Tag Archive for: fitness

“Sitting is the new smoking”—this is the latest catch phrase surrounding health. Yes, perhaps it’s a bit alarmist, but the notion holds true. Sitting for extended periods can be detrimental to your health. And alas, many of us spend most of the day sitting.

One study reveals more than a quarter of American adults sit for over eight hours a day. This sitting epidemic has one major culprit: the desk job. If you work a nine-to-five in the office, that’s eight hours in a chair right there. Not to mention time spent relaxing at home.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Learn the health risks of sitting at a desk all day and what you can do to stay healthy while working your desk job.

Desk Stress and Your Body: Health Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Let’s get one thing out of the way: sitting in moderation isn’t inherently bad for you. But grabbing a chair for excessive periods of time does come with side effects. The science is pretty straightforward—when you sit for prolonged intervals your body feels it:

  • Blood flow: While you’re sitting, your blood circulates at a slower rate than when you’re standing. As blood flow slows, it can be easier for fatty acids to build up in your arteries—a common precursor to heart disease.
  • Fat usage: Your body breaks down fats in your diet one of two ways—by processing it or storing it. Sitting has been shown to slow the body’s production of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fats. This means less fat is processed and it’s instead being stored in your body.
  • Insulin resistance: When you’re sitting, your body experiences “muscle passivity.” Basically, you’re not actively using most of your muscles. This state could lead to increased insulin resistance, which may cause elevated blood sugar levels.

Scientists are still exploring the full impact these bodily changes can have on your health, but some of the repercussions are clear. Excessive sitting has the potential to increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, blood clots, and obesity.

But there is good news! If you spend a lot of your day sitting, there’s plenty you can do to combat these health woes.

Staying Active at the Desk: Stretching Your In-Office Exercise Options


As more and more points to the detrimental effects of sitting, office norms are changing. For those with desk jobs, this means sitting for eight hours straight isn’t your only option. So what can you do instead? Let’s get into it:

  • Stand up to work: It seems too good to be true, but one of the best ways to avoid the health impacts of sitting is, well, to not sit. Enter the standing desk. Though they come in a variety of forms, each is designed to elevate the surface of your desk to let you stand instead of sit. While standing only burns marginally more calories than sitting, it can help you avoid the other health risks above. And what’s more, some studies suggest that standing desks can help boost productivity.
  • Break away: If possible, take a break at least once every hour. It doesn’t have to—and probably shouldn’t—be a long break. Just enjoy three to five minutes away from your desk to use the restroom, make a cup of coffee, grab a snack, etc. Time spent standing or, even better, walking can work wonders for your health and productivity.
  • Try a new desk accessory: Get creative with your at-work exercise by placing a small stationary bike, or even a treadmill, under your desk. Both are great options to stay active while working, helping you keep the blood flowing throughout the day. And the best part? You don’t even need to break a sweat to see the benefits.
  • Suggest a walk-and-talk: The business week can be chock full of meetings—most taken sitting down. A walking meeting is a great alternative to the traditional conference room meetup. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a meeting while trekking through the office, around the block, anywhere but sitting at a table. Of course, not every meeting can be held this way, but it is a terrific option for team brainstorming sessions and one-on-one conversations.
  • Step it up: If you’ve gotten in the habit of using the elevator, it’s time to mix it up. Stairs are a simple and easy way to get your blood pumping at work. Climbing the stairs is also a heart-healthy way to spend one of your mini breaks throughout the day.
  • Stretch your possibilities: Stop what you’re doing. Stand up, place one hand on your elbow, and pull your arm across your chest. Hold for 30 seconds. Reverse this stretch on the other side. Ahhh…doesn’t that feel good? Now turn around, place one foot on the seat of your chair, and engage your core as you slowly lean forward to stretch the back of your supporting leg. Switch sides. Fitting a quick stretch into your workday is as easy as that.

Make Your Commute Count

If you commute to work, you likely know firsthand how much sitting it can add to your day. Waiting in traffic, slumped on the bus, seated on the train—you get the idea. But it’s also one part of your workday that can turn physical. If you live cycling distance from the office, an early morning bike ride into work is a perfect way to start the day. And getting off the bus a few stops early lets you squeeze a brisk walk into an otherwise packed day.

Losing the car may seem like a drastic change to make, but give it a shot—after skipping traffic for a few days, you may never to go back to the auto commute!

Exercise After Work: Counteracting the Effects of Sitting

At the end of the day, you’re at work to work. Not all offices are open to the idea of a walking meeting. And, let’s face it, an under-the-desk stationary bike might not be in your future.

If this is your situation, don’t worry—a healthy lifestyle while working a desk job is still doable. It just takes a little after work motivation.

A day of sitting at a desk staring at a screen is exhausting. Plopping down on the couch and relaxing after work can be tempting. The problem is this adds even more sitting to your day. To stave off the negative health impacts of prolonged sitting, it’s crucial to mix some form of physical activity into your day.

This doesn’t mean hitting the gym for two hours every evening or going for a five-mile run (if that’s your thing, kudos to you). A 30-minute walk after dinner is enough to get the blood flowing. And if you don’t want to leave the house, home exercises can achieve the same benefit.

The Bottom Line

So, is sitting the new smoking? Not exactly. Sitting in moderation is a pervasive part of life, but too much of it for too long can have negative health consequences. Unlike smoking, sitting is an easy habit to break by simply finding creative ways to get up and get moving. It’s true, whether you like it or not, you’re going to spend some of each day seated. And that’s ok—you now have plenty of ideas to stay healthy, even with a desk job.

athlete doing exercise

athlete doing exercise

A good workout session can leave you feeling tired, sore, invigorated, happy—the list goes on and on. So, what exactly is going on inside your body?

Read on to know the physiological changes your body goes through during exercise, the lasting effects—and just about everything in between.

Exercise and Its Supporting Body Systems

Your body moves, breathes, and lives thanks to numerous systems working together in perfect harmony. Organs, tissues, and more step up to perform specific tasks and functions. And each plays a different role as you exercise. Here’s a breakdown of how some of them respond to exercise:

  • Cardiovascular System—You may know it as the circulatory system. Made up of the heart, arteries, and other blood vessels, it circulates oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. During exercise, your muscles require more oxygen than usual. In response, the cardiovascular system kicks into overdrive by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. These changes give your hard-working muscles the oxygen they need. You feel this when your heart rate increases during your workout. This changes the blood distribution throughout your body. In a resting state your muscles receive about 20% of the blood your heart pumps; during exercise the number jumps up to 80%. Your heart loves it when you up your physical game.
  • Respiratory System: Breathing gives your body oxygen—and along with your muscles, your entire body needs more oxygen when you exercise. The respiratory system ignites pulmonary ventilation—increasing the air entering and exiting your lungs. This has two bodily effects. First, your lungs take in more air with each breath. And second, your breathing rate increases. You know this is happening when you get slightly out of breath during a workout.
  • Musculoskeletal System: Head to toe, your skeletal muscle helps provide movement, stabilize joints, and maintain posture. For most everyday activities, your muscles get ample energy from the oxygen you breathe in. The same holds true for prolonged, low-intensity exercise—known as aerobic exercise. During high intensity workouts—or anaerobic exercise—the oxygen in your blood doesn’t offer enough energy for your muscles. So your muscles turn to another energy source: the glycogen (a form of glucose, or sugar) stored in your muscles and liver. Three-quarters of your body’s total glycogen is stored in your skeletal muscles for go-to energy during regular exercise.
  • Endocrine System: One of the best things about exercise is it can make you feel good, and at times, almost euphoric. This is all thanks to this incredible system. As you exercise, it gives you bursts of several hormones—including dopamine and serotonin— neurotransmitters tied to improved mood and happiness. It doesn’t take pounding the pavement to get a “runners high,” but it does typically occur after intense or lengthy workout session. For those who prefer low intensity workouts, any form of exercise self-care can make you feel amazing.

Exercise from Start to Finish

Female athletes running towards finish line on track field

From the moment you begin your workout, your body starts to make adjustments. Right off the bat, you’ll likely notice your heart rate increase to give your muscles oxygen to support more strenuous activity.

Depending on the exercise—aerobic or anaerobic—your muscles will draw on different energy sources. During cardio activities, such as jogging or cycling, your body relies on an elevated heart rate and deepened breathing to give your muscles enough oxygen to keep them energized. Weightlifting, on the other hand, is an anaerobic exercise. Pumping iron prompts your muscles to dip into your body’s glucose stores for energy.

After both types of workouts, your body immediately begins to return to its resting state. Your heart rate slows and your breathing returns to normal. On the inside, the distribution of oxygen throughout your body goes back to normal, too. This usually takes about an hour depending on how used your body is to exercise.

In the days and weeks following regular exercise, you may experience other changes as well. Visible benefits may be a better mood, higher energy levels, and even improved confidence.

Working Out Gives You Energy

Did you know that exercise gives you more energy? It may be hard to believe. You’re expending energy to exercise so you might think it leaves you more depleted. But the opposite is true. When you exercise, you’ll feel more energetic right away.

Increased blood circulation distributes fresh oxygen, nutrients, and endorphins throughout the body. This helps the body function better and use energy more efficiently. You may experience sharper focus, increased alertness, a boost in your mood, and more energy, immediately after a workout.

Exercise gives you more energy in the long-term too. Research has shown that regular exercise helps you sleep better and more deeply. This is one of the most important factors in helping you feel refreshed and energized throughout the day. On a biological level, exercise stimulates your muscle cells to produce more mitochondria—the “powerhouse” of the cell. Mitochondria are responsible for creating cellular energy out of glucose from your food. When more mitochondria are produced in the cells, you’re body is able to convert glucose into energy more effectively.

When it comes to energy, you might have thought of the human body as a battery. With a limited amount to expend throughout each day. In reality, the body is more like a chargeabale generator. It requires regular work and movement to replenish itself and produce the energy it needs.

The Long-Lasting Effects of Exercise

Let’s be honest, most people aren’t too focused on the science of exercise. They’re striving for tangible results—like improving strength, increasing stamina, or losing weight.

Regular exercise can lead to weight loss as your body burns stored fat cells to give your muscles the energy they need. It may also improve stamina as your heart and lungs become stronger to provide your body oxygen more efficiently. And a regular workout may build your  strength over time as you build muscle mass. Don’t be surprised if you feel and see whole-body benefits.

Be sure to reward yourself for small physical changes as they come. And enjoy your exercise routine as a pleasurable experience in and of itself. Let it bring you into the moment and connect your mind and body by slowing down and focusing on your breathing and heart. Your body will thank you.

no more scales

no more scales

In recent years, society has made a noticeable shift towards greater body positivity and body acceptance. People are encouraged to evaluate their health and wellness not based on weight or appearance, but rather on how they feel. After all, everybody—and every body—is different. And so, naturally, wellness looks a little different for everyone.

The same is true of fitness. And yet the rhetoric and practices surrounding personal fitness haven’t really caught on to this fact. Most people think of fitness in limited terms. A “fit” person, according to most, is someone who goes to the gym, someone who counts calories, someone who jogs five times a week. This version of fitness works for some people, but for others it can be discouraging. But here’s the truth: fitness looks a little bit different for everyone.

So if you’ve found yourself getting discouraged when it comes to reaching your fitness goals, it might be time to take a step back and redefine what fitness means to you.

Rethinking Fitness: Finding Your “Why”

If you’ve ever wanted to “get in shape” or improve your fitness, welcome to the club. It’s one of the most common goals people have for themselves. And one of the most poorly defined.

Far too many people think of fitness solely in terms of weight. “Getting in shape” means shedding a few pounds. Society seems to have this preconceived notion of what “fit” people look like and how much they weigh. But this is just one way of approaching and measuring your own fitness. The benefits of exercise are far-reaching, to say the least. And so there are dozens of ways to define fitness for yourself—and just as many ways to measure your progress towards that goal. So how do you choose which elements of health and wellness to focus on? That depends on your “why.”

Before setting fitness goals for yourself, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of why you want to improve your own fitness. Are you hoping to improve your stamina as you run errands and face the physical demands of day-to-day life? Are you training for a sporting event or season? Are you trying to shed a few pounds? Or are you hoping to just feel better? Your motivation could be anything, really, but only you can identify it.

Once you’ve identified why you want to improve your fitness, you can begin defining what that journey will look like for you. But more on that in the next section!

Defining Fitness for Yourself

A hardcore cyclist probably isn’t going to measure their fitness with timed swimming splits. And a long-distance runner probably won’t meticulously track how much they can bench press. You get the point: the guideposts on your fitness journey need to match your goal.

Here’s an example. If your goal is to improve your mental health—an often overlooked benefit of exercise—fitness might mean taking daily walks. As you pursue that fitness goal, you might keep a daily journal monitoring your mood, thoughts, and emotions. You’re probably not going to be focused on the distance of each walk, or your heart rate each time you go out. That information doesn’t help you measure your progress towards your own personal fitness—which, for you, is mental wellbeing from day-to-day.

Whatever version of fitness you choose to pursue, try to take a holistic approach. It’s good to set goals and measure your progress, but don’t let that get in the way of your feelings. At the end of the day, what good is fitness if you feel lousy? If you find that you are making yourself miserable in pursuit of fitness, that’s a good indicator that you need to take a step back and reevaluate: is the version of fitness you are chasing right for you? Or do you need to redefine fitness again?

3 Ways to Measure Physical Fitness Without a Scale

When it comes to redefining personal fitness, people often struggle to get away from the scale. It’s an understandable challenge. Weight gives you a single number that you can track over time, making it incredibly easy to set weight-related goals. But there are countless other aspects of physical fitness, many of which will more accurately reflect your fitness growth. Here are three areas of physical fitness you can track instead of weight:

  1. Aerobic fitness: Your body’s cardiovascular system (i.e. heart and blood vessels) carries oxygen to your muscles to help them, well, do what muscles do best: move. The better your aerobic fitness, the more efficiently your body can transport oxygen. One of the easiest ways to measure aerobic fitness is by monitoring your resting heart rate. Just like weight, this will give you a single number that you can track over time. For most adults, doctors consider a resting heart rate anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM) as normal or healthy. If you regularly perform aerobic exercise (running, swimming, anything that gets your heart rate up), you will likely notice your resting heart rate go down over time. This is a sign that oxygen is being delivered more efficiently!
  2. Muscular strength: If your goal is to improve your strength, you’re in luck. That’s one of the easiest aspects of physical fitness to measure and track. There are simple exercises you can perform at home—such as push ups and sit ups—to measure your physical strength and endurance. Or, if you’re a gym goer, you’ll likely notice your strength increasing in the exercises you perform there. This could mean getting an extra rep or two in, or being able to lift more weight in general.
  3. Flexibility: Though it’s often overlooked, flexibility plays a huge role in physical fitness. Your body’s ability to stretch and move without injury is vital for most forms of exercise. And what’s more, increased flexibility can increase your comfort performing daily tasks, whether it’s picking up a toddler or simply making your bed. There are hundreds of ways to measure your flexibility, but one of the most straightforward is the sit-and-reach. Simply sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and lean forward. As you stretch your arms towards your toes, take note of how far down your shin—or past your toes—you can reach.

Fitness and Frustration: Being Patient With Yourself

No matter how you define fitness for yourself, there will be ups and downs on your fitness journey. Some weeks you may stick to your routines better than others. There will almost certainly be times you come short of your goals. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Take these moments as learning opportunities, forgive yourself, and move on. That’s the great thing about fitness: it’s a process. And there’s always tomorrow to start again.

80% of North Americans don’t exercise enough each day, and it’s a growing problem in other continents as well. The recommended amount of exercise is about 20 minutes per day. When you exercise regularly, you may experience these health benefits:

  • Helps in weight management
  • Supports cardiovascular health
  • Helps the body manage blood sugar levels
  • Supports mental health and mood
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Improves the quality of sleep
  • Increases longevity

For all these reasons and more, many of us try to integrate exercise into our daily lifestyle. But it’s not easy to prioritize your health when life becomes hectic. Maybe it was an injury, a job change, a new baby, or something else that forced your workout routine to take a backseat. We’ve all been there. But if you’re reading this article, then you’ve probably been thinking about the best way to start again.

The good news is that there are many ways to get back in shape.

Workout Motivation Tips

Before you start, it’s important to think about why you fell out of the routine in the first place. Was it a lack of motivation? Were you setting the right goals? These are things you can control, even if your life is busy.

Some people make the mistake of setting the intensity of workouts way too high in the beginning. This can hurt motivation in the long run and make it difficult to maintain consistency. If that sounds like you, consider making your workouts lighter and fun in the beginning. Others might be motivated by more intensity (if it’s applied to the right training techniques) because it may produce results sooner.

Fitness accessories can be a motivating factor also. Rewarding yourself with a new pair of Bluetooth earbuds or gym shoes could make it easier to continue your workout routine when the initial excitement has worn off.

Whatever your needs and goals are, it’s important to design a program that works for you. It’s also a good idea to consult with your primary care physician before starting a new exercise program.

Now let’s take a closer look at a couple different approaches to getting back in shape.

Back to the Basics: Simple Workouts

Easing your way back to your fittest self is the best approach for most people that have been sedentary for a while. Especially if you’re coming off an injury or just had a baby. Or maybe you’re getting back in shape at 50 years old. There are many reasons why a safe, slow-paced return to fitness would be your priority.

Walking around your neighborhood is one of the easiest ways to start moving your body safely. You can walk for 10 minutes or less each day at first, and ultimately shoot for 20–30-minute brisk walks daily.

You can also try to do more active tasks at home throughout the day. This concept has been called High-Intensity Incidental Physical Activity (HIIPA). It includes any daily task that can be done at a high enough intensity to raise the heart and breathing rate.

Taking the stairs, carrying groceries, washing a car, or gardening are just a few examples of HIIPA. If you can find tasks that are above your current activity level, adding them to your routine is an easy way to improve your fitness.

Once you’re moving easier, adding bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, pushups, and crunches is a great next step. These can all be done at home without any equipment.

You’ll want to add in some short bursts of cardio too. Jumping jacks and burpees are great options for cardio at home. You can even try linking these different exercises into a back-to-back circuit to get your heart rate up. A circuit workout might look something like this:

  • 15 Squat Jumps – Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and lower into a squat position. Jump straight up and return to the squat position.
  • 15 Push-ups – Position yourself down on all fours. Then straighten your arms and legs. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor, then push yourself back up.
  • 15 Burpees – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lower into a squat position, and then the push up position by kicking your feet back and placing your hands on the ground. Jump up and return to the standing position.
  • 1 min Plank – Get down on all fours. Straighten your arms and legs. Hold the position.
  • 1 min Wall sit – Lower yourself into a squat position with your back against a wall. Hold the position.

Rest about 20 seconds in between each exercise and repeat the circuit 2-3 times.

With daily walking, bodyweight training and short bursts of cardio, you’ll easily hit 20 minutes of exercise a day. But you might want to elevate your workout routine after a few weeks.

Intermediate Training Tips

This would be a good time to start an endurance sport like running. Look up a 5k or 10k race in your city and sign up! You could also sign up for a local soccer club or join a hiking group. There are many ways to switch things up and increase your endurance.

If you want to try strength-training for the first time, find a gym and consider working with a certified personal trainer in the beginning. They’ll help you learn the correct form for various exercises. If you do have strength-training experience, remember these tips when starting again:

  • Always warm up with about 5 minutes of aerobic activity
  • Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups are the most important
  • In the first few weeks do 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions with a weight that feels relatively light, until you’ve perfected your form
  • Limit your workouts to just a few compound exercises in the beginning
  • Use a spotter when performing free-weight exercises

As you gain strength and experience you can add accessory exercises that isolate different muscles. You can also begin increasing the weight that you’re lifting. As you gain strength, you’ll perform less repetitions of heavier weight.

How to Get in Shape Fast

Has anyone ever told you there are no shortcuts to success? That’s not entirely true in fitness. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown to get you in shape faster than other training methods.

The basic idea is that you’re “sprinting” or going as fast as you can for a short period of time followed by a period of rest or easy movement. Then you repeat this cycle 4-6 times.

HIIT may sound intimidating, but there’s room for quite a bit of variation in intensity. It can also be done with any kind of aerobic exercise. Running, stair climbing, rowing—you name it.

Let’s say you’re a cyclist training on a spin bike. Your HIIT session could start with 30 seconds of all-out pedaling, followed by slow pedaling for one minute. Repeated 5 times. Incorporating HIIT into your training can seriously improve your fitness in just a few minutes.

Benefits of HIIT:

  • Burns a significant amount of calories
  • Increases metabolic rate
  • Improves oxygen consumption
  • Improves aerobic and anaerobic performance
  • Produces similar benefits as 2x the amount of moderate exercise

While HIIT training is largely focused on aerobic conditioning. There are also ways to use it in weightlifting. Choose compound movements, shorten your rest time, and incorporate some cardio bursts to combine HIIT and strength.

It’s Never Too Late to Get Back in Shape

You gain all sorts of physiological benefits from exercise—that much is clear. But there are also changes on a genetic level. Over 3,000 genes are expressed differently in the muscles of people that exercise compared to sedentary muscles. A study published in PLOS Genetics measured the impact of training on these genetic changes.

The researchers trained one leg of each study participant, using a leg extension machine for three months. The other leg remained untrained. Then the participants took a 9 month break from training. When they resumed training, both legs were trained equally, and final biopsies were taken.

The results showed that the leg that had been trained 9 months earlier looked virtually the same as the newly trained leg.

The authors analyzed the results a couple different ways. It’s clear exercise spurs healthy genetic changes, and you must exercise consistently to sustain those benefits. But they also suggest that sedentary people stand to gain the same benefits from exercise as anyone that’s already been training consistently.

Whether you’ve been out of the gym for six months or ten years, it’s never too late to get back in shape and build consistent healthy habits!

You’re probably already familiar with many of the oft-cited benefits of exercise. It’s good for your heart, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, it’s good for your lungs, and the list goes on. It seems as though scientists are constantly uncovering new ways exercise can help you keep your body healthy and happy.

Detoxing and cleanses are hot topics in healthy living. And, naturally, people have started to explore the ties between exercise and the body’s detox processes. There’s a lot of information kicking around the internet on the subject. You may have encountered some already. A portion of this information is rooted in credible, scientific research, but a lot of it comes from less-credible sources.

The trick is sorting the facts from the fiction. That’s where the advice below comes in. Keep reading to learn all about the role exercise plays—and doesn’t play—in your body’s detox processes.

What is Detoxing Anyway? Learn the Basics

Detoxing was initially very specific, only talking about removing drugs, alcohol, or poison. In recent years, however, the term has been extended to the removal of any toxins from the body—whether they’re alcohol, chemicals, or bodily waste.

Through the combined effort of your liver, kidneys, and intestines, your body removes toxins from itself every day of your life. These processes are natural, and, for the most part, there’s not much you can do to change them.

Most detox tips and tricks are based on the idea that your body needs a little extra push to fully remove toxins. There’s a lot of pseudoscience out there, so be sure to complete your due diligence. (More on that here!)

The Science Behind the Role of Exercise in Detox

Where cardio, weight lifting, or any of your other favorite workouts fit into the detox picture depends on who you ask.

Some exercise routines are touted as detox workouts—meaning they somehow facilitate the better or more efficient removal of toxins from your body. Others claim that as you work up a sweat, you release toxins out through your pores.

The science behind these claims is shaky.

But here’s what science does tell us: exercise can help your body detox—by helping maintain liver and kidney health. It’s all about taking care of your body’s natural defenses and processes.

Exercise also has a positive impact on one of your body’s other defenses against toxins: the lymphatic system. The two parts of this important system are lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. Together, they send lymph fluid—which helps you maintain healthy immunity and helps protect you from other harmful substances—throughout your body. Regular exercise has been shown to help increase the body’s circulation of lymph fluid, helping you flush out toxins and bacteria more effectively.

A Fun Fact About the Lungs and Detox

With every breath, your lungs help detox your body by expelling carbon dioxide. This gas is a toxic byproduct of energy metabolism. So the more you exercise, the more carbon dioxide your lungs have to remove.

Don’t worry though, regular exercise (and not smoking) is one of the most important things you can do to optimize the strength, efficiency, and overall health of your lungs. The work they go through to pull in extra oxygen and expel carbon dioxide during exercise will only help you in the long run.

Can You Sweat Out Toxins?

If you’ve ever exercised, you’ve worked up a sweat. Heck, even if you’ve never exercised, you’ve probably been uncomfortably sweaty at some point. It happens. Sweat is one of your body’s primary temperature regulation mechanisms. If your body feels itself overheating, it releases sweat to cool you back down.

But what if sweat did more? What if your body’s cooling system also helped purge your system of toxins? It’s an appealing idea and seems plausible enough. But unfortunately, it is mostly wishful thinking.

Although there are a few studies that suggest sweat may contain heavy metals and other toxins, the general consensus is that sweating does what it is meant to, i.e. cools your body, and not much else.

At the end of the day, your sweat is mostly water with a little bit of salt.

The Key to Detox is a Happy Liver and Exercise Can Help

Sweating might not be a detox mechanism, but don’t write off exercise just yet. There are a number of other ways a good workout can help your body take care of toxins. And chief among these is keeping your liver healthy.

Your liver is like a pool filter—it sifts the bad from the good. Then it breaks down and disposes of the unwanted debris. Sure, this is a simplification of the process, but it gets the point across. The liver is the single most important piece of your body’s detoxing puzzle.

Here’s another fact about the liver: it works hard. And it works a lot. You can make your liver’s job easier by drinking in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy. But it will naturally experience some wear and tear. This often takes the form of fat build up in the liver. (Fat build up isn’t an immediate health risk, but can lead to scarring of the liver known as fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis.)

This is where exercise comes into play.

In a study of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—a health condition commonly associated with obesity—regular exercise was shown to reduce the amount of fat on the liver. This held true for aerobic exercise (jogging, biking, etc.) and resistance training (weight lifting, body weight exercises, etc.). Additionally, patients saw a reduction in liver fat regardless of weight loss.

So what does this mean? Put simply, any exercise routine you choose will help keep your liver healthy—so long as you’re doing it regularly. It doesn’t matter if you choose Pilates, cycling, swimming, or free-weight training. And even if you’re not losing weight, your liver is still being supported.

What About the Kidneys and Exercise?

The liver does a lot of your body’s detoxing legwork, but it’s not a one-organ show. Your kidneys are also involved in the process—especially when it comes to filtering liquids. As blood flows from your liver to the kidneys, your other important detox organs remove urea and other waste from the blood. These waste products are then expelled from your body via urine.

It’s natural for your kidneys to be impacted as you age, just like any other part of your body. And like the rest of your body, the better you care for yourself and your health, the healthier your kidneys will stay.

Just like the liver, your kidneys are affected by your lifestyle choices. The harder you make them work, the quicker they will be negatively impacted. On the flip side, some studies have linked regular exercise to healthier kidneys. So in other words, the more you exercise, the longer you can keep your kidneys working at their best.

The Role of Exercise in Mental Detoxing

One form of detoxification that is often overlooked is mental detox. Over the course of the day, you encounter countless stressors—some bigger than others. And these stressors can pile up from day to day, adding to your baseline level of stress and anxiety.

People cope with stress in a variety of ways, but one of the most common forms of mental detox is exercise. While you are active, your body naturally releases chemicals called endorphins that relieve stress and elevate your mood. (If you’ve ever heard the phrase “runner’s high,” this is what’s being described.)

These endorphins, combined with the sense of accomplishment that often accompanies exercise, can help dispel stress, giving you a mental detox.

Start Actively Supporting Your Body’s Natural Defenses Against Toxins

At the end of the day, there’s never a quick fix for detoxing your body. There’s no miracle workout that will help rid your system of toxins. No amount of sweating will keep your body free of unwanted substances. (But all that exercise might dehydrate you, so be sure to drink plenty of water!)

Although no quick fix exists, there is a simple one: exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. This tried-and-true approach will help keep your body’s natural toxic defenders—your kidneys and liver—working smoothly.

Exercise changes your body in many ways, some of which you can see in the mirror. The number on the scale may shift a bit and your clothes may start to fit better with each mile (or kilometer) you walk, jog, or swim. These scale and non-scale victories might be how you measure the success of your exercise routine, but have you ever considered the cellular benefits of exercise?

Your cells are the starting point for all the changes that regular exercise can bring. And there are many cellular benefits of exercise that can lead to full-body transformations. Cardiovascular and strength training exercises affect cells throughout your body. From your heart and brain to the white blood cells of your immune system, your cellular health is optimized when you exercise.

Cardio: It’s Not Just for Your Heart

Classic cardiovascular exercises send blood pumping and elevate your heart rate. You might add cardio to your training to build your stamina and endurance. But you’ll be doing more than that. Cardio can be a cellular health exercise, too.

Several cell types respond to cardiovascular exercise (cardiac cells included). Cellular health is supported by the quick, heart-pounding movements of cardio. Check out how cells all over your body respond to this fast-paced form of exercise:

Cardiac Cells

Let’s start with the cells closest to the action of cardio exercise. Cardiac make up your heart tissue. Your heart is essentially a super muscle, with an impressive compression force that pushes blood out to your entire body.

The muscle cells in your heart are highly specialized, and they don’t regenerate nearly as often as the other cells in your body (only about one percent of heart cells renew themselves every year). But there is a way to support cardiac cells and optimize their regeneration—exercise, cardio to be exact.

A 2018 study of mice helped scientists draw a link between cardio exercise and heart cell growth. Mice are frequently used as model organisms for human biology research. Mouse biology is very close to human biology and their genes work in many of the same ways human genes do.

Researchers found that mice with access to a treadmill in their enclosures chose to run approximately five kilometers every day. Their heart health was monitored and the scientists administering the experiment used DNA markers to track the growth of cardiac cells.

The results were spectacular, and favorable for the mice that had access to a treadmill. Mice who exercised made more than four times the number of new cardiac cells than their non-exercising counterparts.

This study helped cement the cellular benefits of exercise for your heart cells. So, if you have access to a treadmill (or a pair of running shoes and the open road) try putting in a few miles (or kilometers) the next time you want to focus on cellular health exercise.

Brain Cells

Anecdotally, many people believe you can train your brain like any other muscle in your body. It’s not a completely accurate statement since there are no muscle fibers in your brain. But if the goal of brain training is to strengthen the connections between neurons and build new neural networks, then exercise can definitely help whip your brain cells into shape.

Neurons, like muscle cells, can change as you exercise. Increased blood flow to the brain during exercise creates an oxygen-rich environment that your neurons thrive in. Extra oxygen and the release of neurotransmitters during exercise foster the growth of brain cells and the development of new neural pathways. You need these new neuronal connections to keep your brain “flexible” and to support your ability to learn new skills and make memories.

So, in a way, cardio exercises actually work out your brain, too. Movements that ramp up your heart rate are simultaneously stimulating your brain cells to grow and create new connections. Brain cells respond to heart-pumping exercise much like your large muscle groups respond to strength training—they grow!

Immune Cells

If you’re looking to mobilize the cells of your immune system, try to crank out a sweat session a couple times per week. Your white blood cells (WBCs) respond to exercise by increasing their circulation in the bloodstream. More WBCs in circulation means your immune system is primed and ready to take on germs that dare make an appearance.

The effects of exercise on immunity are well documented. You temporarily initiate your body’s immune response when you exercise. This allows your body to keep joint aches and soreness to a minimum after you work out.

With regular exercise you’ll experience a slight uptick in the number of WBCs that enter your bloodstream and stay in circulation. As a result, people who exercise regularly have been shown to experience fewer seasonal bugs and colds.

This phenomenon occurs only when regular, moderate exercise is performed. Consistent days of high-intensity exercise can trigger the opposite response from immune cells. “Overtraining syndrome” is the decline in immune performance that some ultra-marathoners and triathletes experience during training. Long periods of high-intensity exercises can put your body in a constant state of stress, actually hampering your immunity.

To hit the sweet spot of immune cell support, exercise moderately and consistently. A good way to identify what moderate exercise means for you is to gauge your breathing effort during your workouts. Try to aim for 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (you can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 beats per minute). That’ll keep you in the zone for cellular health and help you stay out of range of potentially damaging exercise intensity.

Telomeres (All Cells)

Cardiovascular movement influences the health of cells more generally, too. That’s the case when it comes to the telomeres that cap the ends of each cells’ chromosomes.

Chromosomes store all the DNA cells need to replicate (make copies of themselves). These chromosomes are used over and over again for multiple replication cycles. Telomeres are repeating segments of DNA that reside at the ends of each chromosome. These telomeres act as buffers to protect the chromosome from incorrect DNA replication.

Over time, telomeres start to shrink as more copies of each chromosome are made. Shortened telomeres lead to cellular aging and eventual death. So, it’s important to preserve the length of telomeres for as long as possible.

That’s where cardiovascular exercise comes into play. Regular cardio can slow the shortening of telomeres and moderate cellular aging. This is because cardiovascular exercise can affect the level of telomere-preserving enzymes in the cell.

The enzyme that protects telomeres from shortening is called telomerase. Exercise has been shown to elevate the amount of telomerase present in cells. And more available telomerase means telomeres are safeguarded from premature shortening.

Telomeres are at the center of the study of aging. While their role in general health and old age is not clear, one thing is certain. Exercise is great for keeping telomere caps from shrinking too soon and can positively affect the health of each of your cells.

More Cellular Health Exercises—Strength Training

Jogging through the neighborhood or riding a stationary bike exercise your cardiovascular system. But another method of exercise involves slower, more concentrated movements. It’s called strength training. Your heart rate won’t climb as high with strength training, but this form of exercise provides many benefits to your muscle cells.

Muscle Cells

Strength training in a gym setting often focuses on entire muscle groups, but the real effect of resistance exercises on muscles can be found at the cellular level. The cellular benefits of exercise for muscle cells begin rather uniquely. Injury to muscle cells during strength training is the launching point for these cellular benefits.

The cells that make up your larger muscle groups are injured (ever so slightly) when you strength train. Resistance exercises—like planks, push-ups, and squats—all create microscopic injuries to individual muscle cells. To repair themselves, muscle cells need to recruit the help of neighboring satellite cells.

Muscle fibers are surrounded by cells waiting to be called up to active duty when muscles are injured. These satellite cells fuse with injured muscle fibers and donate their organelles to help strengthen the muscle cell. Organelles from satellite cells—like mitochondria and nuclei—are valuable additions to muscle fibers. These organelles allow muscle cells to produce more energy and force during contraction.

Without exercise to trigger these micro-injuries, your muscles would never grow and strengthen in this way. Strength training is an important component of any exercise routine because it plays such a critical role in the health and growth of muscle cells.

Reap the Cellular Benefits of Exercise

Noticeable changes in your body and overall health are the reward of exercising regularly. And below the surface of it all, your cells thrive when you exercise. Think of the trillions of cells that make up your body when you are prepping for your next workout.

Shifting the focus of your workouts to the cellular level can help you appreciate how important your efforts are to even the smallest components of your body. Keep up the cardio and add in strength training so every cell in your body can experience the cellular benefits of exercise.

A lot of the information you find on weight management carries the same scientific heft as the blank pages you’d waste printing it out. The Internet wasn’t where weight myths started, though—not by a long shot. But weight-related misconceptions flourish in the fertile ground of today’s online ecosystem.

Physical and lifestyle realities make modern-day weight-management efforts hard enough. Add in the mountain of weight misinformation burying people’s best efforts, and you have a Herculean task.

But you can manage your weight to live a healthy, happy life. It starts with knowing fact from fiction. Clearing up six of the most pervasive weight myths is a good start. Read on to see which weight-related misconceptions you can toss aside to lighten the load of advice for staying healthy.

The Scale Says It All—Body Weight is Key to Your Health

It’s correct to connect higher-than-normal body weight with a broad range of undesirable health impacts. This is especially true when the added heft comes from accumulated body fat.

And body composition is certainly an element to consider when stepping on the scale. You’ve heard that muscle weights more than fat, which is true. Same goes for bone and water, too. So, that number on the scale doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

Weight alone is a consideration, but your body composition is an important factor in evaluating what that scale number means for your health. Instead of buying this weight myth, put context around the measurements you’re doing. Also know that your body weight is only one piece of a big, complex health puzzle.

BMI is an Essential, Accurate Measurement

Body Mass Index (BMI) is somewhat useful in evaluating where you fall on the spectrum of healthy, overweight, and obese. But calling it a standard-bearing measurement, without realizing BMI’s shortcomings, spins this statement into a popular weight-related misconception. And one that can create unnecessary negative pressure on many people.

The simplicity of BMI—putting your height and weight into an equation that reveals your number—makes it a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, weight is an issue that’s highly personalized and incredibly variable. Here are two ways BMI’s oversimplification make its elevated importance a weight myth:

  1. Body composition isn’t considered. How much fat you have compared to muscle, bone, and water is—as you read about with the last weight-related misconception—essential context when discussing weight.
  2. The approach sidelines important demographic information like sex, race, ethnicity, and age.

Waist measurements (especially when related to height) are better, more accurate indicators of health risks related to body weight. It’s time you move on from relying solely on BMI—an outdated and inaccurate measurement—to make health decisions.

High Body Weight Signals Inactivity and Lack of Athletic Ability

This weight-related misconception is a common and painful bias that springs from bad information. Since many looking to lose weight turn to exercise, there’s a harmful conflation of physical activity and body weight.

As weight myths go, this one is particularly hurtful for those stereotyped by the way their bodies look. Just because someone looks to be carrying around a few extra pounds doesn’t mean they’re lazy or lack athletic ability.

How do you fight this weight-related misconception? Remember the most important statement: Bodies of all shapes and sizes can be—and frequently are—healthy.

Exercise Saves You from Bad Dietary Decisions

You may have read about the distance you need to run to burn off a big meal. They’re shocking numbers that underline why diet and exercise are talked about in combination.

Your bad dietary decisions will follow you to the gym—and likely long after. You can burn the calories you take in if you have the time to do it. However, this idea is best considered a weight myth because it’s not possible for almost anyone to balance out a bad diet with enormous amounts of exercise.

The truth is a successful weight-management plan needs to include a healthy diet AND consistent body movement.

Skinny Always Means Healthy and Being Thin is Ideal

Thin is always in when it comes fashion or pop culture. But a skinny body signaling ideal health is a major weight myth.

Staying fit and maintaining a healthy weight are beneficial to your health—as you’ve read so many times. But fretting over clothing sizes and wanting a thin image reflected in the mirror aren’t as important. Actually, a skinny silhouette can hide a bevy of issues, including the accumulation of harmful visceral fat.

This is one of the most damaging weight-related misconceptions. That’s because the unreal, unhealthy expectations set by “thin is ideal” images are—despite body-positive progress—still too prevalent.

Some body types don’t allow for anyone to meet these false ideals—no matter how hard a person tries. And the quest to look skinny is frequently very harmful for the physical and mental health of children and adults alike.

Instead, focus on what feels right for your body and your health goals. Eat healthy. Move your body. Sleep plenty. And always keep in mind that bodies are healthy and attractive in different sizes and shapes that may not match pop culture’s obsession with skinny.

Eating Fat Makes You Gain Fat Tissue

If you understand anything about how digestion breaks down dietary nutrients, you know this is an easily debunked weight myth.

Your digestive system does too much work, and your food goes through too much transformation, for the dietary fat you eat to turn straight into fat tissue. Sure, your body can store energy that was originally fat in adipose tissue (a fancy term for fat). But there’s no guarantee fat in means fat stored.

Skipping fried foods or fat-rich, nutrient-poor dishes are good ideas. But it’s worse to avoid eating fat at all—especially beneficial, plant-based options. Loading up on a balanced diet with plenty of plants is more effective for health and weight management.

Don’t Let Weight Myths Determine Your Health Journey

There’s always new, attention-grabbing content waiting when you want to read about weight. That doesn’t mean you have to buy into the weight-related misconceptions out there.

The basics of foundational health—a balanced diet, active living, minimal stress, solid hydration, and good sleep—are typically also beneficial for managing your weight. Everything else that offers a one-size-fits-all solution should raise a red flag about the advice or information possibly pushing a weight myth.

Avoid tripping yourself up with weight-related misconceptions by focusing on the basics and remembering that all bodies can be healthy, happy bodies.

When you think about it, brains are strange. They keeping your organs working and monitor the environment for danger. Basically, it keeps you alive. Yet the brain is also able to randomly pop up the lyrics to decades-old one-hit wonders. You can crack some of the mysteries of the brain by understanding the basics of neuroscience. But interesting brain-body connections still bring up tantalizing questions.

You’ve come to the right place to find your answers about how the brain and body work together. The six fascinating questions explored below help provide enhanced perspective about the brain-body connection.

Is the Brain Involved in Every Single Process and Function of My Body?

The short answer is yes. You would think your brain needs to delegate sometimes. But the brain monitors and reacts to changes everywhere in your body—and in your environment.

That doesn’t mean you’re conscious of all that’s going on.

Paying attention to every little function of the body would drive you insane. That’s why many functions are basically automated—especially those that keep you alive. It’s the reason you don’t have to think about moving your food through the digestive system, regulating blood flow, or consciously convert light into images.

So your brain is involved in everything, but thankfully, your conscious attention isn’t always needed.

Does the Brain Communicate Directly with the Whole Body?

The answer depends on what you consider direct communication. Your brain isn’t hopping on the body’s loud speaker to announce a wound cleanup on the finger you just cut on a piece of paper.

But the brain-body connection is built on solid two-way communication.

Your nervous system is responsible for relaying many of these messages. These nerve pathways allow probably the most traditionally direct communication—like the special connection of the gut-brain axis.

Your brain also uses chemical messengers. This can be done through the release of neurotransmitters or hormones—depending on the desired result.

Your stress response is a good example. Your brain senses stress and triggers the proper glands to release stress hormones like cortisol. These messengers tell the body to prepare for fight or flight—ramping up the physical sensations of stress you experience.

The methods may not be as direct and simple as anyone—especially those studying the brain-body connection—might like. But the communication methods are effective, which helps maintain health and happiness.

Are Parts of the Body Assigned Their Own Space in the Brain?

Your brain doesn’t have a Department of Bones or a Ministry of Arm Muscles. But different areas of the brain do specialize in certain functions.

Here’s how it breaks down (in alphabetical, not anatomical, order):

  • Brain Stem: Your brain’s connection to the spinal cord is a hub for information and nerves throughout your head and body. It also contains the medulla oblongata, which participates in keeping your heart and lungs working properly.
  • Cerebellum: Thank this part of your brain for any sports success you’ve had. Movement, fine motor skills, and balance are the responsibility of the cerebellum.
  • Diencephalon: It contains the thalamus, epithalamus, and hypothalamus. Together, they’re involved in how you feel emotionally, how you sleep, what you remember, how you behave, and how your body maintains the status quo of homeostasis.
  • Frontal Lobes: The front part of your brain helps you pay attention, strategize, judge, and solve problems. It also plays a role in your motor skills.
  • Occipital Lobes: You’re reading this thanks to this area’s ties to vision.
  • Parietal Lobes: Coordinating and making sense of information from your senses happens here.
  • Temporal Lobes: This area helps you recognize people’s faces and emotions. It’s also a primary reason you can learn spoken languages.

Parts of the Immune System are Found Throughout the Body. Is the Brain Really Commanding all Those Immune Cells?

Your immune system is often described as an army patrolling the borders of your body. In that scenario, you may mistake the brain for their commanding officer. But the relationship isn’t s a strict chain of command.

It’s much more of a collaborative effort, with plenty of communication pathways between the brain and immune system. Your nervous system connects directly to the thymus and bone marrow where cells are produced, as well as the lymphatic system. The cells on the front line of immunity also have receptors for brain messages. And they signal the brain with cytokines.

What you have is a complex dance of sensing, communicating, and reacting that results in immune protection. Your brain and immune cells are perfectly paired because they’re programmed to respond to changes in your body and environment. So it make sense they work together to keep you feeling your best.

Does the Blood-Brain Barrier Interrupt Brain-Body Connection?

It does, but selectively so. The blood-brain barrier protects your central processing center from unsavory items circulating in your blood.

This is accomplished by clamping down the space between the endothelial cells lining blood-vessel walls. Larger molecules—especially toxins and pathogens—can’t pass. Oxygen, fuel, and other important molecules make it through. Cellular communication and an array of transport proteins also allow some flexibility for what can cross the barrier.

That means your brain has a way to protect itself from everything in the body. But this barrier doesn’t typically stop the normal processes of your brain-body connection.

Mind Over Matter is a Popular Mantra During Exercise. But is Your Brain Really Able to Overcome Physical Factors to Push You During Exercise?

Your heart pounds, a deep breath escapes you, and your muscles are gelatin. But a couple of minutes remain in your workout. Your body feels done. Your brain is helping you push through.

That’s because your body sends signals, and your brain decides how to interpret them. Your motivation and mindset come into play. Your experiences building resilience and endurance also determine how far your brain will let you push your body.

There is a point where you must stop. Your brain’s main concern is survival, and you do have physical limits. Reach a point where survival is threatened or you have too much lactic acid in your muscles to keep running, you won’t be able to push through that wall. But your brain does make it possible to go harder and further than you might think.

There’s little debate that exercise plays a powerful role in a happy, healthy life. Regular physical activity helps to build strong muscles, improve your cardiovascular and metabolic systems, shape your physique, and even extend your health. Physically, most people feel better when they regularly exercise. But it doesn’t stop there. The psychology of exercising and enjoying physical activities that boost mood can be just as beneficial to overall health. It’s time you explored the emotional benefits of exercise.

Move for Your Mental Health

Shaping mental health looks different for everyone. Increasing positive feelings to help elevate your energy, give you confidence, boost your mood, and enhance your ability to cope with life’s daily stressors is a great place to start. Your mental health influences your cognition, behavior, and emotional well-being—how you think, act, and feel—at any moment. A crucial part of overall health is gaining more control over how you experience the ups and downs of everyday life.

The benefits of exercise on mental health are powerful. In fact, research suggests that exercise can be as effective as other remedies in maintaining a healthy mental state. This happens by supporting the growth of nerve cells and optimizing their connections within the brain—not simply because it helps tone your physique and improve your self-confidence. A lifestyle shift to try activities that boost mood and bolster your mental health can be a fun way to reap the rewards of reduced stress and a resilient mindset.

The psychology of exercising gives insight into what motivates you to get up and move and how to fit regular activity into your day. If you’re already a habitual exerciser, you’re probably familiar with one of the most common reasons exercise can be so fun—it just feels good. That’s you experiencing the emotional benefits of exercise. But, what’s behind that euphoric feeling that floods your body after a long run and helps you bounce back after a tough day?

Physical Activity and Brain Chemistry

As an infant, you were loved and adored by parents and family members. Being doted on by your primary caregivers flooded your brain with positive neurotransmitters—a powerful, happy combination of chemicals that helped give you feelings of safety, love, and pleasure through responsive interactions.

As you grow and develop, you carry this same innate need for positive feelings of well-being. And though physical activity may not exactly mimic the soothing feeling of receiving love from a parent, the emotional benefits of exercise produce some of the same combinations of chemicals—poignant tools for living a full and balanced life.

The crucial interplay of communication between your brain and body is a result of neurotransmitters and their essential role as messengers. They create a link to your nervous system tied to your emotions, motivation and drive, pain response, focus, energy levels, and your ability to tap into the positive aspects of the human experience. Common neurotransmitters that play a role in exercise and mood for greater mental health include:

  • Serotonin is a messenger that impacts your entire body. As an important regulator of mood and cognition, it’s responsible for creating an overall feeling of well-being and happiness. It also reboots your brain while you sleep and affects digestion.
  • Dopamine is your primary motivation chemical. It helps to promote ambition, drive, and attention. Plus, it assists to regulate important responses like movement and learning, as well as impacts your emotional state. Maintaining basic self-care, including daily exercise, is the most efficient way to ensure optimum dopamine levels.
  • Norepinephrine is associated with the fight-or-flight response when your body senses danger. It helps you react to stress and exercise by increasing heart rate and plays a role in breaking down fat to provide energy for your body.

Digging Deeper into Exercise’s Feel-Good Factor

If you’ve ever been motivated to hit the gym simply because it feels good—there’s a great explanation why. Hint: it’s not just the flood of endorphins common with this exhilarating feeling. Endocannabinoids (produced naturally in the body) are chemical compounds that are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier to bind to neural receptors. They are actually responsible for the rush you feel after a great work out.

Aerobic exercise increases the production of several neurotropic factors—growth factors of the nervous tissue. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is among them, playing a central role in protecting existing neurons and stimulating the growth of new ones (a process called neurogenesis). BDNF actually helps you grow new brain cells. The more BDNF you have, the more you support the growth and development of your nervous system.

During exercise, BDNF is produced and works with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body to effectively block pain and create that feeling of bliss commonly known as a runner’s high. The presence of new neurons gives you an increased level of responsiveness to be more in touch with your experience. And the unique protective ability of BDNF makes your existing brain cells more resilient and less affected by stress on the body. Stress from regular exercise causes a chain reaction that feels good, helps make you more resilient to feelings of stress and anxiety, and actually helps you bounce back from the outside stressors of life faster than before.

BDNF also boosts serotonin production. And it’s reciprocal—higher levels of serotonin stimulate BDNF expression—creating a dynamic cycle that ignites feel-good senses from physical activity alone.

The Mental and Emotional Benefits of Exercise

It’s true, exercise helps to stimulate your mood on a chemical level, but the mental and emotional benefits of exercise also transform your day-to-day mindset. Whether you have a set fitness routine, are a seasoned weekend warrior, or want to experience the positive impact of daily exercise, you may recognize these benefits as you increase your physical activity.

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Easier weight management
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Pride in accomplishments
  • Improved body image perception
  • Enhanced ability to cope with stress
  • Stronger interpersonal relationships
  • Increased mental alertness

These practical benefits of exercise can increase your satisfaction, gratitude, and connection—all major mental-health wins.

Go the Distance with Aerobic Activities that Boost Mood

If you haven’t adopted a favorite aerobic activity, it’s a good time to try something new. Any form of exercise helps to overcome feelings of anxiety and increase well-being, but research shows the best activities that boost mood kick your heart rate up a bit. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise creates more robust and longer-lasting changes to your neurobiology. That’s right—revving up the treadmill speed can enhance your ability to cope with challenging situations.

  • Moderate intensity exercise—50-60 percent of your max heart rate (find your max by subtracting your age from 220)
  • Vigorous intensity exercise—70-85 percent of your max heart rate

Add intensity slowly, if necessary. Carry a backpack on your hikes, set goals to swim a faster lap, take fewer breaks between sets in the gym—anything to increase your heart rate as you become more physically fit. Achieving your personal exercise goals is an unbeatable investment in your well-being.

Keep the Momentum

A healthy habit of regular exercise creates ongoing, mood-boosting effects to build your momentum and tackle your fitness goals. If the first step to fitness seems difficult, try these motivational tips to mentally prepare for your next sweat session.

  • Action precedes motivation. Don’t wait until you feel like exercising—just do it. Schedule your workouts ahead of time, set out your gear, and don’t think too much, just start moving.
  • Be mindful of screen time during exercise. Engaging on social media or checking your phone constantly forces you to multitask during your workouts. You may become overwhelmed or distracted and lose your intensity and drive to continue.
  • Recruit a friend. Working out with a buddy enhances social connection, can push you to strive for greater intensity, and makes you accountable for your goals. Plus, a shared fitness goal is great motivation.
  • Make your workout fun! Finding the right type of exercise is a must. Try new activates and workouts, and switch up your routine to keep you motivated. The more engaged you are in your workout, the more likely you’ll be to show up day after day.

If you’re looking to improve your overall health and find a natural way to cope with daily stress, find some activities that your boost mood. Positive emotional benefits of exercise await on the other side of an intense bike ride, a long run, a night of dancing, or a competitive tennis match. Make your move toward better mental health today.

Dieting fills your thoughts with food—what you can eat, and, especially, what you can’t. It can also be exhausting and detrimental to your health and weight-management goals. Intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating helps shift your mind from asking “what can I eat” to “when is it best for me to eat.”

The transition is more than dislocating one issue and entrenching another. Focusing your feeding to specific times and incorporating measured intervals of fasting has shown benefits for weight and overall health. This has turned intermittent fasting (sometimes abbreviated IF) into a topic that keeps growing in popularity—from the health-conscious to the general public.

It’s time to go beyond the buzz to explore what this unique approach to eating is, has to offer, and how to start intermittent fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Proponents of the IF way of life say it’s a silver bullet for a whole host of health goals, while detractors dismiss the approach as just the latest fad—or worse, a “starvation diet.”

The concept of intermittent fasting itself is quite simple: consume food within a limited number of hours—also known as your “feeding window”—and abstain from eating and drinking most beverages during the other hours of the day.

IF has several eating schedules—you’ll dive into those later. You can even call it “time-restricted eating”—shifting focus to the eating part of the equation. No matter the name or schedule, the underlying philosophy of feast/fast cycles provides benefits, as well as a contrast to average diet types.

Is Intermittent Fasting Just Another Diet?

Not only is intermittent fasting not a fad diet, it’s not even really a diet. It doesn’t contain a prescribed list of foods to avoid or eat. Instead, the concept of periodic fasting is closer to a shift in lifestyle. And it’s been around for a long time. Human history is stuffed with examples of cycles of feasting and fast. The reason it seems strange or fad-like is that IF sidesteps common weight-loss maxims.

If you’ve ever struggled even slightly with your weight, you’ve likely heard some version of the idiom, “eat less and move more.” It’s understandable to think this logic makes perfect sense—burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight. It’s the simple math of calorie balance that makes weight-management seem easy. But for most the simplicity and ease turns out to be mostly theoretical.

The human body is complex, and recent research shows that calorie consumption is only one factor at play when it comes to weight loss or gain. What else is there then? Every function in the human body is controlled by hormones. And a key hormone that influences weight gain is insulin.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

The pancreas’ most powerful hormone—insulin—increases in your body whenever you eat. Insulin stimulates the absorption of glucose into muscle, fat, and liver cells. The cells either use this glucose for energy or it is converted to fat for long-term storage. This fact isn’t necessarily bad—having energy storage for lean times is necessary for human survival.

The inverse is also true of insulin: when you aren’t eating, blood glucose levels remain lower and levels of the hormone drop. This sparks your body to burn more stored fat as fuel when your body demands energy. And for those looking to lose weight, burning fat is a goal and a very good thing.

Obese people typically have higher insulin levels than folks within normal weight ranges. This is usually because their bodies are less sensitive to insulin, so it takes more insulin to get the same effect in the body.

Exercise has long been the go-to method for increasing insulin sensitivity, and in turn reducing levels of the hormone in the body. Research has also shown that intermittent fasting is another tool you can use to reduce insulin resistance.

Most traditional diets only take aim at improving what you eat or restricting calories, but without also addressing when you eat and how often you eat has its own benefits. Intermittent fasting helps lower your persistent insulin levels. This encourages your body to turn its stored fat into energy after burning through the sugars the body usually uses as fuel.

Along with rebuilding your body’s healthy response to insulin, intermittent fasting also helps you limit calories. That’s the basis of all weight-loss techniques. And intermittent fasting is another solution to help you burn more calories than you take in.

Experience the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

If skipping a meal sounds hard, there’s plenty to help you push through. Here are some of the wide-ranging health benefits that can help propel you through the occasional cravings:

  1. Weight Loss: This the primary goal of many intermittent fasters. Evidence and testimonials back this benefit, but it’s not a quick fix. Long term, reduced calorie intake and lower insulin levels can help you manage your weight. But achieving the amount of weight you want to lose may not happen immediately. Your patience can pay off, though.
  2. Fat Burning: You’ve likely heard that if you don’t eat multiple times a day, your body will hold onto everything you eat because it thinks it’s starving. In other words, if you eat more, you’ll weigh less. Huh? Fasting has been around for thousands of years. Ancient human ancestors’ sporadic access to food, means the human body had to adapt to times of feast and famine. So when you’re fasted to the point of glycogen (stored sugars) depletion, your body burns fat. This change of fuel is important for weight loss, altering body composition, and supports overall wellness—from cardiovascular health to more optimal sleep.
  3. Support for Metabolic Health: Intermittent fasting aims to help normalize your body’s relationship to insulin. Sensitivity to the important hormone is important because it helps maintain blood sugar levels. Studies have suggested intermittent fasting can help support a more normal insulin sensitivity. That means evidence points to periods of fasting helping maintain balanced insulin levels and support healthy blood-sugar outcomes.
  4. Triggering Autophagy: When people choose to fast for non-weight reasons, it’s usually tied to autophagy. This cellular process is your body’s way to cleanup and manage cell damage. A variety of stressors—environmental, nutritional, and fasting—prompt your cells to basically take out the trash. This recycling program for damaged proteins helps supports optimal cellular health.
  5. Better Cognitive Function: Your brain burns a lot of calories. But that doesn’t mean fasting will dampen your cognitive fire. Actually, quite the opposite. Intermittent fasting has ties to many brain benefits—from clearer thinking and memory help to protection and support for neural growth.
  6. Improvements in Your Relationship with Food and Your Body: Diets make you almost obsess about food. Fasting periodically allows you to step back and consider food from a slight remove. If you only eat a limited amount of times, what you eat needs to be worth it. This can help you focus on healthy, delicious foods. Intermittent fasting also doesn’t judge food choices—so you can also escape the guilt of a slip-up. Fasting can connect you to your body. It helps you learn to listen to your hormonal signals about food—when you’re hungry and when you’re full.

Choose Your Own Fasting Adventure with Flexible Eating Schedules

Dieting can feel very inflexible. Eat this, don’t eat that. But food flexibility isn’t the only customizable aspect of intermittent fasting. There are many popular feeding-and-fasting schedules for you to pick from. Each offers slightly different challenges and benefits, so you can find what works best for your goals and your body.

You can look at fasting as a separation of hours feeding and fasting. Some common ratios are: 16:8, 18:6, and 20:4: The first number is your hours of fasting per day. The second is your eating window. Starting with a 16-hour fast is usually best for beginners.

Instead of focusing on hours you’re feeding or fasting, you can think about it in terms of meals. Two meals a day goes well with a 16:8 timeframe. That means skipping one meal—breakfast or dinner. With one meal a day, you’re further concentrating your eating to allow for longer fasts. You can choose the meal that works best for you. Also know you can add a snack or dessert if need be—just keep your feeding window short.

Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) is as simple as it sounds—cycling between days of feeding and fasting. That doesn’t make your feeding day a cheat-day eating extravaganza. But you should eat at least two meals a day when you can. Modified ADF involves doing a meal or snacks totaling 500 calories on your fast day.

You can even approach intermittent fasting on a weekly basis with non-consecutive fast days. Popular options involve choosing to eat five days and fast two, or going for four feeding and three fasting days. It allows some normalcy on feeding days and can help accommodate social pressures. Fasts on 5-2 or 4-3 optimally last 36 hours. That means eating dinner and waiting until lunch on your next feed day (two days later) to eat again.

Extended fasts are used sparingly. They go for 24-72 hours—a long time, which explains their more occasional nature. Fasting for such long periods is not for beginners and shouldn’t be attempted until you are fat-adapted and able to better read your body during fasts. They also should be done with proper precautions in place.

How to Start Intermittent Fasting—8 Quick Tips

  1. Decide your eating window: Be realistic about what’s important and where you can make the sacrifice to fast. Also, be honest about where it’s non-negotiable. Is it best to eat in the morning? Would you rather only eat with your family or friends? Social considerations are important. Intermittent fasting is flexible, so you can tailor it to your life instead of letting a string of exceptions hamper your progress.
  2. Educate yourself: You’ve come this far—so you’re off to a great start. Read more about your chosen fasting option to understand more about the science behind it. Plenty of information is available from those more experienced in intermittent fasting. Use their wisdom to learn where mistakes can be made. Also check out this helpful blog about IF challenges.
  3. Fast clean: That means no cream or sugar in your coffee. The point of the fast is to avoid spiking your insulin.Sticking to unsweetened tea, coffee, and lots of plain water are your best bets. Even flavored, zero-calorie options could ramp up your appetite. And that rookie mistake can make you feel hungrier than you were before.
  4. Open your window wisely: Plan how you’ll open your window, because your hunger could complicate or cloud your ability to choose wisely. Don’t go full bore after a longer fast. Start small. Listen to your body. Leading with foods that are high protein and high fat are great options—but find what works for you. If you aren’t mindful about how you open your window, consequences could await. You can be headed for gastric distress and a trip to the bathroom.
  5. Proper refeeding is as important as fasting: The amount of eating and quality of food are key to help your body make it through your next fast. You need to have an eight-hour window after a longer fast. During that time eat nutritious foods full of the typical dietary targets—plant-based fats, lean protein, along with lots of vegetables and fruits.
  6. Turn to tech: Use apps to track your fast. Set alarms to remind you of the schedule you’re on. A smart scale is also a good way to keep track of your progress. Record notes about your experiences so you can pay attention to what works to open your window or beverages that inadvertently break your fast.
  7. Be patient: It takes time to become used to your new eating approach. Your body is adjusting—go easy on yourself. Journaling, taking pics, and celebrating non-scale victories can help you push through until you start fully seeing and feeling the benefits of intermittent fasting.
  8. Talk to your healthcare professional: Doctors are now more familiar with this approach to eating and can be helpful. They can also help you determine if fasting is right for you. A history of eating disorders, pregnancy or nursing, and being on certain medications may mean you should opt out of fasting or approach it carefully.