Forget New Year’s to kick off your wellness routine– June is the new January in our books! After all, the spring and summer months tend to be the most active months for adults in the United States. In a study observing the behaviors of nearly 3,000 adults in Michigan, researchers found that leisure-time physical activity increased by 15-20% during spring and summer.
Those extra hours of daylight and warmer temperatures can give you an extra boost of energy to squeeze in a workout, or maybe you’re trying to get beach-ready. Whatever your motivation may be, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t just for your waistline. In our recent Instagram Live event, integrative health and wellness expert Dr. Mani Kukreja described it as “one of the most impactful and powerful medications" with benefits "from your brain to your bones".
Benefits From Your Brain to Your Bones
Each body system or organ from your brain, to your heart, to your gut, and beyond benefit from exercise. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), regular physical activity can:
Lower the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various types of cancer
Reduce the risk of falls and fractures
Improve bone and functional health
Improve sleeping patterns and quality of sleep
Improve mental and cognitive health
You’ve likely had one of those days where you dread going to the gym, but you get a boost of energy once you do. That’s because your neurotransmitters increase and remain high, even after the exercise. As Dr. Mani explains, increased serotonin levels give you the feeling of good mood and happiness, while higher dopamine levels help motivate you, and increased levels of other catecholamines like epinephrine and norepinephrine can help with alertness and decrease depression.
Moving and contracting your muscles can have similar effects. Myokines such as interleukin 6 (IL6) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) released during physical exercise have been studied for their immune-enhancing, mood-improving, and brain-boosting effects.
The Microbiome Factor
Of course, we can’t leave microbes out of the conversation. Your microbiome is foundational to your overall wellbeing. Animal and human studies have actually begun to explore the effects of exercise on the microbiome, and on the production of short chain fatty acids by gut microbes.
“When we exercise, our muscles contract and produce lactic acid,” says Dr. Mani, “your gut microbes consume the lactic acid and produce the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), propionate.” Propionate is a major antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has been shown to improve acute and chronic inflammatory diseases. Studies also show that the gut microbiome is more diverse in people who exercise regularly. Studies have also correlated exercise with increased production of butyrate: an important SCFA for brain, immune, and digestive health.
The Power of Supplements
There are so many supplements on the market that it can be easy to get lost in the hunt for what’s best for you. Dr. Mani’s top 4 supplement recommendations are protein, a high-quality probiotic, magnesium, and a Vitamin D and K2 combination. While a probiotic will help support digestive and microbiome health, the rest are great additions for post-workout recovery.
Daily protein intake is a much-debated topic, and getting the correct amount is especially important if you are getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week. “As your muscles contract and tear down, you need the protein to fill your body to help with muscle formation,” says Dr. Mani.
The usual recommended dietary allowance of protein for the average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, as Dr. Mani explains, several experts now recommend 100 grams per day or 1 gram of protein for your ideal body weight.
Bonus: Three essential amino acids are also important for muscle synthesis: leucine, isoleucine, and valine - also known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). According to Dr. Mani, if you are using a protein powder, every scoop should have 30g of protein and 2.5g of leucine for your body to initiate the response to muscle synthesis.
Making Exercise a Habit
One scientific publication describes exercise as a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and has a final or intermediate objective of the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness. “Any moment that you perform in this intentional manner, you can cause metabolic stress or put stress on your muscles, which benefits your body,” says Dr. Mani. This includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or resistance training. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise each week - or about 30 minutes per day.
With exercise, as with probiotics, consistency is key - even if you only have time to squeeze a 20-minute walk into your day. As always, be sure to discuss with your doctor if you plan to increase physical activity or incorporate a new supplement into your diet.