Why Easy Exercise Is Some Of The Best Exercise
We all know that exercising frequently is essential for good health.
You know it, not just because I’m a doctor telling you, but because at the core of who you are it’s clear to see movement and strength are key components to living well.
The truth is if the Western Medical establishment hadn’t developed 1000s of drugs that help to prolong a person’s life, most of the oldest people you’d know would be the most fit. Not the ones kept alive the longest through pharmaceutical interventions.
Exercise does so much for us that it cannot be ignored as a basic building block for good health.
And while I say that, I know many people who read this shudder at the idea of “working out.”
Why? Well, because exercising requires work. And work is often hard (AKA no one wants to do it).
Today I wanted to write to you to let you know exercising doesn’t always have to be grueling. It doesn’t require you to break into a deluge of sweat, and you can do it affordably and from anywhere in the world.
It’s only fitting that as I write this, the New Year has begun. Millions of people have committed to new workout routines this week, and far too many of them think the path towards better health through exercise means crushing their souls in the gym.
Thankfully, that’s simply not true, and I’ll explain why.
Why Zone 2 Exercise Is Essential for Longevity
There are numerous reasons to workout.
Some people work out because they want to be good at a sport. Others want to lose weight, and still others, want to build and maintain an athletic and appealing physique.
I am indifferent to the exact reason anyone works out.
Instead, what I care about is doing it, and making sure you get it done 3-5 times a week.
And that’s why I believe so many people will be excited to hear about zone 2 exercise.
There are 5 zones of exercise, with 1 being the least strenuous and zone 5 being the most strenuous. These zones are defined by their percentage of a person’s maximum heart rate.
Here’s a diagram without the zone’s being specified.
What’s interesting about zone 2 exercise is not only how easy it is…or how much it benefits your total health…but committing to zone 2 exercise actually allows people who care about performance to do better in their exercise schemes.
A common adage for zone 2 is how when you “run slow it lets you run faster.”
Now, I could get incredibly detailed about how zone 2 influences your physiology and how it helps to increase your ability to exercise harder, but I don’t want to do that.
Instead, I just want to illustrate how exactly zone 2 training helps give your body the ability to live longer - and then tell you what exercises you can do (and for how long) to achieve the benefits it provides.
The first thing you need to understand about this kind of training (I use the term training loosely here) is what exactly zone 2 means. Zone 2 training involves keeping your heart rate within a certain range, which is 60-70% of your max heart rate.
At this heart rate your body is working hard enough that it is increasing aerobic endurance but not so hard that you are out of breath, gasping for air.
In fact, during a zone 2 training session you should be able to hold a conversation with someone else. You should be able to speak a sentence or two at a time without great difficulty. That’s why I say it’s “easy.”
Obviously, you’ll be doing some amount of work, it won’t be taxing and tiring, but you still derive a tremendous benefit from it.
Every person has a maximum heart rate, the older we get, the lower that rate becomes.
And a simple (but not 100% accurate way) to figure out what your zone 2 workout heart rate should be is to subtract your age from 180. So if you’re 90, zone 2 training would mean your heart rate should be around 90 bpm (beats per minute).
To achieve zone 2 training perfectly is aided by the use of a heart rate monitor. But again, if you simply want to know if you’re testing 60-70% of your heart’s capacity you can try to exercise and breathe through your nose only.
If the workout you’re doing is hard enough that you can’t consistently breath in and out of your nose then you’ve gone past zone 2. It should be hard enough that you can feel your heart rate elevated - and maintain the ability to converse with another person - while not being so difficult you can’t maintain 100% nasal breathing.
Again, these are just guidelines and there are numerous fitness devices and programs that will help a person interested in zone 2 training dial in their exact heart rate.
But at the end of the day, I think you can see plainly that there’s not that much to zone 2 training or exercise.
Here’s What Makes Zone 2 Training So Good For You
Now, it’s time to illuminate what makes it so great for your health. And truly, this is one of the best forms of training because it gives you so many benefits, without adding additional stress that high-intensity exercise may promote.
Zone 2 is known to be less inflammatory because it doesn’t require excess activation of the central nervous system. It also doesn’t lead to sore muscles because it doesn’t produce as much lactic acid as high-intensity exercise does.
And what really makes it great for your body is how it affects your cellular health.
Zone 2 training has been shown to increase the total number of mitochondria in your cells as well as increasing mitochondrial efficiency.
Why is that so important? Mitochondria are essential for using both glucose and fat as energy for 1000s of cellular processes. When you have more mitochondria, and they become more flexible, it helps them burn fat and glucose more efficiently for energy.
When you’re in zone 2 training your body will burn fat for energy as opposed to glucose, this helps you shed pounds and could prevent the onset of multiple chronic diseases (Alzheimers, Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, and more).
From a longevity standpoint the increase in mitochondria and their increased flexibility are not to be trifled with.Plus, it’ll help you look a bit better if you care about that.
In addition to aiding your mitochondria in energy production zone 2 exercise also leads to
- lower resting heart rate
- a decrease in blood pressure
- lower risk of injury
- improved insulin resistance
All of these are known contributors to better health too.
Now it’s time to see how to incorporate zone 2 into your life.
Zone 2 Training: How Long For and What Exercises?
The nice thing about zone 2 training is it doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do. It has more to do with keeping your heart rate at 60-70% of its maximum.
That means things like yard work, cleaning in the home, hiking around your town can all qualify as zone 2 exercise.
More important is how long you spend in zone 2.
From what I can see, if you want performance gains as an athlete you want to do 90 minute sessions. But, I suspect most of you reading this would like to do it for your general health. There I think 45-60 minute sessions 2-3x a week would be sufficient.
However, I think any time committed to zone 2 training is better than none. Remember, it’s not hard work to do zone 2 exercise. It can be done anywhere, a brisk walk hits the mark, and a slow run or a leisurely bike ride can get you there too.
The most important thing is committing to do it, as that’s the only way you’ll get the health benefits you long to achieve.
And of course, as a disclaimer, do not begin an exercise program unless you’ve first consulted with a physician. This information is for your education and should not be considered medical advice regarding diagnosis or treatment recommendations.