Fitness: The Forgotten “Nutrient”

The official start of summer is upon us, and the longer and warmer days remind us of that this is the perfect season to enjoy delicious and nutritious treats! Watermelons, homemade fruit juice popsicles, and freshly-squeezed lemonade, anyone? 

While we could easily discuss the benefits of the many healthy foods summer provides us with, this month we will focus on another equally important “nutrient” our bodies require for optimal health. But first, a quick riddle:

What ONE activity helps with the following?

  • Prevents up to 91% cases of obesity, type II diabetes
  • Prevents up to 50% of all cases of heart disease
  • Normalizes blood pressure, reduces risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Reduces risk of breast cancer by up to 60%
  • Reduces lung cancer, even in smokers, by 72%
  • Reduces melanoma (skin cancer) by over 72%
  • Improves digestion
  • Increases immune system function
  • Prevents up to 47% of cognitive impairment, 62% of Alzheimer’s
  • Enhances learning by 12 times
  • Decreases depression by 20%, including relapses
  • Decreases stress, body fat, weight gain

The answer? A daily, 30-minute-long brisk walk!

When it comes to maintaining and even restoring good health, this simple example shows us that there are few things which will give you as many physical and mental benefits as exercise. The warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours summer provides us with are the perfect time to begin or recommit to a regular fitness routine! A well-designed plan will be free (no gym membership required), easy to create, and most importantly, FUN to follow!

Here are the three ingredients every exercise routine should include:

  • “Slow” Cardio Training – We’re not talking about running races, but instead, moving frequently at a slow pace. Every day, try and get at least 30-60 minutes of walking, hiking, or biking in. The pace should be easy enough for you to mostly breathe normally and have a conversation as you engage in the activity. Do this form of exercise DAILY.
  • Resistance Training – These are brief, intense strength training sessions in which you perform exercises that target many muscles at once. Think squats, pushups, and pullups – all of which are exercises you can perform without additional weight or a gym membership. Can’t do these exercises yet? No problem! Simply decrease the range of motion (“half squats” versus full, thighs-to-calves squats), shorten the length of your body that you are moving (pushups on your knees instead of pushups on your feet), or use an object to assist you (keeping your feet on a chair as you do assisted pullups so you can use your legs to help you pull your body weight up). With consistent practice, your overall strength and range of motion will improve dramatically. More strength also leads to fat loss, better balance, and greater bone density. Do this form of exercise 1-3 TIMES PER WEEK.
  • “Fast” Cardio Training – These are all-out efforts that leave us feeling pleasantly exhausted. Unlike “slow” cardio activities, it is impossible to maintain conversation (or focus on much of anything else!) while performing fast cardio. Running sprints is a perfect example of a fast cardio option, but any activity that gets your heart pounding works as well. Depending on your current fitness level, fast cardio might mean a jog around the block or a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Let your body tell you what its limits are. Do this form of exercise ONCE PER WEEK.

The best part is you can work these activities into your daily routine by making only a few minor changes in your schedule. Take a walk during your breaks at work, or bust out a set of push-ups during a break, if you’re feeling extra motivated! Wake up 10 minutes earlier and knock out a few sets of bodyweight squats. Take the kids out for a brisk walk around the park, and then join them in a game of tag or catch. The ways in which you can incorporate fitness into your life and those of your loved ones are endless.

How do you work a fitness routine into your life? What challenges have you faced in the past with starting or maintaining an exercise program, and what solutions have you tried? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Mike Escobar is a Bilingual Nutrition Educator for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. In this capacity, he delivers classes and nutrition tips to local-area families, senior citizens, and Food Bank partner agencies.  Over the years, Mike has taught classes related to nutrition, physical fitness, and general wellness to everyone from K-12 students to the elderly. Mike’s deepest passion is to help empower others, and he sees facilitating access to quality foods and nutrition education as one important step in making this happen.

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