06/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Want Increased Longevity? Spring Into Shape With Smart Exercise

With the recent LA Marathon just over, you may have become inspired to put on your running shoes and get out for a run. And now that spring is here, it is a good time to get off the couch and get back on track with your exercise routine. How you approach your workout can determine the benefits and enjoyment that you'll get from it while preventing unnecessary injuries.

Activate Your Health In my 25 years of clinical practice and research on centenarians, I have never met a healthy person or centenarian that lived a physically inactive life. Exercise brings with it numerous benefits, from boosting your energy and reducing stress hormones to lowering your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer depression, and diabetes.

Exercise also helps burn off excess blood sugar, preventing it from getting stored as body fat - good news for your waistline. Moderate load-bearing exercises are essential for bone density and muscle strength, and this is especially important as we age. Cardiovascular exercises increase heart rate and provide stimulation for the heart muscles, helping maintain proper endurance. Every way you look at it, exercise will make you happier, sexier, and more vivacious!

No Pain, No Gain? Think Again! I have a number of patients who are "weekend warriors" -- people who don't exercise much during the week but go to the extreme on weekends. They'll engage in vigorous physical activities like mountain biking or high-impact aerobics -- and then usually end up in my office with an injury. There is nothing wrong with these intense athletic activities, but when they are done infrequently, they often lead to injuries.

To reap the benefits of exercise, it isn't necessary to work out to the extreme or get your heart pumping to its maximum. On the contrary, many studies show that regular, moderate exercise does more for your health and waistline than periodic intense workouts. Also keep in mind, when exercising beyond a healthy level of heart rate, your body switches from burning fat to burning carbohydrates for energy. The old maxim of "no pain, no gain" is destructive, and the wear and tear of physical strain takes its toll.

Find Your Ideal Exercise Zone What is a healthy range for heart rate and workout intensity? This is actually a simple and logical question. If you strain to breathe during your physical training and feel tired and achy afterwards, you've gone beyond the limit of what is healthy for you.

A healthy range of heart rate during exercise for the average person is between 90 and 120 beats per minute. A sports medicine specialist or trainer can help you find your individual ideal range of heart rate. When you are in your optimum zone, exercise should make you feel energized and happy afterwards, motivating you to repeat the experience over and over again. From my clinical experience and research, I am convinced that it is best to exercise four times or more per week, for 30 minutes each time.

If you suffer from a physically debilitating condition, are recovering from an illness, or are just completely out of shape, start your exercise program gently and gradually. You may want to exercise only five minutes a day to start with, but do it every day. Then incrementally increase the time on a weekly basis -- say, five additional minutes per week. By the end of the sixth week, you'll be up to 30 minutes.

Tai Chi For Mind-Body Health and Balance If you are looking for a different type of exercise that integrates the mind and the body, then tai chi -- an exercise from China -- may be worthy of your consideration. Tai chi is a sequence of slow, meditative movements, a hybrid of yoga and martial arts based on the cyclical movements of the natural world. Its goal is simple: to reconnect us to the flow of energy that permeates the entire universe. When that energy becomes truly available to us, our vitality is boundless.

Tai chi is far more than a sport or a dance. Practicing tai chi means balancing ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The exercise itself is gentle and yet improves cardiovascular capacity. Tai chi also provides health benefits that might surprise you. Studies on tai chi show that it improves balance, lowers blood pressure, and relieves arthritis. Moreover, it has been found to be an effective cardiac rehab exercise for heart disease. For more information on Tai chi or its simpler to learn cousin, Qi Gong, click here.

Acupuncture Enhances Sports and Athletic Performance Chinese Olympians have used acupuncture to increase energy and athletic performance for years as their secret weapon. Studies show that acupuncture increases mitochondrial function. Since mitochondria is the engine that pumps out energy for use in each cell of our body, low mitochondrial function is now linked to conditions such as chronic fatigue and even aging. Many of our patients at the Tao of Wellness have used acupuncture for enhancing performance and to improve their flexibility, prevent injuries and hasten recovery. Several patients have recently beaten their own past marathon records by more than 15 minutes! Click here to learn more about acupuncture and its benefits.

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