Hidden Benefits of Exercise

By admin
November 11, 2018

Hidden Benefits of Exercise

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

There is no question that exercise is essential for achieving and maintaining physical fitness, losing weight and keeping it off, and preventing and treating diseases like diabetes. What you may not know is that exercise can improve your health in ways that you may not be able to notice in the gym or on the scale.

These benefits have to do with the fact that exercise causes your muscles to produce chemical signals called myokines that influence other organs. For example, exercise can stimulate other cells to be more sensitive to insulin, which can help control blood glucose. Emerging research shows that these effects are widespread, leading to health benefits that go far beyond fitness and weight control. Here are a few surprising ways that exercise can improve your health.

Improve your immune system.

Exercise can have a positive effect on your immune system. People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds and have up to 50% fewer sick days than those who aren’t regularly active. Research shows that exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells. This makes the immune system response to viruses, like the cold and flu, more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when the exercise is moderate in intensity and duration, such as a 30 to 60-minute walk or jog.

Fight the fire of inflammation.

Inflammation is a key factor involved in the development of numerous chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers. Many people look to their diet for foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, but it turns out that exercise can have a significant impact on reducing inflammation, too. One of the myokines released by muscle during exercise is IL-6, a substance that has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, exercise alters the production of other substances that cause inflammation, providing broad protection against inflammatory damage.

Balance your gut bacteria.

You have probably heard that the bacteria that naturally inhabit your intestines are linked to your health. Put simply, some of these bacteria are harmful to your health, directly and indirectly causing health problems. Most obvious are GI issues, but these bacteria can also influence your hormones and metabolism in ways that lead to inflammation, obesity, and heart disease. Other bacteria are considered “good,” meaning they have positive health effects. Recent research shows that exercise can have a beneficial effect on gut bacteria which potentially can influence GI system health, inflammation, and weight control.

Boost your brain function.

Research shows that exercise has far-reaching outcomes on the structure and function of the brain, derived from increased brain blood flow and the production of BDNF, an important growth factor that promotes brain growth and repair. The benefits include improved learning and memory, better attention and ability to ignore distractions, enhanced stress management, and improved mood.

Outrun your bad diet.

The claim that “you can’t outrun a bad diet” is often used to support the notion that what you eat is more important than what you do for activity. While diet is critical to good health, this claim simply isn’t true. Exercise has powerful effects that can reduce the negative impact of your diet. Every time you exercise, the number of receptors that remove glucose from your blood increases to regulate blood glucose, particularly relevant to diabetes. Exercise also causes an increased uptake of fats from the blood, lowering blood lipid levels. This is especially important after eating a high fat meal which, together with other factors, can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise really can prevent some of the damage that occurs when you eat too much fat, sugar, or carbohydrates in general!

Sleep better.

Exercise has long been associated with improved sleep. This is thought to be due to the fact that exercise depletes energy stores and elevates body temperature and sleep restores energy, promotes tissue repair, and regulates body temperature. Exercise is a healthy, safe, inexpensive, and simple means of improving sleep, potentially replacing sleeping pills. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, mood, and feelings of vitality in people with chronic insomnia.

Take steps to achieve these benefits.

Like improved fitness and weight control, these other benefits depend on the type, intensity, and duration of the exercise you do. At a minimum, making time to be active every day is essential, even if it is a 30-minute walk. You should plan for longer exercise sessions on some days, shorter, more intense workouts on others, and strength training at least two days per week. This will meet goals for fitness and weight control as well as achieving other hidden exercise benefits that will promote better overall health.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Reading on the RUN

By admin
July 06, 2018

athlete listening to music

Listening to music while you run, walk briskly or engage in other forms of exercise can benefit your workout by affecting your mood, emotions and even cognition. In a previous issue of Well-Being, staff writer Brian Parr, ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, addressed how music enhances exercise performance in a number of ways, both psychologically and physiologically. It can make the time spent exercising seem to go by faster by providing a mental distraction from fatigue and make workouts more enjoyable and effective. So, what if you take these principles and apply them to listening to audible books and podcasts? You have just gleaned a whole block of time to catch up on your summer reading wish list without taking time away from your regular workout regimen.

According to Chris Friesen, an author and clinical psychologist who specializes in sport and performance psychology, there is now evidence that people are more open to new information and more creative while running. It appears when one is running the brain creates space for processing ideas.

Books.When reading on the run, runners also report that they find the pace of their running may vary with the level of drama in the story they are hearing, much as it does when listening to music. During a suspenseful episode in a mystery thriller, runners may find the intensity of their run picking up, likewise, during more serene passages their pace moderates and they become more relaxed.

Friesen and other enthusiasts of reading on the run caution runners to not become so engrossed while listening to audio books that they fail to pay proper attention to hazards of the road. One suggestion is to use only one earbud so you can still hear ambient noise of the road, track or trail, or use headphones that are designed so you can still hear what is going on around you.

Listening to audio books is a great way for book lovers in a hurry to return to their former reading habits without sacrificing time from other daily time-burners. For some dyed-in-the-wool multi-taskers, it’s the perfect chance to reclaim time they once found intellectually unproductive.

Great Summer Reading Available on Audible Audiobook

Amazon recommends some new titles to consider for reading on the run this summer:

  • Florida by Lauren Groff
  • The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
  • The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
  • Tom Clancy Line of Sight (A Jack Ryan Jr. Novel) by Mike Maden
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin
  • The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
  • Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber
  • Where We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Running Hot. The challenges of exercise in the heat.

By admin
July 06, 2018

tired woman runner taking a rest after running hard

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Associate Professor

It’s that time of year again! Summer weather can make outdoor exercise especially challenging. Even if you take precautions to avoid serious heat-related injuries, exercise on a hot, humid day can adversely affect your performance. At the very least, your workout will feel harder.

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. The humidity is a huge factor. If you have tremendously high temperatures and high humidity, you will be sweating but the sweat won’t be drying on the skin. That’s why it’s not just heat but the combination of heat and humidity that matters.

When you exercise, you produce a lot of heat though muscle activity. To avoid hyperthermia (the condition of having a body temperature greatly above normal), that heat must be dissipated. Blood flow to the skin is increased to help you lose heat to the air around you, a mechanism called radiation. At the same time, you start to sweat. As the sweat evaporates, it takes heat away from your body. On a cool, low humidity day you can easily lose heat by radiation and evaporation, maintaining your body temperature close to normal.

On a hot, humid day it is much harder to lose heat and evaporate sweat from your skin. In fact, on a 100 degree day with very high humidity you may actually gain heat from the air, rather than losing it! But your body responds the same, directing more blood flow to the skin and increasing sweat rate. These physiological responses can impact your performance.

Continuing to direct blood flow to the skin may mean that less blood goes to the muscle. Over time, an excessive sweat rate can lead to dehydration, which can also reduce blood flow to muscle. This means that less oxygen as well as carbohydrate and fat fuels get to the muscle. Since your muscles require oxygen and fuel to produce energy to power your muscles, this can lead to fatigue – an inability of the muscles to maintain force production, which you notice as a drop in running or cycling speed.

Temperature guage of a motorbikeDehydration also means that there is less fluid to lose as sweat, impairing your ability to lose heat by evaporation. Since you are still generating heat from muscle activity but not losing nearly as much, this causes hyperthermia. This is why fluid replacement is so important during exercise, especially in a hot, humid environment.

Even if you do stay hydrated, rising body temperature can still cause feelings of fatigue. Since all muscle activity is regulated in the brain, increasing body (and brain) temperature can inhibit the activation of muscle. Additionally, when you’re hot, exercise seems harder and you may feel less motivated. Both of these result in lower muscular force production, making you move slower.

The impact of extreme sustained heat on the body The systems in the human body that enable it to adapt to heat become overwhelmed. When a person is exposed to heat for a very long time, the first thing that shuts down is the ability to sweat. We know that when perspiration is dried by the air there is a cooling effect on the body. Once a person stops perspiring, in very short order they can move from heat exhaustion to heatstroke.

You can prevent many of these heat-related problems by taking some common-sense precautions: Make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise, wear clothing that will help keep you cool, limit the duration of your workout and take it easy on really hot, humid days. Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke are caused by exercising or playing in a hot, humid environment where the body becomes dehydrated. However, they show different combinations of symptoms.

Heat exhaustion is usually accompanied by a fever no higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, excessive thirst, nausea, fainting, cool and clammy skin, weakness, muscle aches, heavy sweating, slow heartbeat and dizziness.

Heatstroke may develop following heat exhaustion if the condition is not treated. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises and the cooling system stops working. This potentially life-threatening condition is characterized by nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, rapid heart rate, hot and dry skin, shortness of breath and decreased urination.

Any person who is exhibiting the signs of heatstroke should immediately seek medical attention.

Getting FITT? Get Your Zzzs

By admin
May 06, 2018

Cute young man sleeping on bed

Why sleep is a critical part of your fitness regimen

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Associate Professor

If you are serious about exercise, you take steps to maximize your workouts in order to achieve optimal training adaptations, including improved endurance, muscle mass, and muscular strength. Obviously, what you do for exercise matters. Following the FITT principle allows you to tailor your workouts by modifying the number of days you train: F – frequency; I – intensity; T – time and T – type of exercise you do. You probably also appreciate that nutrition is important in reaching your fitness goals, so you pay attention to what you eat. This means adequate carbohydrates for endurance exercise like running or cycling and enough protein for resistance training to build strength and muscle. But there is another important step to achieving your fitness goals you may not be aware of – sleep.

Exercise has long been associated with better sleep, in some cases even replacing medications for disturbed sleep. Research has also shown that poor sleep may contribute to low physical activity levels, suggesting a bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for recovery from workouts and adaptations to training that improve your strength and endurance. Additionally, inadequate sleep can have a negative effect on exercise performance, especially when it involves significant coordination or skill. In other words – you can’t reach your maximum fitness goals without good sleep and you can’t attain maximum quality sleep without exercise.

Rest and recover

Strenuous exercise can cause microscopic damage within muscles, which leads to inflammation and soreness. This sounds bad, but the damage is an important step in the muscle adapting to get bigger and stronger. Proper recovery is essential for the muscle to repair this damage through protein synthesis. Inadequate sleep decreases the activity of protein synthesis and increases the activity of protein breakdown, favoring the loss of muscle mass and interfering with muscle recovery after exercise. This is due to the balance between hormones that promote muscle growth and hormones that have an opposite effect on muscle.

Sleep is important because it provides a condition under which energy can be directed toward recovery rather than other activities. For example, muscles can rest to some extent when you are awake, but muscle activity falls to its lowest levels during sleep. The focus here is on muscle, but the brain is also renewed by sleep. Since sensory input and activity are at their lowest during sleep, this is the time that protein synthesis in the brain is enhanced and growth and repair can occur.

Overnight success

The muscle damage that results from exercise, especially if it is strenuous, is necessary to promote muscle growth through protein synthesis. Exercise, particularly resistance training, stimulates the release of hormones important for protein synthesis. Some of these are further elevated at night, so sleep is an important time for adaptations related to muscle hypertrophy – bigger, stronger muscles – to occur. During the day there are high levels of hormones that inhibit protein synthesis. During sleep, these hormones decline and others, like growth hormone, stimulate protein synthesis.

At the gymSince the hormones that activate protein synthesis are most active after exercise and during sleep, eating protein before sleep is an effective strategy to enhance muscle mass and strength gains during resistance exercise training. This represents an important interaction between exercise, nutrition, and sleep, suggesting these factors work together to promote exercise adaptations. Since you can’t make up for poor sleep by doing an extra workout or eating more protein, you are wise to pay attention to all three!

Sleep better

Exercise has long been associated with improved sleep. This is thought to be due to the fact that exercise depletes energy stores and elevates body temperature and sleep restores energy, promotes tissue repair, and regulates body temperature. Activity, including exercise, during the day causes changes that promote sleep for the purpose of restoring a “normal” state overnight. For most people, daily exercise can help promote sleep, but you may need to determine the best time of day to work out. Exercise is a healthy, safe, inexpensive, and simple means of improving sleep, potentially replacing sleeping pills. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, mood, and feelings of vitality in people with chronic insomnia.

Sleep is critical to good health and wellbeing as well as a key component in achieving your fitness goals. You probably already spend time tailoring your exercise sessions to meet your goals and make an effort to eat in a way that supports your training. Don’t forget that nutrition and training are most effective when you get enough sleep to maximize your adaptations. The bottom line is that when you are getting FITT, make sure you get your ZZZs.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Dig Deeper

*WB.WhyWeSleepWhy We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

By Matthew Walker, PhD

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, what purpose it serves or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep.

In Why We Sleep, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite.

Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; help to prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; and boost efficiency, success, and productivity in our work.



January 20th 2019

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