By Dr. Mercola

If you're looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and get some serious results -- fast -- from your workout routine, look no further than performing squatting exercises.

This is one exercise that should be a part of virtually everyone's routine, as it's relatively simple to perform, requires no equipment, and can be done just about anywhere.

More importantly, although squats are often regarded as "leg" exercises, they actually offer benefits throughout your entire body, including deep within your core…

The Top 8 Benefits of Squats

Most of you know that I'm an avid exerciser, and an avid exercise proponent.

If you haven't yet started a regular exercise routine, you can find tips for doing so here.

Suffice it to say, a varied workout routine of appropriate intensity is one of the smartest health moves you can make, and adding squats to your routine is a must.

What makes squats such a fantastic exercise?

1. Builds Muscle in Your Entire Body

Squats obviously help to build your leg muscles (including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves), but they also create an anabolic environment, which promotes body-wide muscle building.

In fact, when done properly, squats are so intense that they trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, which are vital for muscle growth and will also help to improve muscle mass when you train other areas of your body aside from your legs.

So squats can actually help you improve both your upper and lower body strength.

2. Functional Exercise Makes Real-Life Activities Easier

Functional exercises are those that help your body to perform real-life activities, as opposed to simply being able to operate pieces of gym equipment.Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there, as humans have been squatting since the hunter-gatherer days. When you perform squats, you build muscle and help your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promote mobility and balance. All of these benefits translate into your body moving more efficiently in the real world too.

3. Burn More Fat

One of the most time-efficient ways to burn more calories is actually to gain more muscle! For every pound of additional muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day. So, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle, you will automatically burn 500-700 more calories per day than you did before.

4. Maintain Mobility and Balance

Strong legs are crucial for staying mobile as you get older, and squats are phenomenal for increasing leg strength. They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which will help you to maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which helps prevent falls – which is incidentally the #1 way to prevent bone fractures versus consuming mega-dose calcium supplements and bone

5. Prevent Injuries

Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. They also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility (squats improve the range of motion in your ankles and hips) and balance, as noted above.

6. Boost Your Sports Performance -- Jump Higher and Run Faster

Whether you're a weekend warrior or a mom who chases after a toddler, you'll be interested to know that studies have linked squatting strength with athletic ability.1 Specifically, squatting helped athletes run faster and jump higher, which is why this exercise is part of virtually every professional athlete's training program.

7. Tone Your Backside, Abs and Entire Body

Few exercises work as many muscles as the squat, so it's an excellent multi-purpose activity useful for toning and tightening your behind, abs, and, of course, your legs. Furthermore, squats build your muscles, and these muscles participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

8. Help with Waste Removal

Squats improve the pumping of body fluids, aiding in removal of waste and delivery of nutrition to all tissues, including organs and glands. They're also useful for improved movement of feces through your colon and more regular bowel movements.

What's the Proper Way to Perform a Squat?

Squats have long been criticized for being destructive to your knees, but research shows that when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue.2 In the video below, personal trainer and coach Darin Steen demonstrates safe squat techniques for beginner, intermediate and advanced.

  1. Warm up
  2. Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart
  3. Keep your back in a neutral position, and keep your knees centered over your feet
  4. Slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle
  5. Return to starting position -- repeat 15-20 times, for 2-3 sets for beginners (do this two or three times a week)
  6. Breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you return to starting position

Adding Squats to Your Comprehensive Fitness Routine

Exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. It's really a phenomenal way to get the most out of your life! After reviewing 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces the risk of about two dozen health conditions, ranging from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, even stimulating the regeneration of the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells, providing perhaps the closest example of a real life fountain of youth as we will ever find.

As with most things in life, a balanced routine works best, so you'll want to avoid placing too much emphasis on cardio, strength training or any one type of activity. Many public health guidelines still focus primarily on the aerobic component of exercise, but this limited activity can lead to imbalances that may actually prevent optimal health.

This is why it's so important to maintain a well-balanced fitness regimen that includes not just aerobics, but also strength training, stretching, and high-intensity interval training like Peak Fitness. For instance, Darin recommends beginners do 2-3 sets of squats just two or three times a week -- do it more than this and you will miss out on important recovery time. As always, as you develop a workout routine that works for you, remember to listen to your body so it can guide you into a path that will provide you with the most efficient and effective benefits.

Published in Health Plus
Thursday, 09 June 2016 00:00

Exercise Rx for Lower Back Pain

Written by: Beth Levine

Maybe you hurt your back lifting a box in the basement, or it might have happened when you jumped down from the passenger seat of your friend's SUV. It's also entirely possible that you woke up with a major pain in your back just from sleeping in an awkward position. If, like many people, you have experienced lower back pain, chances are good you'd like to find a way to prevent it from happening again. Good news on that front now comes from recent research which suggests there is a highly effective deterrent that's available to all of us: regular workouts.

The study, which took place at the University of Sydney in Australia, found that a well-designed daily exercise routine may be the best way to avoid triggering an episode of lower back pain.1 The subjects were close to 31,000 adults who had participated in one of 23 different studies the investigators analyzed in order to compare the effectiveness of various strategies for preventing lower back pain.

The scientists examined the results of each of these studies to determine which methods of preventing lower back pain actually achieve the most success. The strategies evaluated included exercise programs, educational instruction, wearing special belts to protect the back while lifting, use of shoe insoles, and ergonomic modifications. Not one of these methods other than working out was shown to be effective on its own for avoiding lower back pain or decreasing the amount of sick time needed to recover from a back pain episode.

It was only the exercise programs, or a combination of exercise and education, that made an actual impact in back pain prevention. Those volunteers who took part in a regimen of exercise had a 35 percent lower risk of lower back pain occurrences and reduced the amount of sick days taken by an impressive 78 percent over the course of one year. And adding an educational component to a workout routine made even greater improvements as those subjects were found to be 45 percent less likely to experience lower back pain in a year versus their peers who did not exercise and received educational training.

The exercise regimens considered in this investigation had been specifically created to enhance flexibility, improve posture, increase aerobic fitness, and strengthen muscles in the back, core of the body, arms, and legs. In addition, the educational program was tailored to back pain sufferers to teach proper techniques for lifting safely, provide information on correcting posture mistakes, and participate in comprehensive training on issues of back health.

These findings, supported by the outcomes of a multitude of research trials that included a large number of participants, are important because lower back pain is such a common problem. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of men and women in the United States have to deal with back pain at some point according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and in some cases, it becomes a chronic, recurring condition. Plus, a 2014 study at the University of Queensland in Australia showed that lower back pain is responsible for more disability around the world than almost 300 other conditions.2 Therefore, a method of avoiding lower back pain would be a wonderful help to the millions of people who often end up uncomfortable and miserable when an episode flares up.

The research also serves as a good reminder not to bother with devices that are marketed to make you think that they can solve all of your back problems. And, although pharmaceutical drugs were not covered in the study, they are a standard form of treatment that many doctors rely on for patients with back pain. But these medications, narcotics and muscle relaxants, often produce serious side effects and, in the case of narcotics, can be quickly addicting. Don't bother with over-the-counter stuff, either. A 2014 study at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia found that acetaminophen is no more effective for treating lower back pain than taking a placebo.3

Instead of going that route, take some time to learn about common mistakes in posture, lifting, and movement that are frequent triggers of lower back problems. Most essentially, start a regular exercise routine that includes cardiovascular activity, strength training, and flexibility work to lose excess weight that can contribute to back pain and support your back muscles to make them less prone to injury. If you stick with this plan, you might never have reason to complain about your aching back again.

Material originally published at
Copyright © 1999-2015. Baseline of Health® Foundation
Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
All rights reserved worldwide.


Published in Health Plus
Thursday, 09 June 2016 00:00

One-Minute Workouts Can Do Wonders

Written by: Beth Levine

One of the most common reasons people give for not exercising is that they just can't find the time to squeeze it in. It's tough when you work long hours, have a family to care for, household chores to be done, errands to run, and you're trying to fit in a few social activities too. But truthfully, there is really no room for excuses any more because according to new research, you can get plenty of health benefits from a regimen that relies mainly on three 20-second bursts of intense exercise.

The study, which took place at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, found that very brief workouts based around a single minute of intense exercise broken up into three intervals may be as effective in improving fitness as longer, more traditional workouts.1 The health aspects monitored included cardiovascular health and measurements of insulin sensitivity. The subjects were 27 men with sedentary lifestyles who had not been involved in any regular physical activity.

These participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group was provided with an exercise regimen of sessions three times a week consisting of short, intense training activities for 12 weeks. The second group was provided with an exercise regimen of sessions three times a week consisting of a longer duration with more workouts for 12 weeks. The third group was the control and performed no exercise.

The volunteers were all examined at the end of the 12-week period to measure the results. Incredibly, the group that only worked out for a few minutes at a time had almost identical improvements as the group that performed the longer, less intense workouts. What's astounding is that similar results were achieved despite the fact that one group spent five times longer exercising than the other.

Protocols for the exercise sessions in both groups were very strict and based on earlier investigations this team of scientists had conducted. The "one-minute" exercise routine they devised is a sprint interval training (SIT) workout that actually lasts 10 minutes--still very quick, but not quite the one minute of exercise you might initially expect. This routine is comprised of a two-minute warm up, three 20-second full intensity cycling sprints, two two-minute periods of low intensity cycling to promote recovery in between the intense bursts, and finally a three-minute cool down. In contrast, the moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) protocol they developed is based on more typical 50-minute workouts with moderate energy expenditures.

While the findings are definitely not as strong as they could be due to the fact that the pool of subjects was so small and homogenous, this is still one more piece of evidence demonstrating the essential importance of exercise. And the results correlate with a 2014 study at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark which showed that intense bursts of activity during a shorter workout can make more of an impact on blood sugar levels in those with diabetes than longer workouts do.2

What it comes down to ultimately is finding the form of physical activity that works best for you. The type of brief, intense workout that the current research focused on is great for people who have trouble setting aside an hour at a time to work out. But--and this is a big but--you need to be able to reach intensity levels of approximately 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220, for this exercise to be optimally effective. If you are just going to turn your effort up a notch or two so you are breathing a bit harder, you won't be getting any major benefits from your activity.

That being said, if you are presently sedentary, the most important thing is to get moving. Even if all you can handle at the moment is a 10-minute walk around the block, go do it. You can build your way up to more intense and/or longer durations of exercise as you become accustomed to a higher level of physical activity. Once you get started and feel what a difference regular workouts can make, you may be happy to schedule fitness sessions into your days.

Material originally published at
Copyright © 1999-2015. Baseline of Health® Foundation
Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Published in Health Plus
Thursday, 09 June 2016 00:00

Cut Your Risk of 13 Cancers

If there was something that you could do every day that would slash your chances of developing not one or two, but 13 types of cancer, doing it would be a no-brainer, right? Well, according to new research, one of the best ways to defend yourself from cancer may be as simple as becoming more physically active.

The study, which was conducted at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland in conjunction with facilities around the world, found that exercise may reduce the risk of 13 different forms of cancer.1 The subjects were 1.44 million men and women living throughout the United States and Europe. They were participants in 12 cohort investigations that tracked them for an average of 11 years.

All of the volunteers answered questions about their leisure time physical activity, including whether they took part in moderate or vigorous exercise such as walking, swimming, or running on a regular basis. Over the course of the study period, nearly 187,000 of the subjects were diagnosed with some form of cancer. The scientists categorized the participants by their reported levels of activity, considering those in the top 10 percent of the individuals in their research group as highly active, and those in the bottom 10 percentile of activity levels in their group as the least active. Those in the highest 10 percent of activity were found to have a lower risk of developing 13 kinds of cancer versus their peers in the lowest 10 percent of activity.

Some of the potential reductions were truly amazing, too. The risk of esophageal cancer plummeted by 42 percent, liver cancer by 27 percent, lung cancer by 26 percent, kidney cancer by 23 percent, stomach cancer of the cardia (upper portion of the stomach) by 22 percent, endometrial cancer by 21 percent, myeloid leukemia by 20 percent, myeloma by 17 percent, colon cancer by 16 percent, head and neck cancer by 15 percent, rectal cancer by 13 percent, bladder cancer by 13 percent, and breast cancer by 10 percent.

As the researchers analyzed the scope of the 26 types of cancer that had been diagnosed, they determined that the overall risk of developing any cancer was decreased by seven percent. What's more, of the 13 cancers that they linked to a reduced risk because of exercise, in 10 of them the findings remained true even after controlling for such factors as each subject's body mass index and even whether they smoke.

In a strange twist, there are actually two forms of cancer for which the risk appears to be increased by exercise. The first of these, malignant melanoma, was shown to be associated with a 27 percent higher risk in those who are more active. However, that can likely be explained by greater amounts of sun exposure to people getting their exercise outside in the sun. It is a good reminder that if you are going to spend more than a few minutes outdoors, it's essential to apply a waterproof sunscreen that you won't sweat off right away.

The other type of cancer with an increased incidence in the most physically active group is prostate cancer, with a five percent higher risk. While there is no obvious explanation for this, it's possible that the increase is simply due to the fact that men who work out often might be more readily willing to visit their doctor for annual checkups. Then again other research has come to a different conclusion, such as a 2005 study at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, which found that frequent vigorous workouts might slow the progression of prostate cancer.2

The current study was limited by the lack of specifics about the participants' exercise regimens. There was no information provided as to the frequency or duration of the workouts or how long each person had been living an active lifestyle. Despite this, though, the large number of participants and the length of time they were tracked make the message very clear: exercise is a key factor in our health. If you're still sedentary most days, stop making excuses and find the time to get moving. Your future self will thank you.

Material originally published at
Copyright © 1999-2015. Baseline of Health® Foundation
Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
All rights reserved worldwide.

Published in Health Plus
Monday, 18 April 2016 00:00

How to Burn Midsection Fat


By Adam Sinicki | Weight Loss - Health Guidance

Losing weight is a goal that many of us share in common. Almost everyone, barring the most extreme ectomorph, has at some point had this aim – in many cases perpetually. This is a testament to how difficult it is to lose weight, as well as how common it is to have more body fat than you’d like. Carrying extra fat doesn’t just look bad, it makes you feel tired and sluggish, it’s bad for your health and it can even shorten your lifespan.

And of all the types of fat that people want to get rid of though, it’s midsection fat that is by far the most unpopular. Midsection fat is of course the extra fat that we carry around our stomachs, which is one of the least attractive and most common types. Beer bellies make us look like we eat too much and like we don’t get enough exercise. They ruin how we look in our clothes and they affect our whole posture.

What’s worse though, is that belly fat is often indicative of the presence of visceral fat – the type of fat that surrounds our organs. This is the most unhealthy and dangerous type of fat of all and if it’s left un-checked it can be seriously bad for you.

So what can you do about it? How do you go about getting rid of that flab?

Some Things You Need to Understand About Fat

When it comes to losing fat around your midsection, there’s a bit of bad news: it can’t be done. That isn’t to say you’ll never be able to burn midsection fat but rather just that you can’t burn midsection fat specifically. Likewise, you can’t specifically target the fat under your arms, or the fat on your legs.

The problem is that the body will always burn fat in a pre-determined order based on genetics and other factors. Normally this is based on the rule of ‘last in, first out’ – much like a good employer. So if the last place you gained weight was around your face, that means that your face will be the first place to lose that extra weight when you start exercising and dieting.

This means that for some people, midsection fat will be the last to go. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about this: your only recourse is to keep training and dieting until you start to burn that fat around the stomach that you’re so keen to get rid of.

And also unfortunate, is that this also applies to visceral fat. The only way to keep visceral (dangerous) fat down, is to keep all fat down.

With that in mind, how do you go about burning fat as efficiently as possible?

How to Burn Fat

There are a large number of theories and recommendations when it comes to burning fat but a few points definitely stand out as being particularly universal and particularly effective. 


The first of these relates to diet. The best way to lose fat quickly through your diet is by reducing your caloric intake to be below the number of calories you’re burning. In other words, as long as you’re burning off more calories than you’re consuming you will lose weight. This is an iron clad rule and it applies regardless of who you are or what other diet theories you subscribe to.

That said, calculating the precise number of calories in your diet every day is hard work and it’s not something that most people will be able or willing to do. That’s why a better strategy might be to approach the question in a more ‘vague’ way. Look for some of the foods that you’re eating currently that include a lot of calories and replace these with lower calorie alternatives. Likewise, add up how much you normally eat for lunch and breakfast and try to keep these figures fairly consistent. Keep in mind that the average person will burn about 2,000 calories a day and see if you can get significantly under this number most days. It doesn’t have to be an exact science – what’s more important is that you’re consistent and able to stick at it.


In terms of exercise, cardiovascular training such as going for long runs is what most people will use in order to target their stomach fat. The problem with this strategy, is that it takes a lot of time and a rather large commitment if it’s going to be successful. As it happens, there are more effective methods available that appear to burn more fat in less time.

One example is HIIT training. This stands for ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ – a type of training that involves alternating between periods of intense exertion and periods of ‘active recovery’. Run at 90% of your top speed for one minute for instance, then jog lightly for three minutes and repeat. This way you can burn more fat by putting your body in an anaerobic state – and studies show that it can also increase the amount of energy you burn subsequently.

Another thing to consider is using weight training and resistance training. Many people looking to lose weight will ignore resistance training seeing this instead as a way to build muscle. In reality though, it’s actually just as effective at burning calories as running on a treadmill and can trigger some hormonal responses that will be conducive to weight loss. Best of all: once you’ve built muscle, you’ll increase your body’s metabolism so that it burns more fat even when you’re sleeping!

If you are going to use jogging to lose weight though, then consider going on one or two six mile runs a week. This will be enough to burn a good 700-1,500 calories each week but it’s realistic to incorporate into your routine.

Flattening Your Stomach

If you keep your calories low and use one of the training methods advised above, then you will gradually start to see the pounds fall off and your stomach start to flatten.

If you want to accelerate the aesthetic benefits though, then something else you can do is to incorporate some training for your abs as well. Training your abs through sit ups and crunches won’t directly lead to fat loss around the stomach – however it can help to tone the muscle around there which can disguise the appearance of fat by tightening the midsection up.

In particular, you should aim to train the transverse abdominis – the band of muscle that surrounds the midsection and back. This is sometimes known as ‘nature’s weight belt’ and it’s useful for holding your stomach in and supporting your core. Train this area by using stomach vacuums (trying to pull your belly button in toward your spine) or by using exercises like plank that force you to hold your core steady for short periods.

This will help you to see results more quickly but make sure that you’re patient and consistent. The best type of weight loss is weight loss that lasts. This is very much a case of slow and steady winning the race! 

Published in Health Plus
Page 2 of 2
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