Exercise Your Options

October 8, 2010 in Health, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

In the blog Weight Management - Looking Ahead, Dr. Grandma talks about research findings that variations in genes for body mass index may be responsible for less than one percent of obesity. In a new study researchers have found a similar effect with exercise. There are 12 genetic variants associated with a higher risk of obesity. In the study researchers found that each DNA variant carried a 16% increased risk of obesity among those who were sedentary. But for people who got at least one hour of physical activity per day, the increased risk per variant was only 10% — a reduction of 40%.

I know first hand what exercise can do. As a child and teen, I was what my family referred to as "pudgy." I'm naturally a pear/endomorph. (See different body shapes to determine what body shape you are.) I can remember a "friend" in high school gym class poking my leg and making the comment, "You aren't fat, you just don't have any muscle tone."

When I was 22, I decided to get in shape. I stumbled on a couple of techniques early on. One was refined carbohydrate reduction. The other was aerobic interval training. I was amazed at how quickly I could change my body and my attitude with these two techniques. I still didn't have a lot of muscle tone, just less fat on top of the muscle that I did have. It wasn't until I saw an interview with Cory Everson a six-time Ms. Olympia (body builder) that really started getting into shape -- not that I ever looked anything like Ms. Everson (she's definitely a mesomorph!)

At first my passion for exercise was purely cosmetic. I like the way that I looked when I worked out. I continued to like the way that I looked as I got older, but found the exercise was a requirement as I took on jobs with more responsibility. I often wondered how people who didn't work out dealt with their stress. I wasn't until Dr. Grandpa lent me a copy of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, M.D., that I fully realized the additional benefits of exercise that I had been receiving.

Ratey talks about how exercise gets rid of toxic chemicals created by stress, relieves anxiety, improves self-image, and can relieve depression. The by-product of exercise that I found most intriguing however, was how exercise stimulates the brain to create new brain cells. In addition to creating new neurons for the brain to learn, Ratey talks about how exercise helps a person to focus. Other research is consistent with Ratey's findings that exercise causes your brain to generate new brain cells and keep existing brain cells nimble.

If exercise isn't a part of your life, you are probably asking the question: "So what kind and how much do I have to do to get the benefit?" Research has found aerobic exercise provides the greatest improvement. In Spark Ratey discusses his finding that exercise combining aerobics and complex movements, such as martial arts, skiing and yoga are especially good. But the idea is to get moving and know that greater intensity provides greater benefits.

And don't forget the kids: A years-long Swedish study of more than a million 18-year-old boys found that better fitness was correlated with higher I.Q.’s, even among identical twins. Other research has found that kids who have walked for only 20 minutes, score better on tests.

Dr. Grandma usually includes a recipe with her blogs. Here is my recipe:

Better Brain Health


30 minutes of walking, bike riding or other aerobic exercise
30 minutes of strength training
1 desire to improve


Choose one (either aerobic exercise or strength training), preferably alternating between them. Strive to do some type of activity every day. Reduce or increase time as needed. Check with your doctor if you are not already on an exercise program. Check out this Fall Fitness Plan: Get Out & Exercise for more ideas. Cory Everson has some good advise too on this video clip.