By Dr. Mercola

The CDC’s Summary Health Statistics, 2009 is out, and it comes with some intriguing figures on the overall picture of who’s healthy — and who’s not — among adults in the United States. When it comes to how education figures in to health, it turns out that the more educated you are, the healthier you may be.

The survey, which includes data from over 27,700 U.S. adults, found that people with a college education were more physically active, and were less likely to have heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other chronic health problems such as back pain, kidney and liver disease or migraine headaches.

The two are undoubtedly linked, as exercise is directly related to a lowered risk of many of the chronic conditions on that list. It certainly does not take a college education to exercise, or realize that you should, so no matter how much schooling you have this is one simple health habit to take note of.

The Majority of U.S. Adults Get NO Vigorous Physical Activity

It’s true that college grads do appear to get more exercise than most Americans, but that’s not saying much when you consider the survey found 55 percent of adults aged 18 years and over never engaged in any periods of vigorous physical activity lasting 10 minutes or more per week.

When comparing activity levels among those with different educational backgrounds, the data showed 79 percent of adults with less than a high school diploma never engaged in vigorous exercise compared with 41 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Still, among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 39 percent exercised vigorously three or more times a week, compared with 13 percent of adults with less than a high school diploma. These are dismal numbers no matter how you look at it, as overall only 28 percent of U.S. adults engaged in such activity three or more times a week!

What makes this finding all the more poignant is that even though most Americans are not exercising at nearly the levels they need to be optimally healthy, 61 percent said they were in excellent or very good health. But it’s virtually impossible to achieve high-level health if you don’t exercise! Of course, if you choose not to exercise, the only person who gets cheated is you!

Simple Way to Improve Your Exercise Performance by 15%

Music use by exercisers and sports enthusiasts is quite commonplace and this pleasurable addition can actually help make your workout more effective by allowing you to work out even harder. Different types of musical scores elicit different emotions, such as joy or melancholy for example, and certain types of music can motivate you to run faster, or keep going even though you’re fatigued.

I find that music is an amazingly effective motivation to push me to work out at a higher level, and the research bears this out as well.

A new study published in The Sport and Exercise Scientist found that responses to certain music may have an enhancement effect by either reducing perceptions of fatigue or increasing work capacity with higher than expected levels of endurance, power, productivity or strength. To get the most benefits, the “right” music has to be chosen, and researchers determined the most effective music for exercise should be:

  • Functional for the activity (rhythm should match up with your movements)
  • Selected with desired effects in mind (loud, fast, percussive music with a lot of bass will increase arousal, slower music will help you unwind, cool down, etc.)
  • Accompanied by lyrics associated with movement, such as “the only way is up”
  • Within the tempo band of 125-140 beats per minute for most people

You needn’t get bogged down with the details, however, as selecting music is a highly personal and intuitive process. When a song gets you energized and rearing to go, you’ll know it, and these are the types of songs you should add to your workout playlist.

Studies have shown that listening to music while exercising can increase your endurance by 15 percent, and your movement will likely follow the tempo of the song. For instance, in one study when the music’s tempo slowed, the subjects’ exertion level reduced as well. And when the tempo was increased, their performance followed suit. Your body may be simply responding to the beat on a more or less subconscious level, but the type and tempo of the music you choose while working out may also influence your conscious motivation.

And together, the synchronization of moving to the beat along with being motivated by the music itself allows it to do its magic.

Did You Know Exercise Can do All This?

You know exercise is good for you, right?

But did you know that, last year, after reviewing 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces your risk of about two dozen health conditions, ranging from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression? It even slows down the rate of aging itself! There are far more benefits of exercise than I can fit in this space, so I will highlight just a smattering of them.

One of the primary benefits of exercise is that it normalizes your insulin and leptin levels, with the secondary benefits of weight loss and normalization of blood sugars (did I mention the survey found that 35% of adults were overweight and 27% were obese? So weight loss is an advantage that many could benefit from). These basic factors in turn cascade outward, creating a ripple effect of positive health benefits, which include:

Improving your brainpower and boosting your IQ

Lowering your risk of heart disease and cancer

Building strong bones

Lowering your blood pressure

Curing insomnia

Losing weight

Relieving pain

Balancing your mood and fighting depression

Increasing your energy levels

Acquiring fewer colds

Lowering your risk of and even reversing type 2 diabetes

Slowing down your aging process

In fact, fitness is a far better indicator of overall health and longevity than even body mass index (BMI). What this means is that even if you’re overweight or obese, exercise will still provide you with measurable benefits above and beyond weight loss.

Vigorous Exercise Even Increases Growth Hormone Production

Human growth hormone (HGH) is often referred to as “the fitness hormone.” The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you will be. Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what’s called “somatopause,” at which point your levels of human HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age. The longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will experience robust health and strength.

Many choose to inject it for this very reason, though it is a banned substance in nearly every professional sport. I do not recommend injecting HGH however, due to the potential side effects and the cost.

Fortunately, your body produces HGH naturally when you exercise your super-fast muscle fibers during vigorous, high-intensity exercise like Peak Fitness. This is why it’s such a shame that the majority of Americans are NOT exercising vigorously with high-intensity exercises, as they are completely missing out on this powerful anti-aging strategy.

I’ve previously discussed how to properly perform Peak Fitness exercises in great detail, but to summarize the key concept: there are three different types of muscle fibers — slow, fast, and fast 2A (super-fast) — and different types of exercises engage one or more of these groups of muscles. In order to naturally increase your body’s production of HGH, you must engage your fast 2A muscle fibers.

Power training, or plyometric burst types of exercises, will engage your fast muscle fibers. However, only high-intensity burst cardio, such as Peak Fitness, will engage your fast 2A fibers and promote HGH. Traditionally performed aerobic cardio only works your slow muscle fibers, and can actually impede natural HGH production by causing your fast 2A fibers to atrophy from lack of use. Peak Fitness can be done with or without exercise equipment, although I prefer using a recumbent bicycle or elliptical machine, and best of all it takes just 20 minutes two or three times a week to reap all of the benefits.

Here are the key principles, along with a demonstrative video below:

  1. Warm up for three minutes
  2. Then, go all out, as hard as you can for 30 seconds
  3. Recover for 90 seconds (still moving, just decreased intensity)
  4. Repeat 7 more times, for a total of 8 repetitions
  5. Cool down for a few minutes afterward by cutting down your intensity by 50-80 percent
Total Video Length: 0:22:17

What Other Types of Exercise are Important?

If you’re just getting back into exercising, you’ll need to work your way up slowly. Trying to do too much at once can lead to burnout and make you less likely to continue your program.

To start, you might try jogging for a very short period and increase it slowly over time. Or you might try walking interspersed with a period of fast walking to incorporate the Peak Fitness ideology. Then, as your body grows more conditioned, you can increase to a higher intensity workout.

Also keep in mind that it’s best to vary your exercises to cover all varying facets of strength, stamina and flexibility, such as:

  • Peak Fitness exercises
  • Conventional aerobics
  • Strength training
  • Core exercises
  • Stretching

You needn’t fall into an exercise “rut” either, as it’s easy to change up your routine to keep you interested. In addition to Peak Fitness, my new approach now is Pilates, which I started a couple of months ago. I do one-on-one training with a certified instructor who is a fanatic about doing the exercises properly, and I really enjoy it and look forward to the changes it will produce in my core strength and flexibility. Yoga is another excellent exercise that many people use and enjoy. If you don’t know where to begin, I have plenty of free tools on my Web site to help you get started.

My beginners’ exercise page includes plenty of tips and guidelines, as well as links to other helpful information. If you’re experiencing emotional resistance, you may want to try a few of the recommendations from the article Five Ways to Pick up the Exercise Habit Again, and remind yourself again just how much you stand to gain from it!

One meta-analysis, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, included a total of 22 studies evaluating the impact of exercise on mortality of nearly 1 million people. It clearly showed that if you are currently living a very sedentary lifestyle, the mere act of incorporating some light- to moderate activity, five days a week, can significantly reduce your mortality rate. Those who engaged in moderately intense activity a full seven days a week further reduced their risk of death, from 19 to 24 percent.

So the more you put into it, the more you’ll get in return, but for a bit of hard work that totals a mere fraction of your time in a day, you’ll be rewarded with immeasurable benefits to your physical and emotional health and well-being.


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