Fitness is not necessarily about running a marathon, having big muscles, or spending a lot of time and money on a gym membership. Fitness is a lifestyle, and it is made up of nutritious food choices and a regular exercise schedule.
David Nieman, DrPH, is a pioneer in the field of exercise immunology and directs the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis. Over the past year, Nieman and his team made significant discoveries about the human body and exercise, and his findings are certainly applicable to fitness in our daily lives.
Working in exercise morning, noon, and night
A study of intensive exercise showed that some individuals may experience high levels of inflammation, muscle damage, and increases in the stress hormone cortisol compared to others. Instead of long periods of intensive exercise, Nieman suggests splitting up daily exercise time into three or four 10-15 minute sessions throughout the day.
“Studies show that this type of exercise is just as effective as people who exercise one time a day for longer,” he explained. The human body does very well with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day, and Nieman says we are lucky that is all it takes to be healthy.
Eat more fruit to maximize the workout experience
Another study by Nieman showed that daily watermelon consumption supports the energy demands of exercise and boosts the post-exercise blood levels of watermelon nutritional components and antioxidant capacity.
“Staying active and eating a plant food-based diet must be a very important part of your life,” Nieman said. “If you do not build a high motivation to do all of this, it is not going to work.”
Relieve stress by choosing to walk, cycle, or swim
A third study built off of Nieman’s 2014 finding that running induces more muscle damage and inflammation than cycling. Runners who completed an intensive three-hour run exhibited a massive increase in inflammation and stress.
“A simple brisk walk around the neighborhood is more than enough to meet your exercise needs,” Nieman said. Also, exercises like swimming, cycling, and walking have a low impact on the body and are effective at strengthening the body muscles.
Do what works for you
For most people, time is the number one barrier to achieving a healthy lifestyle. But there are ways to make it work, using what Nieman calls “common-sense principles” to eliminate or at least mitigate the time issue. Ultimately, Nieman suggests that many people do more exercise than they need. The best approach is to “make this lifestyle work within your schedule,” on your time and at your pace.