Diet and exercise are determinants of how the body functions. Both internally bio-chemically and externally in the physical world. Let us examine the effects of diet on the system and what may be best to produce optimal outcome for health, well-being and longevity.
Exercise is not necessarily the best method for weight management1. Putting your body into a stressful exercise scenario- which can have positive benefits but triggering short bursts of cortisol2– also triggers the body to a state of repair itself. The state of repair is rest and replenishment of energy stores. You want to eat food. The brain signals the desire for increased blood sugar, and that is most readily available in the forms of sugars3. This is where is becomes tricky.
A Standard American Diet4, which is high in carbohydrates and sugar consumption, creates a level of glucose in your system that is maintained throughout the day. Glucose is a source of energy. Glucose is the first source of energy that is used in exercise for most individuals5. The cycle of burning off the glucose stores and instead of tapping directly into fat, creates a pattern to keep replenishing glucose stores6.
The body can only do so much amount of exercise before it becomes tired. The body can also harm itself though muscle breakdown or making mistakes from losing ability to focus7. There are certain mental mechanisms around feeling tired8 that you can press through and rail against. But sustained, high energy, long bouts of exercise, can stimulate high levels of cortisol for longer periods. This can change the hormone from having benefits to being detrimental9.
Time also plays a factor. Some motivational folks like to tag the line: ‘We all have the same amount of hours in a day’, but they forget the second part of a statement such as that: ‘we all have different duties that must be accomplished.’ Thus, not everyone has the time that is required to do the amount of exercise to burn off the glucose to tap into the fat stores.
Of course, reduction in calories is an excellent way to reduce the amount of readily available glucose and to limit the storage of fat10. Eliminating the vast majority of carbohydrates will accomplish this to some extent. But if you are not replacing the carbohydrates with nutrient dense food, you will be left feeling starved (intermittent fasting is acceptable, and a decisions to be made wisely). But the feeling of being starved is emotionally upsetting, and can increase cortisol production, thereby stress, storing more fat easily, creating scenarios of more stress eating and stimulating the depression cycle11.
By replacing carbohydrates and sugars with healthy fats, you are setting your bodily system up to tap into the fat stores more quickly, because there is less glucose to burn off, in quicker amount of time12. The physical movement required for high bouts of exercise to burn off the stores of glucose if often offset but the sedentary life style that dominates the vast majority of the portion of your life13.
The key is actually to exercise at a level that allows you to tap into the fat stores, (180 beats per minute, minus your age), and avoid chronic high intensity overtraining, that will keep you in the cycle of glucose burning14. High intensity sprints are beneficial, going hard at the gym is acceptable. Doing intense wilderness trips can be exciting and well worth it. But all in moderation15. If the physical exercise is always at that level, eventually the bodily systems will burn out. Chronic exercise can even cause the increased ability for fat storage due to the stress factors16.
So the above is just part of the picture. But there is also muscle building.
Building muscle is essential throughout your life. The adage, ‘use it or lose it’17, is quite precise. The efforts made to create muscle or to at least maintain it, cause oxygen to be circulated through the blood stream, makes the heart beat faster and uses liver functions18. Bone density is also stimulated through physical pressure on the body19. And all of this tells you body and organs to work, that they are still necessary for your survival. This sustains your longevity20. There is also research on telomeres, the end points of genes, which may also have a determining effect on your longevity21. That will be left for another blog discussion.
Building and maintaining muscle in of itself is useful for living a life free from pain, to protect yourself from injury, and to look good. But it also is essential if you would like to play sport or be physically active in other areas of your life. Being physically active in your life as a general principle is one of the main tenants of primal living. Although some people like gym and working out, it would be hard to imagine people who do not like some form of physical play. The people who do not like the form pf physical play, whether it be sport, adventuring or some other form, are possibly not physically or mentally capable to participate due to the lack of bodily strength, emotional feeling or willpower. Building your strength through properly designed high intensity workouts, combined with strength training, will build up confidence, clear up emotional confusion and ensure your body is strong enough not to be injured.
Primal strength training includes21: push ups, pull ups (these can be supported with bands or feet still on the ground), squats and planks. Of course, there are many variations of these exercises, so they will not become monotonous. As you learn the basic form of each of these exercises, you can increase their difficulty level. Then you can mix them up to create a varied and engaging routine. More discussion on this will be in a future blog.
So combining a proper diet of carbohydrate restriction, increased fat intake, properly designed high intensity interval training, strength training and play, will produce a healthy body system designed for longevity.