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“Fitness” needs a makeover. It’s not about the size of your muscles, how fast you can run, or how much you weigh. There are plenty of physically fit people who are unhappy, eternally pessimistic, and drained of spirit. True fitness starts with emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Take Advantage of the Ups and Downs in Life

Take your workouts off the beaten path
by Mark Allen

Life in the modern world can be overflowing with complexity to the point of overload.  Even our goals for health can sound overwhelming.  What if you had the tools to lose weight, improve your blood sugar balance, de-stress and soothe your soul, charge up with energy and keep your brain functioning properly?  Sounds like a lot of activities would be necessary to gain all of those benefits.  Surprisingly, one simple tool can help you achieve these goals!  You ready?  All of these incredible benefits to your body and soul can be had by simply walking or jogging on uneven terrain that has a few hills along the way.  Read on to hear why…

As we all know, moving our bodies is what gives us fitness.  A sedentary individual is more likely to die at an early age than an active one who smokes cigarettes!  So going for a walk or a jog on a daily basis will cover the first item on our health list.  If you incorporate some uphill and downhill sections in that outdoor adventure, you will start to engage the use of the largest muscle in the body, which is appropriately named the gluteus maximus.  Using these large muscles stimulates the body to metabolize stored fat.  The second task is now taken care of.

If your favorite trail winds through any kind of natural setting, which most trails or unpaved roads do, there will likely be a bit of nature going on around you.  Right now we are in springtime, which is the perfect season for absorbing the wonder of life renewing itself and bursting forth with energy and color.  Take a look around and soak in that life force.  This simple act takes our minds off of what might be otherwise weighing us down and gives us a break from the normal obligations in a way that feeds both our body and our soul, and charges us up with positive energy.  Another task covered!

So what about the blood sugar and brain benefits?  Some interesting research has shown that walking or jogging on uneven ground actually stimulates the brain to improve its circuitry.  In short, when the ground we move over is unpredictable, meaning there are little rocks, twigs, maybe some bumps, divots and other non-smooth features, the brain gets used in a way that stimulates its growth and health.  Want to get smarter?  Walk through the woods!

With regard to blood sugar, a number of studies in Europe have shown that while uphill walking is good for burning calories and losing body fat, it is the downhill that gives a huge boost to the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.  Downhill walking uses our eccentric muscles, the ones that accept a load rather than generate it.  Using these muscles when we walk downhill helps bring blood sugar levels down and actually increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

This second benefit enables a person to efficiently handle dietary carbohydrates (sugars) without having to release large amounts of insulin. For those of you who have read our book, you may remember that a big release of insulin shuts off fat burning, which is not something many people want to have happen.  Just make sure that you go easy on your knees if you do decide to make downhill part of your exercise program. And if you can’t find a hill, there are always stairs. It’s just hard to find ones that are lined with blooming trees and flowers!

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