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THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE BEYOND WEIGHT LOSS: Part 2 - Cardiovascular Health and Pain Management

By Gavin Buehler

Continuing where we left off last month where we started to look at some of the benefits that exercise has to offer beyond the typical “weight loss” advantages, we’ll take a quick glance this month at its effect on cardiovascular health and pain management. If you missed last month’s article where we looked at strength training and metabolic health, you can find it here.

Cardiovascular Health

VO2 Max, or maximal oxygen consumption, refers

to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. This is often used as a measure for cardiovascular health. Its metric also seems to be one of the biggest influences on all-cause mortality. How big of an influence? One notable study that included 122,000 patients with an average age of 53 showed that the difference between people in the 25th percentile (low fitness level) or under, versus being just below the 50th percentile (close to average but still below) was a 50% reduction in mortality over the course of decade! That gap is mind blowing considering that improvement still pegs you below average! The gap between those with low fitness versus those just above average was a 60-70% reduction.

While many people still believe that they need to get their cardio in for fat loss, how about we reframe that to getting in your cardio to significantly improve your health span!

Of course, you now want to know how much cardiovascular activity you should be doing right?

The latest studies and guidelines coming out of Harvard University suggest that 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week of intense exercise will allow you to reap the benefits of cardiovascular health. That’s 30 minutes a day for 5 days to hit 150 minutes or 25 minutes a day for 3 days if you’re going intense. Here’s another plus… You don’t necessarily need to perform this exercise in chunks of 30 or 25 minutes. As long as it’s accumulated over the course of a week. You might be asking what’s considered moderate intensity exercise? Well, if we use heart rate as a metric it will depend on your age and current fitness level. The suggested target is between 64-76% of your maximum heart rate. For most people this can be quickly calculated by subtracting your age from the number 220. So, for a 50-year-old we take 220-50 = 170. 170 would be considered the max heart rate. 170 x 0.64 (64%) = 109, and 170 x 0.76 (76%) = 129. In this case getting your heart rate between 109 and 129 beats per minute would be considered moderate exercise intensity.

What if you just can’t get that much exercise in each week. I’d say that given the considerable improvement in all-cause mortality going from a low level to just below average, doing something on a regular basis is far better than nothing. Don’t worry about always hitting the numbers, just keep doing something.

Pain Management

Everyone experiences or will experience pain at some point in their lives, and

many of us live with chronic pain at some level. Pain has one of the most significant impacts on quality of life, so wouldn’t it be nice if we had other ways to manage it beyond pharmaceuticals?

“Motion is lotion.” This is a saying that is echoed among anyone who is in the world of fitness and manual therapies. Why is this saying used? Our joints contain a natural lubricant called synovial fluid. This fluid helps reduce the friction between our joints, and if there is less friction, it usually means less pain. Movement within the joint helps stimulate the production of this fluid while also moving it around ensuring a thorough coating throughout the entire joint. This is why regular exercise and movement can help reduce joint stiffness and pain. Exercise practices such as Tai Chi and Yoga in particular seem to have a lot of literature supporting pain management.

Exercise also effects our nervous system and the perception of pain. I won’t get into the nerdy details of how exercise promotes reduced NMDA receptor phosphorylation and such, but neurotransmitter levels of serotonin (most of us have heard of, known for making us feel good) as well as opioids are elevated in central inhibitory pathways with regular exercise creating an analgesia effect. We have the ability to manipulate some of the same pain alleviating pathways in our brain that some pharmaceuticals do, but through a healthier practice of exercise!

We’ve got one more article to come in this series next month. So stay tuned for a quick look at the effect of exercise on brain function and sleep quality.

I hope that you found this information helpful and as always, this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult a health professional before attempting new exercises or protocols, as the content of this article may or may not be appropriate for you.

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