A primary focus of my work as the CEO of VibrantDoc and the author of the book Vibrant is to empower people to take back control of their own health by adjusting their lifestyles for maximum health optimization. Many of my followers and readers are beginning at the beginning, which is why I developed the Vibrant Triad. The principle behind this concept is that before you try advanced health interventions, you need to get three basics down: eating, exercising and connecting with other people in meaningful ways that build health rather than destroy it. For many, this is the perfect place to begin.
However, in this day of widely accessible health information, I find that more and more people want advanced information, and I love that. It means people are becoming more health-empowered, and what many of these people ask me about is exercise. What does it do, beyond the obvious benefits of aiding weight loss and building lean muscle?
I call exercise my fountain of youth and my elixir because exercise does so much more than tone muscles and burn fat. It triggers a cascade of positive changes throughout the body that can reverse many of the signs of aging. Specifically, it cues mitochondrial biogenesis, metabolic shifts, and hormonal recalibration:
- Exercise generates more mitochondria. As you may remember from high school biology, the mitochondria are organelles inside cells that are responsible for generating energy, in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Mitochondria are highly responsive to lifestyle. If you are sedentary, your mitochondria get the signal that you don’t need much energy, so they don’t make as much. If you are active—doing cardio, lifting weights, practicing yoga—your mitochondria get the signal that you are using energy, so they start producing more energy. The mitochondria you already have, increase their energy output, and the cell produces more mitochondria to meet the demand. This is why exercising gives you more energy and makes you stronger—and can help fuel even more exercise.
- Exercise changes your metabolism. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is a measure of your body’s energy needs when you aren’t doing anything, i.e., the calories you burn just to live. Breathing, thinking, manufacturing hormones, digesting, etc., all use up energy. Exercise, or just moving around doing anything at all, uses energy on top of your RMR. You may think that the exercise you do makes up most of the calories you burn, but actually, your RMR probably exceeds your exercise burn most of the time. However, one of the great things regular exercise does is increase your RMR, totally apart from the calories you burn during exercise, so you’re burning more calories even on your rest days than you would if you were a sedentary person. In other words, exercise speeds up your metabolism, and that can translate to a healthier body with less excess body fat and a lower risk of the chronic diseases of aging. Not only does increased muscle mass increase RMR, but every time you exercise, your RMR goes up for about 2 hours, and then goes down a bit but still stays higher than before for 48 hours. This is why I advise rest days, but never going more than 2 days without exercising again (unless, of course, you are unable for some reason—if you do take more time off, you can get your RMR back up once you resume a regular exercise routine.)
- Exercise triggers the release of BDNF: BDNF (that’s brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a protein that makes the brain work better by protecting existing neurons and generating more neurons and synapses. This improves memory and learning ability as well as mood, and can head off neurological conditions like depression and dementia, while also reducing your chances of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Every time you exercise, but especially when you do cardio (especially if you work in burst training, or HIIT), your brain releases more BDNF. This may be a factor in why people tend to feel less stress and have a better time remembering things and concentrating after exercise.
Even if you exercise mainly for the strength, fitness, and/or weight loss benefits, it’s nice to know that you are changing things all over your body, from your brain all the way down to your mitochondria, in ways that will make you healthier, more resilient, and even smarter than you are right now.