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No pain, all gain

WASHINGTON POST – Making exercise resolutions for 2024 is easy. It’s much harder to follow through. But these seven tips offer some surprisingly simple and practical ways to establish exercise habits that stick.

Perhaps most important, the advice underscores that even the briefest workouts – a few extra steps, an 11-minute walk – can have potent benefits for our health, especially if we exercise consistently.

So consider these seven tips your road map to a fitter 2024.

11-minutes of brisk walking makes a big difference

The biggest gains in exercise come when we just start moving a little. Walking for at least 11 minutes every day could lower your risk of premature death by almost 25 per cent, according to a major study of 30 million people.

Those 11 daily minutes of exercise also dropped people’s risks for heart disease by 17 per cent and for cancer of any kind by seven per cent. For certain cancers, including myeloid leukemia, myeloma and some stomach cancers, the risk fell by as much as 26 per cent.

Morning exercise may be better for burning fat

If you’d like to burn a little more fat with each workout and slowly lower your body’s fat stores, there may be advantages to exercising before noon.

Research in mice showed that the animals who ran within a few hours of waking up burned more fat than mice who exercised later in their day.

PHOTO: ENVATO

In morning mouse exercisers, their fat released substantially more fatty acids, the building blocks of fat, into the animals’ bloodstream, ready for use as muscle fuel.

And the remaining fat tissue showed larger increases in biochemical markers of heat production and mitochondrial activity than the fat from the evening (in mouse terms) runners, as well as in the activity of certain genes related to fat metabolism.

Outdoor workouts improve the benefits of exercise

Moving your workout outside can be a simple way to magnify its benefits, not only for thinking but also for health, happiness, fitness and motivation.

“Green exercise” – meaning physical activity done in nature – can improve working memory and concentration substantially more than completing the same brief walk inside.

PHOTO: ENVATO

The effects can extend beyond brief improvements in concentration, other research shows, to upping motivation and making exercise feel less daunting.

In a study published last year from China; young, inactive people with obesity who started walking in a park or gym on alternate days reported feeling considerably less stress and enjoying exercise more when they walked outside.

Walking four days a week can boost brain health

It’s never too late for exercise to boost your brain health. In a study of 70- and 80-year-olds, walking just four days a week for four months led to better scores on cognitive tests.

And brain scans showed that brain connections were stronger than before, with cells and whole networks lighting up at the same time, a common hallmark of better thinking.

For many, just 6,000 steps is the sweet spot

There is nothing magical or evidence-based about 10,000 steps a day. So feel free to let go of that goal.

A study of more than 47,000 people showed that for men and women younger than 60, the greatest relative reductions in the risk of dying prematurely came with step counts of between about 8,000 and 10,000 per day.

For people older than 60, the threshold was a little lower. For them, the sweet spot in terms of reduced mortality risk came at between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day.

Less strenuous exercise can burn more fat

The key to finding your fat-burning zone is often to exercise far more gently than many of us might expect. Whether you burn primarily fat or carbohydrates during exercise depends mostly on your workout’s intensity. In broad terms, the harder you exert yourself, the more your body relies on carbs.

PHOTO: ENVATO

What may surprise some people is that the lighter the workout, the more your body uses fat to fuel it, making easy exercise the key to your fat-burning zone.

In studies, people were advised to walk at speeds they felt they could maintain for at least 45 minutes usually settled into a pace squarely in their fat-burning zone.

You get more out of exercise when you track it

Learning how much we actually move by tracking our steps could help us start thinking of ourselves as active people, which can pay health dividends.

In one study, groups of exercisers tracked their step counts. Some of them were given accurate reports of their 7,000 daily steps. But another group was lied to – they were exercising plenty, but were told they were taking just 4,000 steps a day.

PHOTO: ENVATO

The exercisers who had been told correctly that they walked about 7,000 steps a day reported better moods and higher self-esteem. When they started counting steps, they also began eating better, consuming fewer high-fat foods and more produce. And their aerobic fitness had risen slightly, although they weren’t exercising more.

But people who thought they had taken only 4,000 steps a day showed slightly lower self-esteem, darker moods, poorer eating habits, and small increases in their resting heart rates and blood pressure, indicating somewhat worsening health, although their step counts, objectively, were the same as everyone else’s.

PHOTO: ENVATO

The findings suggest that a negative mind-set – such as feeling like you’re failing at exercise – is bad for your health.

So track your exercise and try not to compare your steps or other activities to those of anyone else. Instead, celebrate how active you have discovered yourself to be. – Gretchen Reynolds

 

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