to think about exercise as a way of burning calories, it is actually very crucial what you eat before and after a workout. Pre-workout foods can prepare you for your workout, providing you with good energy and even aid recovery after. Post-workout foods can help you refuel and to recover from your workout.
Pre-workout foods may take some trial and error and adjustment to figure out what works for you. You want to have enough energy, but you don’t want to eat too much or too close to your workout and get cramps or feel sluggish either. Eat anywhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours before your workout - whatever works for your tummy. Figure out the amount you need over time (tip: you don’t need too much).
Your best choice is complex carbohydrates that are easy to digest, such as fruits, dates and dried fruits and whole grains, including granola bars, oatmeal or GF bread. If you are training for a marathon, ironman or long race and training for 2.5-3 hours or more, you may need more food and eat something while you workout. But for a regular exercise routine, there is no need to eat while working out and there is no need to eat fats and protein before your workout either.
Within 15 Minutes Post-Workout
You want something easy and refreshing that also helps you to replenish your glycogen stores in your muscles that you’ve just used. Your best choice is juice - green juice, of course. It is easy to digest, provides immediate energy, full of electrolytes and prevents muscle soreness. If you are not around a juicer, there is still no excuse, you can either buy cold-pressed juice in most grocery stores or mix some green juice powder with some water quickly.
Within An Hour Post-Workout
An hour or so after working out, you should have a balanced meal with complex carbohydrates, adequate protein and healthy fats. Protein in this meal is essential to help you rebuild and repair your muscles and to aid your metabolism.
If you don’t have an opportunity to eat a sit-down meal, you can still get your post-workout nutrition in through a healthy smoothie with plenty of greens (kale, spinach, or lettuce), some fruits (bananas, mangoes or berries), protein sources (pumokin seeds, chia seeds, or pumpin seed protein powder) and coconut water, almond milk or water.
Alternatively, you may want to prepare some energy bars with oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruits to eat before you have a chance to eat your next meal.
Remember, pre- and post-workout nutrition is not about over-eating and slamming in the calories. It is about eating smart and meeting your optimal nutrition needs through whole foods choices.
About The Author
Drew Canole is a rockstar in the world of fitness, nutrition and mindset, with a huge heart for others and doing his part to transform the world, one person at a time.
As the founder and CEO of Fitlife.TV, he is committed to sharing educational, inspirational and entertaining videos and articles about health, fitness, healing and longevity. He is also a best selling author and the founder of Organifi, an organic, incredibly delicious greens powder, chock-full of superfoods to make juicing easy no matter your busy schedule.
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When you think about nutrition for optimal performance, what comes to mind?
I bet hydration is not at the top of your list. You are not alone. Many people forget about hydration when it comes to their nutrition program.
The truth is that hydration is a non-negotiable element of a good nutrition program.