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I am often asked, “What is the best exercise? Why don’t I lose weight when I exercise? Can I exercise, balance blood sugar and stabilize my mood? How do I avoid over exercising?”
To balance blood sugar, we must re-educate the body to burn fat. Fat burns slow and makes you calm. Sugar and carbs burn fast and can rev you up. Other than diet, one of the best ways to the body to burn fat is with proper exercise. Conventional exercise tends to burn more sugar than fat, so let’s get it right. It only takes 12 minutes a day! During fat-burning exercise, fat replaces sugar as your main fuel supply, and you naturally lose weight, detoxify, boost energy, stabilize mood… and get really fit!
In this article you will learn:
- How to exercise properly and navigate around blood sugar issues in as little as 12 minutes a day.
- How exercise can stabilize your mood and help you lose weight.
- Most importantly – how to really enjoy being active!
My Case Study
In 1981, I went to hear my first lecture on Ayurveda, India’s 5000-year-old natural system of medicine. At the time, I was training for an Ironman Triathlon. I was exhausted, getting dizzy in classes and beginning to wonder if I was doing too much. So, I asked this Ayurvedic doctor, “I am training for a triathlon where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26 miles. Do you think this is healthy according to your system?”
He responded, “Why are you doing it?”
I responded, wimpishly, after an awkward moment of realizing I had no idea why I was doing it, “Because I think I can do it.”
He responded, “Do you meditate?” (Suggesting that, if I meditated, I wouldn’t attempt such a foolish thing.)
I proudly responded, “Yes, I do meditate.”
He said, “Do you sleep when you meditate?”
I said proudly, “Absolutely, I fall into the deepest sleep imaginable – every time!”
He responded, “Sleep and meditation are different. When you meditate you should not sleep. Sleeping during meditation means you are exhausted and are probably exercising too much.”
So I suggested, “If I can meditate without falling asleep, then the amount of exercise I am doing is OK, correct?”
He said, “Correct.”
I Had My Marching Orders
I started exercising less and meditating more, with hopes to not fall asleep. To my surprise, this was really hard. I realized I was quite exhausted, because I slept every time I tried to meditate. Runs were shortened from hours to 15 minutes, where I would sprint most of the way with periods of recovery. Bike rides were shortened to 15-20 minute sprints and recoveries from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, where I would commute a couple of times a day.
At that time, I was competing in a couple of triathlons a month, but was never able to compete on the elite level I knew I was capable of. Training harder or longer wasn’t working. I reached a point where I just wasn’t improving.
Do Less, Accomplish More
Within a couple months of following my new training regime of working out less and meditating more – basically getting more rest and exercising more efficiently – I started placing in the top ten in some of my races. Many of my friends thought I was doing steroids, which I wasn’t. It was clear this was really working, to the point where I was able to compete in a couple of pro races and still do quite well.
This experience of doing less and accomplishing more was so incredible to me that I passionately wanted to know more about Ayurveda. I went to India, where I did years of study and wrote my first book, Body, Mind and Sport, which reported on our research of what were then unorthodox training techniques. (5) (The above story is taken from the last chapter in Body, Mind and Sport called “Jet Fuel”, where I discussed in more detail my personal success with these techniques).
Fast Forward Thirty Years
In the summer of 2010, I competed in a triathlon with my 20, 18 and 14 year old kids. It was a dream come true. With six kids and a busy life, my old training techniques of shorter and more efficient workouts combining cycles of sprints and rest paid great dividends, placing me first in my age group.
After years of training theories that include 45 minutes on the treadmill or an hour at the gym, the majority of folks are still not exercising regularly. Recently, the understanding of how to get the most out of your exercise has dramatically shifted. Interestingly, these new studies closely resemble what I stumbled upon and wrote about almost 30 years ago.
Chasing The Rabbit
Historically, we would exercise as a way of survival. Hunting a rabbit wouldn’t require 45 minutes in your heart rate training zone three times a week. It would require multiple sprints that would last about a minute, followed by periods of rest while you wait for the rabbit to show again. A natural fitness level was achieved after a handful of attempts sprinting after the rabbit, followed by subsequent periods of rest and recovery.
Heart Rate Variability
These discussions of shorter workouts with sprints seem to be the topic of many magazine articles today. Twenty five years ago, Dr. Irv Dardik introduced a theory called heart rate variability training, which I love. Heart rate variability means training your heart rate to be able to go really high in a sprint and then, at rest, keep the heart rate really low. Much like what the rabbit hunter experienced.
We are told our maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So, if you are 20 years old, the fastest your heart should beat is 200. I am 59 so my maximum is 220 – 59 = 161 beats per minute. Every year, the maximum heart rate lowers just a little.
Your Goal: A High Maximum Heart Rate and a Low Resting Heart Rate
As we age, the heart just cannot beat as fast as it used to. At the same time, the resting heart rate starts creeping up, bringing these two numbers closer together. One of the classic ways of measuring youth, overall health and cardiovascular status is to have a low resting heart rate and a high maximum heart rate.
This is called your heart rate variability. When you are fit, your heart has the variability to go very high, recover and then beat very low when at rest.
When our ancestors were hunting rabbits, they would sprint and get the heart rate up, then rest and be perfectly still while waiting for it to come out of its hole. Once the rabbit was out, the chase was on again and the heart rate went up, followed by waiting and resting, where the heart rate goes very low. This is called Heart Rate Variability Training, or “chasing the rabbit.”
To stay young and healthy, we want to have the ability for our heart rate to go up (and catch the rabbit), and then to function at rest with the incredible efficiency of a low resting heart rate. Let’s train for exactly that. New research says this can be done in as little as 12 minutes a day! (1,2,3) Here’s how.
12-Minute Workout – Sprint Recovery Training
This 12-minute routine can be performed daily or a minimum of 3x/week for cardiovascular improvements. You can use this as your entire workout or as a cardiovascular warm up before yoga, a bike ride or hiking. In these 12 minutes, you will build your cardiovascular base.
Step One: Warm-up
Go for a walk, jog, bike ride, use a cardio machine like an elliptical trainer. Exercise slowly for 2 minutes while maximally breathing in and out through your nose. (In my book Body, Mind and Sport, I introduced research on why nasal breathing is important.)
>>> Also, in my video-newsletter, “Enjoy Exercise Every Time,” I discussed all the truly amazing benefits of nose breathing during exercise compared to mouth breathing. Nasal breathing is a skill that may take some time to master. Don’t worry if you have to mouth breathe. Do the best you can and, in time, the nasal breathing will get easier.
Step Two: Sprint
Start exercising faster, like a mini sprint for 1 minute. Use the nasal breath during the spring if you can, as it will slow you down and not let you do too much. Don’t push it here. Start slow and build yourself up to a faster sprint over time. Try to do a sprint pace that you can maintain for one minute. In a couple of weeks you will be sprinting like a pro.
If running or biking isn’t your thing, you can do jumping jacks as fast as you can for a minute or step ups, or sit ups. You can even lift food cans up and down over your head as fast as you can for a minute. The key is to use your fast twitch muscle fibers rather than your slow twitch, which we use all the time.
Step 3: Recovery
Slow the exercise down to the Warm-Up pace for one minute and maintain the nasal breathing if you can. Nasal Breathing during the recovery will force air into the lower lobes of the lungs allowing for more efficient release of CO2 and activation of the calming parasympathetic nervous system that predominates in the lower lobes of the lungs. This will help you release toxins and stress.
Step 4: Second Sprint
Start another sprint for one minute. Make this a little faster if you can. Continue nasal breathing if possible. Sprints can be running up and down your stairs, air boxing, jumping on and off a curb for one minute – just get the exertion level up.
Step 5: Second Recovery
Recover from the sprint with one minute of deep nasal breathing at the warm up pace. If you cannot maintain nasal breathing during the recovery, the sprint was too hard. Each time it will get easier.
Step 6: Continue Sprints and Recoveries
Continue sprints and recoveries for a total of 4 sprints and 4 recoveries. Follow the nasal breathing if you can.
Step 7: Cool Down
Repeat Step 1. Exercise slowing with deep nasal breathing for 2 minutes.
Note: In the beginning, you may need a 90 second recovery period after each sprint instead of just one minute. If this is the case, then just do a 2 minute warm up, then 3 one minute sprints with 3 90 second recoveries and a 2 minute cool down, for a total of 12 minutes.
Avoid the Dangers of Over-Exercising
There is an increasing amount of research indicating the damage of long, slow, steady training on the heart. In one study, 80 marathon runners were tested for the kind of heart damaging chemicals seen after a heart attack. Prior to the marathon, runners were free of these chemicals. Right after the marathon and three days later, all of the runners showed the kind of early stage cardiac damage seen after a heart attack. (4)
It is clear that long, slow duration workouts in your heart rate training zone are not necessary and, in some cases, can be damaging to your heart. In 12 minutes, you can get your cardiovascular base and be free to enjoy a fun bike ride, hike or some yoga. Less has been proven to be more!
Be Calm and Lose Weight
The benefits of this kind of exercise are compelling. Nasal breathing during this workout naturally creates a safe governor for monitoring how much exercise is good and how much more can be potentially harmful, as indicated above. The sprint/recovery training offers many health benefits (without the wear and tear of a long slow duration workout), such as: (1,2,4)
- Increasing fat metabolism
- Calming the nervous system and mind
- Stabilizing glucose and insulin levels
- Increasing calorie burning
- Boosting energy
- Creating a sleeker, stronger, and more toned physique
- Enhancing sex drive
- Improved lymphatic drainage leading to healthier skin and detoxification
- Amplifying exercise endurance and performance
- Raising growth hormone – which may be responsible for all the above
Heart Rate Variability Training (or Sprint Recovery Training) offers all the benefits of the more strenuous exercise that we have been told to do over the years – but in just 12 minutes!
The Fountain of Youth
When you sprint, fast twitch muscle fibers are activated, which significantly increases muscle circulation and stimulates the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This hormone decreases after 30 years of age and is the fountain of youth, if there ever was one. Exercise-induced HGH activation helps restore the youthfulness and elasticity we had in our twenties and alone offers all the benefits of regular exercise.
Take this opportunity to get fit, happy and healthy!