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Exercise Less, Benefit More

by Jeff Cordeiro

Exercise Less, Benefit MoreI am sure you have heard similar promises before but what I am about to outline is how I came to this conclusion and why it works better than anything else you have tried.

We all know we need to exercise but we donít seem to know the best way to stay fit. Hundreds of books have been written, hundreds of gadgets created, and hundreds of gyms have come and gone but no one method seems to work for everyone.

As Iíve stated in the past, I donít believe in a one-size-fits-all answer but I do believe that some answers fit more than most. One of the biggest problems I see is that we are creatures of convenience Ė we canít even get out of our cars to buy our fast-food (talk about adding insult to injury). So, making time, three times a week, to get into the proper attire, drive to the gym, work out for an hour, shower, change into clean clothes, and drive back home is just asking too much of the typical American. Does it work for some? Of course! Professional actors, models, and dancers all make it an integral part of their lives and careers. Most, however, are just trying to stay fit. Itís not as if jobs depends on it Ė just lives.

So, if going to the gym doesn't work, what about a home gym? Unfortunately, professional-quality home equipment is too expensive for most to justify and cheap equipment is, well, cheap Ė most are gimmicks or break quickly. For those that do invest in quality equipment, there is still the requirement of an hour of strenuous exercise three times a week. Many don't stick to the necessary routine long enough to see benefits. Heck, most don't stick to New Year's resolutions past January.

As a kid, I used to go outside to play (this was back in the prehistoric days, before video games). That was our job. That kept us healthy in more ways than one. However, most jobs don't provide recess and we're usually too tired when we get home from work to go out and play.

In high school, I was taught the Ďno pain, no gainí method of fitness. One football practice I twisted my ankle (actually someone else twisted my ankle) and my coach's answer was to ďrun it offĒ. One month later I got off my crutches and five months after that I was able to run again. It turns out that I would have been better off breaking my ankle than spraining it as severely as I did. The point is, the no pain no gain method isnít a good method either. A lesson I didnít learn until about ten years ago.

After college, I turned to weight lifting and I got into very good shape but, like everyone else with a gym membership, the longer I had my membership, the less I used it.

Next I turned to softball. Basically, I traded an activity that required three evenings a weeks for one that required two and didnít keep me as fit. That lasted about three seasons.

The next thing you know, Iíve gained 35 pounds and Iím ten years older. Being from the no pain no gain school of fitness (and not having learned my lesson yet), I decided to get back into shape Ė immediately. Apparently I have a very high tolerance for pain. While stretching, I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee. Three knee surgeries and several years later, I was able to try exercising on a regular basis again.

Fortunately, while I was rehabbing my knees (I tore my right meniscus while my left was healing), I was also learning how to eat properly. I lost 40 pounds and my body was healthier than it had been in years. During my nutrition education, I read articles that outlined why hours of sweat-producing exercise donít do the trick. For the same reason we need to eat the foods of our ancestors (click here to read my article on The Difficulty With Diets), we need to exercise the way our ancestors did. 

Neither hunting nor gathering requires longer periods of exertion. One requires short bursts of intensity and the other requires constant activity with much less intensity. As you know, our bodies are remarkably self-regulating. It is now believed that regular long periods of physical stress cause our bodies to store fat for future occurrences.

The solution is a form of exercise that tears the muscles down (without much risk of progress-halting injuries), doesnít require our bodies to burn fat during the exercise and boosts our immune system rather than stressing it. Sound impossible? Actually, it couldnít be easier.

You need just 15 minutes three times a week with no equipment, you can do it anywhere and you donít have to shower when youíre done. The secret is to slow your repetitions down to three a minute. The best exercise for most people are squats because it works the largest muscle group in the body, thereby burning the most calories.

Just count to ten on the way down and again on the way up. Each rep should take 20 seconds for 3 reps per minute. Exercise just to the point your body begins to sweat. Your skin should get tacky but no beads of perspiration should form. At that point, stop exercising, even if it's only been a couple of minutes. You will be amazed at how your body feels the next day. You will definitely know you worked out but you wonít be so sore that you wonít be able to move.

Three days later, do it again. This time you will be able to do more than you were able to the first time and before you know it you will be able to do this exercise for 15 minutes with just the right amount of effort. This amount of exercise requires your body to repair itself (burning fat for days, while building muscle, which allows you to burn more calories the next time -- eating protein 30 minutes before or after exercising has been shown to produce the most muscle) but not so much exercise that it forces your body to burn fat while exercising (telling the body to store more fat for the future).

When 15 minutes of squats becomes very easy, change one of your three days a week to another muscle group. Try slow-rep crunches or push-ups, for instance. When that becomes easy, alter another day to another exercise. Soon, you'll find yourself doing a little something everyday. Just keep in mind that your body is expert at self-regulating. This is why cross-training is so effective - your body cannot get into a routine and cannot anticipate and, therefore, cannot adjust to the demands it expects.

This form of working out is convenient, free, low-impact, and gets results. It will soon become part of your routine and you will be in better shape than you have been in years. I am now able to bowl 7 straight games in back to back leagues (6 solid hours) one night a week, while carrying a 200 average (thatís my bowling average not my weight). The next day, I can do it all over again without any pain, in spite of three knee surgeries.

If you don't believe this will work for you because you suffer from arthritis, think again. My mother has arthritis and a few years ago, I began to notice stiffness in one finger. I thought nothing of it but, as time went on, the stiffness turned to pain and the knuckle grew quite large. It was even painful bending that finger with my other hand. 

Remembering good old Jack LaLanne, I began doing hand flexes every morning. Soon I had no pain in that finger. I drew the conclusion that, if simple finger flexes can return normal function to a knuckle, simple flexing exercises (like slow reps) would be equally beneficial to other joints. As I stated above, it worked for my knees and I am happy to report that I also regained full strength and flexibility in my hips.

Speaking of hips, as we age, we can lose bone density. It has been proven that weight-bearing (even if it's just your own weight) exercises increase bone density. So, do those slow-rep squats and, not only will you look younger and healthier on the outside, you will also be younger and healthier on the inside.

These exercises should be done barefoot. One quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet. Encased in shoes, the muscles in your feet get very little exercise. Working out barefoot will strengthen your foundation and improve your balance.

Once slow-rep exercises become too easy, try Yoga or Tai Chi. Both take slow rep and balance workouts to the next level.

If you'd like to gain the benefits of endurance training in just 20 minutes, do High Intensity Training (HIT) three times a week. Just 10 ďall outĒ 1-minute sprints with 1-minute rests between, will widen blood vessels and improve the efficiency of the mitochondria.

Next, if you're ready to commit to an hour of exercise three times a week, Team Beachbody has the programs for you and you won't have to leave the house: from Shakeology or Yoga Booty Ballet to P90X or Insanity. Get into the shape you want. It's up to you and I'll coach you for free.

Once you've gotten all you can out of home exercise, you will be able to join a local gym with confidence. You may even be ready for a personal trainer. You can never be too healthy and there is always more to learn. 

As always, I hope you found this article thought-provoking and helpful.

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