What kind of exercise is best? (hint: It may not be what you think)

When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I really should exercise more.”? I get it; we’re all busy, and often we make exercise feel like it needs to be a huge all-or-nothing commitment.

I probably don’t need to list for you all the benefits of regular exercise – ok, maybe just a few reminders: healthier bones, better sleep, boosted metabolism that burns more calories at rest, better mental health, stress relief, a healthier heart, and better sex. On top of all those, exercise is also critically important for maintaining blood sugar regulation. In particular, if you tend towards high blood sugar (perhaps having heard the words “pre-diabetic” coming your way), exercise has the ability to get desensitized insulin receptors working again, thereby lowering blood sugar.

Finding time to exercise paired with the dread of an hour-long slog at the gym are the biggest barriers I hear mentioned as I work with clients. The great news is that you don’t need to feel like you’re dying for an hour to get major health benefits. 

I like to think of this trifecta of movement as being the key to hitting your health goals:

1. Practice HIIT 1-2x/week. Studies are showing over and over that short bursts of high intensity workouts—known as HIIT, or high intensity interval training—are among the most effective types of exercise for lowering blood sugar and losing weight.

HIIT workouts are convenient both because no gym or equipment is needed, and because you can do them when you have just a few minutes to spare. I’m a big fan of the “7 Minute Workout: Fitness App”  (and there are other similar ones available), and I also like this great HIIT workout idea. Once you find some favorite exercises, you can easily create your own routines. Just aim for 20-30 second bursts of intense activity, followed by twice that–40-60 seconds–of rest. Work up to repeating 8 – 10 times, and go on with your day! 

2. Go for a daily walk. Walking is highly underrated when it comes to health and longevity; walking for a minimum of 30 minutes a day has huge benefits. Among these are better blood sugar control, prevention and reduction of joint pain, stronger immune function, and lower risk of cancer.(1) Not to mention, walking in nature in particular, also known as “forest bathing”, has shown significant reductions in stress levels; something everyone could use!

What we are learning now is that breaking up your walks into shorter stints throughout the day can have an even greater effect than, say, sitting all day but working out hard for one hour at the gym. So don’t think that a 10 minute walk you can squeeze into your 15 minute break-time doesn’t count! It’s the small movements in your day that will make the biggest difference.

A walk after a meal or snack is another great way to normalize your blood sugar levels. Using your muscles right after a snack lowers your blood sugar dramatically, fending off any spike you may have otherwise had. 

3. Lift heavy weights 2-3x/week. Get off the elliptical and pick up some dumbbells! Many of us get in the cardio, but skip the weights, and this can often be working to our disadvantage. Weight training is essential for bone health and metabolism as you get older, so it’s an important thing to incorporate into your exercise routine. When we have more muscle mass as part of our body composition, we have a higher resting metabolic rate, which allows us to eat more nutritious food without restriction. 

Choose weights that are heavy and lift until you feel muscle fatigue (like you can’t do another rep). If you’re just starting out, finding a bodyweight workout on youtube can be a great starting place. Aim for doing this 2-3x/week.

Did you notice that lengthy cardio sessions aren’t on this list? If you love running or spin classes, go for it! Just make sure that you feel good – not depleted – afterwards. If you feel worse after your workout, you probably pushed it a bit too hard. And if you’re a cardio-queen (or king), make sure you incorporate these other elements of movement into your week as well!

If you’re struggling to fit movement into your life, or feel like you need a health reset in general, please reach out – I’d love to talk about your concerns. At A Balanced Table, alongside my nutrition expertise and guidance, you will have access to our dedicated Health and Nutrition coach, Annie-Rose, who can help you to fit healthy habits, like movement, into your busy schedule – and give you some added accountability too!

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