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Tapping the Power of Metabolic Fitness

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Photo: crossfitreform.com

By Brian Wallace, Ph.D., FACSM |

Tapping the power of metabolic fitness (from anaerobic to aerobic capacities)through exercise impacts virtually all facets of the health-fitness-performance continuum on both a short- and a long-term basis.  Following a high performance-fitness lifestyle provides the underpinnings for the physical energy and mental focus needed to function at peak levels whether a corporate executive or professional athlete.

Short term Benefits. On a day-to-day basis, physical stress exposure represents the consummate recovery mechanism from the day-to-day stress we all experience. Muscles, tendons and ligaments are stimulated, stretched, pumped and challenged through a full range of motion – alleviating muscle tension and mental strain, and washing away the chemistry of distress.  Blood vessels and capillaries open up driving more blood, oxygen and nutrients to under worked areas and shunting toxic build-up of stress hormones and by-products out of the body.   Exercise is a powerful biochemical event that affects nearly every cell in your body.  Alpha waves (associated with calmness) and endorphins associated with euphoria are released and reshape your internal chemistry bringing relief from toxic emotions that may have built up during the day. Mental alertness, creativity, decision-making, executive function (increased ability to process information and multitask), memory, attention span, efficiency, concentration, and morale all improve while mental errors are reduced.   It seems that the more complex the task the more beneficial the effect. You disengage from feelings of fatigue, anxiety, depression, frustration, and anger generated in today’s intensely challenging world and competitive workplace.  In business, sport and in life, exercise has been reported to drive greater productivity, inspiring innovation, increasing mental focus and creativity.  Researchers have found that exercise seems to have a focusing effect similar to that of ADD medications and have even intimated it is the best first line treatment for poor focus, anxiety and depression.               

Long-Term Impact.  Over time, the impact of this program is no less dramatic. After all, it’s the repeated exposure to the acute stress of exercise that creates the environment for supercompensatory adaptations.  For example, by consistently engaging the heart, lungs and muscles to supply and use more energy and O2, they in turn supercompensate to accommodate the increased challenge realizing our first goal of building physical capacity and rewinding our biological clock – a large, efficient O2 transport system – one of the twin engines powering youthful health and metabolic fitness and a powerful force in sustaining a high quality of life.  Your heart becomes a more efficient pump able to ‘squeeze’ more blood out with each beat accomplishing more work with less effort, and, your muscles become metabolic machines – able to process more fat and O2 for energy. 

The density and strength of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments all increase helping to counteract osteoporosis and sarcopenia – critical concerns with advancing age.  Fit people can exercise longer at the same and greater intensities of exercise with a reduced perception of how hard it feels.  Daily activities which once felt difficult become easy and more enjoyable.  An enhanced capacity for work and stress tolerance heightens creativity and rejuvenates your attitude. Heat tolerance improves and endorphin release (chemicals in the brain associated with the ‘exercise high’) increases while the generation of new brain cells and neurophils help protect the brain from mental decline.

As might be expected, all this burning of calories, particularly fat, and elevated capacity for activity reverse obesity, decreasing body fat and increasing muscle tone – the ultimate in body shaping.  So you increase muscle, tone it, alter its chemistry, and increase its metabolic rate – you become a ‘metabolic’ machine – able to do more work with less effort, burning more calories even when  resting; using glucose more efficiently, fat more proficiently, and burning calories more profusely.    These benefits, in turn, translate into decreased sick days; lower incidence of disease and debility; shorter duration of illness and fewer relapses as well as greater productivity – on the field and in the office.  A balanced blend of exercise, nutrition and stress/recovery balance extend your productive lifespan by fortifying your immune function and reducing the risk of developing such chronic diseases as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Further, it has been reported that those with the highest performance ratings also rated high in fitness.  Low morale, motivation, burnout, and sky rocketing health care costs are just a few of the areas positively impacted.  The ultimate benefit, taking your health and fitness to the next level through training in turn not only impacts quality of life, it sets the foundation for peak performance, rewinds your biological clock and empowers you to challenge your own personal longevity envelope.

Dr. Brian Wallace is the chair of sports exercise science at the United States Sports Academy. 

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