We know that exercise has myriad benefits for our health.
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It strengthens our hearts, lifts our mood, and can even help stave off certain diseases, to name just a few.
One of the primary benefits of exercise is increased muscle mass. This doesn’t mean we all want to look like bodybuilders—but muscle is important for keeping us active and independent as we age, and for maintaining a healthy weight.
If you’re committed to optimal health, you’ll need to schedule exercise into your week—and keep the appointments. Meaningful exercise rarely happens spontaneously. Even if you work in a physically demanding profession, you’ll probably still need to round out your routine with a little aerobic and flexibility training.
The basic weekly exercise “prescription” I give most patients is a combination of strength, flexibility, balance, and cardio that breaks down like this:
- Aerobic: 3 hours (six 30-minute sessions such as brisk walks, or four 45-minute sessions, or three 1-hour sessions).
- Strength: 1 hour (two 30-minute sessions or three 20-minute sessions).
- Flexibility: 10 minutes every other day of basic yoga stretches. Eight sun salutes, for example.
- Balance: 30 minutes weekly; ideally spending 5 minutes, 6 days a week, doing something simple such as standing on one leg while brushing teeth or washing dishes.
Let’s take a closer look at the strength component, which generally involves weight lifting. If you want to build muscles, you have to stress them. Before starting
a weight-lifting program, working with
a trainer for the first few weeks is recommended. If you have access to a gym, that’s great. But you can also create a simple home gym by just using only your own body weight (think: push-ups). There are plenty of options out there,
but the basic idea is the same: You need to regularly stress your muscles and force them to develop.
In a 20-minute weight routine (that you would commit to 3 times weekly), you will probably have just enough time for 5 different exercises with 3 sets, and from 8 to 12 reps per set. Most of us generally have stronger legs than upper bodies, so four out of the five exercises you do should focus on your arms. Keep track of your weights and reps, and try to increase one or the other each time you work out. If you can easily perform 12 reps in the first set of a given exercise, increase the weight slightly for the second and third sets. If you can barely perform 8 reps, stay at the same weight and work towards 12 reps before increasing the weight. And try to keep the rests between sets no longer than 60 seconds.
The most important thing is to just startmoving. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day, five times a week. Make it a priority!
STAY STRONG WITH SUPPLEMENTS
One inexpensive and effective tool that helps stimulate muscle development—and curb carb cravings—is branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements. These supplements provide an alternative source of BCAAs for fuel during exercise, so the body doesn’t have to take BCAAs from muscle. Many professional athletes use BCAAs for training. I also give them to patients who are recovering from an injury or illness that requires prolonged disuse of a body part (and a corresponding loss of muscle mass), such as a broken leg. Taking BCAAs during the recovery process, including physical therapy, allows for much quicker success.
Most studies have focused on very high doses (15 grams or more) of BCAAs, but 2-4 grams twice daily—say, in a morning smoothie on weight-training days—are quite adequate for general use. Ideally, you should take one dose before exercise and one after.
There are three amino acids in the BCAA group: L-Isoleucine (50 percent), L-Leucine (25 percent) and L-Valine (25 percent). This combo has a somewhat bitter taste and doesn’t dissolve readily in water, but it mixes well into a shake that has a thicker texture. You can also find the powder encapsulated, but caps are always more expensive than powders.
Vitamins C and B6 are synergistic nutrients for the absorption of BCAAs, so you should also take 1-3 grams daily of vitamin C (ideally not just plain ascorbic acid, but a formula that includes bioflavonoids for their anti-inflammatory and vasculature-healing properties) and 50-150 mg of pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
Extra protein powder can help turn your smoothie into a mini-meal, and also round out the amino acid profile of your power tonic. Whey protein, one of the better performance products, contains about 24 percent BCAAs. Whey protein isn’t generally a problem for lactose intolerants, but if you have a true dairy allergy and can’t handle casein either, pea protein might be a better option. If you prefer soy-based protein powder, avoid GMOs by choosing one made with organic soy.