There are many reasons to exercise. As we enter swimsuit season, the most obvious motive most people have for hitting the gym is to lose weight so they look good by the pool or on the beach.
Yes, with exercise, you can lose fat and increase muscle mass, helping you to achieve a more toned, attractive physique. But there are far more important benefits to working out. Besides improving your outward appearance, it prevents chronic disease, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, alleviates depression and anxiety, and enhances your overall quality of life.
But before you hop on that elliptical machine for an hour or go for a 5-mile jog, you may want to hear this:
To achieve most of these benefits, particularly anti-inflammatory benefits, you don’t have to exercise nearly as long as you think!
To cut your risk of disease and body-wide inflammation, 30 minutes a day has been shown to do the trick. But here’s the catch: The exercise should be higher intensity. While an hour-long, slow-paced stroll certainly won’t hurt you, the latest research reveals that it won’t give you nearly the results that a shorter, high-intensity workout will.
Research has shown that more strenuous physical activity is associated with lower inflammation, especially compared to lower-intensity exercise or a sedentary lifestyle.
Two separate studies published in the American Journal of Cardiology linked vigorous exercise with pronounced health benefits. In the first, researchers found that young men who engaged in high-intensity aerobic workouts had decreased levels of C-reactive protein, a stronger marker of systemic inflammation.
In the second, researchers concluded that vigorous exercise produced a greater reduction in cardiovascular disease risk than moderate intensity activity.
Furthermore, aerobic and resistance training appears to be equally important in cutting inflammation. In one study, 38 women (aged 18-24) were assigned to one of three groups: endurance training, endurance plus resistance training, or control. The two test groups completed 15 weeks of marathon training, while the endurance plus resistance group performed additional resistance exercises. (The control group maintained their usual exercise routine.)
At the end of the trial, the endurance plus resistance group significantly improved strength and lowered their CRP levels, leading the researchers to conclude, “Combined endurance and resistance training may be an effective modality for reducing plasma CRP in young adult females, independent of changes in aerobic capacity or body composition.”
Similar results were found in a study of 29 younger and 31 older participants. The researchers wrote that the aerobic and resistance training, “reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease development as defined by a decrease in serum CRP concentration…”
Your next questions may naturally be, “How do I get started, and exactly how hard do I push myself?”
The best way to measure how hard you’re working is by charting your target heart rate. To do this, you need to check your pulse throughout your exercise session. Try to stay within 70–85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting your age from 220. So a 45-year-old’s maximum heart rate would be 175. This same person’s target heart rate (70–85 percent) would range between 122–148.
While you can certainly take your pulse and do the math yourself, the easiest way to make sure you stay within your target heart rate is by using a heart rate monitor, which takes all the math and guesswork out of your hands. You can buy these at most health or fitness stores.
If you’re just getting started on your fitness journey or want to significantly increase the intensity of your workout, first get a thorough physical from a physician. Once you have your doctor’s blessing, commit to one to two days of exercise a week for 10–15 minutes, or as long as you can go. Over time, increase your goal to four to five days a week for 30 minutes.
Start slow, by attempting to reach 50 percent of your target heart rate. As you become more fit, increase your intensity so that your heart rate falls between the 70–85 percent range for your entire workout.
Vary your activity by doing three days of aerobic exercise such as walking, running, stair climbing, elliptical training, swimming, etc. The other two days, mix bursts of cardio with weight or resistance training so that you build more muscle.
Don’t get frustrated if you get winded or tire quickly. You’ll eventually be able to maintain a higher intensity for longer periods of time—and your body will reap the rewards of less inflammation and lower risk of disease.
Remember, our promise to you: we will always provide you with accurate information—based on the latest science—so that you can enjoy a healthy life to its absolute fullest.