Category Archives: Exercise

Is social pollution and workplace stress harming you?

802 social pollution workplace stress

Thanks to science and public awareness, we know environmental pollution from industry harms our health. Same goes with tobacco. But did you know “social pollution” is just as harmful? Social pollution refers to the long hours, lack of economic security, high cost of health care, exhaustion, surviving in a gig economy, lack of parental support, and high stress that has come to characterize work life in the United States and other industrialized countries. It is now recognized as they fifth leading cause of death.

In the new book Dying for a Paycheck, author and Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer uncovers the disastrous toll of modern work life on human health.

Sixty-one percent of American workers say workplace stress has made them sick, and 7 percent have been hospitalized by it.

Workplace stress contributes to the chronic diseases that make up three quarters of the health problems crushing our health care system, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) cardiovascular disease, and circulatory diseases. Disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and overeating are also linked to high stress and the erosion of family and social structures from work-related stress.

In fact, one of the worst aspects of modern work life is the effect it is having on our social support structures. Long, stressful hours at work breaks up marriages and families, leaves too little time for healthy socializing with friends and family, and makes it difficult for single people to date or establish new relationships.

Research clearly shows regular healthy socialization is vital to good health and that isolation and lack of positive social time can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

When work place stress and social pollution keeps you stuck in fight-or-flight mode

One of the many downsides to workplace stress and social pollution is that it can keep your nervous systems stuck in fight-or-flight mode. A normal stress response is to flee, fight, or freeze. When work stress and the havoc it causes on your home life is constant, you never get a chance to unwind from being in a fight-or-flight state.

The chronic stress from this is devastating to brain and body health. It accelerates brain aging, causes leaky gut, raises inflammation, imbalances the hormones, and increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and addictive habits.

What can you do to protect yourself from social pollution and workplace stress

Unfortunately, most of us cannot single-handedly change this unhealthy situation in which we find ourselves. However, you can be aware of and not psychologically buy into the subtle or not-so-subtle shaming and unhealthy expectations around productivity.

Many companies expect longer hours at lower pay yet provide little to no job security, sick days, maternity or paternity leaves, and so on. Be aware of this and don’t internalize the messaging that working long days with no days off makes you a better person. It doesn’t, it makes you a sicker person.

If you can downsize your housing, car payments, or other expenses, consider the positive impact living more modestly can have on your health. It could be the ticket to a dramatic health turn around.

However, not everyone can afford to downsize as many are working non-stop to barely get by. Although there is no easy answer to this, recognize your situation and don’t ask too much from yourself.

The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have at changing public perception and workplace policies.

In the meantime, support your health the best you can with an anti-inflammatory diet, seek out support, and make sure to include healthy, restful, and relaxing time in your life as much as possible.

If you have a desk job and are too tired to make it to the gym, take regular breaks to move your body and go for short walks as frequently as possible. Regular physical activity is vital to the heath of your brain and body and will help protect you from the harm of workplace stress.

Exercise turns back the clock on older hearts

742 exercise heart younger

Our muscles stiffen as we age, including the heart muscles. However, a new study showed that middle aged adults who took up moderate- to high-intensity exercise developed the heart flexibility of someone 15 to 20 years younger. But there is a sweet spot in midlife for this to work. Similar studies on 70-year-olds did not produce the same results.

Going into midlife with a sedentary lifestyle causes the heart to stiffen, shrink, and become less efficient at pumping blood and oxygenating the body. As a result, people develop shortness of breath, fatigue, edema, coughing, and other symptoms of heart disease.

For the two-year study, researchers tracked more than 50 volunteers who ranged in age from 45 to 64. They were healthy but sedentary. The participants were divided into two groups.

The first group did non-aerobic exercise three days a week, including basic yoga, balance training, and weight training.

The second group did moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise four days a week. Compared to the first group, this group saw dramatic improvements in their heart health.

Their hearts became noticeably more flexible and could process oxygen more efficiently. One researcher in the study said they were able to take a 50-year-old heart and turn back the clock to a 30- or 35-year-old heart.

These participants became stronger and fitter overall because their more flexible hearts were able to fill with more blood and pump more blood to the rest of their bodies during exercise.

The group who did the non-aerobic exercise three days a week saw no change in their heart flexibility or efficiency.

Interval training is key to a healthier heart

The key to the study subjects’ dramatic heart health improvement wasn’t just aerobic exercise, but aerobic exercise that incorporates interval training — short bursts of high intensity with short rests in between.

Although there are many ways to do high-intensity intervals, the study subjects did “4X4” training: four minutes at 95 percent of maximum ability followed by three minutes of active recovery, done four times.

The magic lies in pushing the heart to near its maximum ability, which forces it to work harder and pump more blood.

However, the window for this magic apparently closes if you wait too long. People in their mid-forties to early sixties still have flexible enough heart tissue to effect dramatic results. Once you are older, your blood vessels may be too rigid.

Interval training excellent for the aging brain

People who take up interval aerobic training typically report overall increased well being and feeling happier.

When the brain receives more blood flow and oxygen from a healthier heart, its function improves too. Also, interval training releases a number of hormones and neurochemicals that boost brain performance, improve mood, and lower inflammation.

For instance, endorphins released during exercise not only make people feel happier, they also dampen inflammation.

High-intensity interval training also boosts brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical necessary for the formation of memories and for learning and recall, important qualities to hang onto as we age.

People with sedentary lifestyles may feel daunted by the idea of high-intensity workouts. Luckily there are many options for guided workouts these days. For instance, Orange Theory Fitness is a chain of gyms around the country that show you your heart rate on a large monitor during guided workouts so you can begin to learn what sort of exertion is required to get your heart rate up to its near maximum.

Although it’s important to push your heart, it’s also important not to overdo your exercise routines. Over exercising raises inflammation and can trigger or exacerbate chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. However, when you exercise within a healthy range, exercise has anti-inflammatory effects.

Best form of exercise for graceful aging

interval exercise mitochondria copy

Aging gracefully is all about taking care of your mitochondria — the little energy factories in each cell. As we get older, their function can start to diminish, which plays a key role in aging of the body. However, new research has shown a little-known strategy to boost the longevity and function of your mitochondria — regular bursts of high intensity exercise.

People are told to exercise for all sorts of reasons, but regular exercise is one of life’s magic bullets when it comes to remaining physically and mentally agile into the elder years. Any kind of regular exercise is better than none when it comes to health and longevity.

However, when it comes to nurturing cellular mitochondria and thus better preserving your overall health, one form of exercise outshines the rest — intervals of high intensity exercise. This means an exercise routine that boosts the heart rate to healthy upper thresholds for several minutes at a time.

How different forms of exercise affect aging

Although any regular physical activity makes for a better aging process, a recent Mayo Clinic study showed different types improve aging in different ways.

The study divided healthy but sedentary men and women under the age of 30 and over the age of 64 into several groups of exercise:

  • Vigorous weight-lifting several times a week.
  • Interval training three times a week on stationary bikes (they did three sets of pedaling hard for four minutes and resting for three minutes).
  • Alternated between mild weight lifting and moderate pedaling on a stationary bike throughout the week.
  • No exercise.

Not surprisingly, all the groups who exercised reported better blood sugar control and fitness after three months of regular exercise. The vigorous weight lifters gained muscle mass while the interval exercises gained more endurance.

But the finding that surprised researchers was cellular improvement in the interval exercisers as demonstrated by the number of genes changed, resulting in improved mitochondrial function in their respective cells. The under-30 interval exercisers showed changes in 274 genes, compared to 170 genes in the young moderate mixed exercise group and 74 genes in the young weight lifters.

However, the older interval exercisers showed changes in 400 genes, compared to only 19 for the older moderate exercisers and 33 for the older weight lifters.

In other words, interval exercising is the most advantageous at any stage of life, but it’s significantly more advantageous the older you are compared to other forms of exercise.

How interval exercise improves the aging process

Researchers theorize interval training is beneficial because it increases the number and health of cellular mitochondria. This means more energy for muscles (including the heart), better brain function, and better recovery and regeneration.

The fact that the older participants had more robust responses to high intensity interval training shows it is never too late to exercise, especially if you do the most beneficial kind. Another bonus? You can extract the most gains in the least amount of time from interval exercise, which requires less time than other forms.

How to interval train for better cellular health

To interval train simply push yourself to your maximum effort for several minutes several times in your routine, with short periods of rest in between sets. Work within your capacity and don’t over train — over exercising causes inflammation and can damage mitochondria.

Ask me for more advice on the best way to exercise for optimal health.

Extreme exercise is good for you, right? Not exactly

650 extreme exercise copy

If you want to get fit and lose weight, you should exercise as hard as you can, for as long as you can, every day, right? Wrong! Research shows extreme exercise can cause chronic health problems and make you feel worse. (What constitutes over exercise depends on the individual and their fitness level.) Recovery time is as important as the exercise itself.

Over exercising can cause the following health issues:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Fatigued adrenals, the stress-handling glands
  • More bad gut bacteria
  • Leaky gut
  • Depleted hormones
  • Depressed immunity
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Bone loss
  • Too much exercise raises inflammation

Many of the issues caused by over exercising stem from inflammation. Although appropriate exercise can be anti-inflammatory and very good for the brain, too much has the opposite effect.

The cellular damage from over exercising triggers a systemic inflammatory response that sets the stage for a host of other health problems.

Too much exercise stresses out your body

The damage and inflammation from over exercising is very stressful to the body. Excess stress underlies the burnout, depletion, and increasing weakness often seen with over exercising. Results can be fatigue, poor thyroid function, depressed immunity, and more.

Over exercising damages gut health

The gut and the bacteria it houses are increasingly being recognized as the seat of the immune system and foundational to our health.

Overdoing exercise has been found to damage the gut wall, causing “leaky gut.” This allows undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, where they then trigger inflammation throughout the body.

Overtraining also changes the composition of gut bacteria so there is too much bad bacteria.

How to know if you’re over training

How do you know if your exercise routine is making you unhealthy?

One of the most common symptoms is constant fatigue. Your workout routine should give you more energy, not less. Appropriate exercise boosts chemicals in the body that improve brain function, increase well being, and raise energy. If the opposite is happening to you, you’re overdoing it.

Other symptoms of over exercising include getting sick frequently, loss of muscle mass, gaining body fat, and difficulty recovering from injuries.

What to do if you’re over exercising

If you’re making yourself sick with exercise, the answer isn’t to stop exercising, but to go about your workouts differently. First of all, give yourself time to recover. This typically means exercising less frequently.

Also, it’s very important to get enough sleep. This is a critical time when your muscles repair and your metabolic system and brain recharge. Sufficient sleep is crucial if you want to stay active and healthy for the long haul.