For the past 40 or so years, because of the faulty calorie hypothesis, exercise was used as a tool for weight loss, often times the primary tool. The other being, “eat less”, but we’ll get into that later.
Because the hormones responsible for fat accumulation and fat burning (LPL and HSL, respectively) are adjusted during exercise, I don’t put fat loss as a big reason for exercise. That doesn’t mean that exercise cannot be fueled by body fat, in fact, if you’re in ketosis, almost all your exercise will be fueled by your body fat. But calories aren’t the key factor.
So, if calories are not the mechanism for fat gain or loss, then what role, if any, does exercise play in achieving health and fitness goals? A bunch.
But before I get into that, I just need to bring up a question that everyone needs to answer for themselves. Why do you want to exercise? What goal does your exercising help you achieve? If you don’t know the answer to that, you’re almost guaranteed to fail in your exercise life. A ketogenic lifestyle incorporates a unified approach to all aspects, in order to achieve something better. So, having said that, and having asked you to ask yourself why you choose to torture yourself (or why you are thinking about doing it), let’s talk about exercise.
Exercise plays several roles in a healthy lifestyle, a ketogenic lifestyle.
- Stress relief
- Mental acuity
Let’s start with the first, stress relief. This is the most important reason for regular exercise. Exercise causes a lot of biochemical responses, such as increasing cortisol, the hormone responsible for dealing with stress, and increasing norepinephrine, a neurohormone associated with mood and other things. These increases cause us to relax, because when they drop back down to normal levels, the stress, for lack of a better phrase, melts away. And the longer, and more frequently, you exercise, the less hormone is needed and the lower your resting stress rate. So regular exercise allows for widespread, systemic stress relief. This, of course, is empirically provable. People just feel better after exercise.
The second role for exercise is mental acuity. The same neurohormone, norepinephrine, is responsible for increased memory and focus. So, by exercising, you are releasing large amounts of norepinephrine into your system, and it goes to work making you smarter. And stuff.
The third and, I think, most common reason for exercise is that it’s fun. Now, I will say that not everyone agrees with the kinds of exercise or the degree to which it is fun, but people tend to exercise because they enjoy something about it. If it was complete and total torture, with no demonstrable benefits, people would not exercise at all. But this also brings up the point that everyone is different. As with any lifestyle change, there is no one-size-fits-all situation. Some people like to run, some like to walk, some like to bike, some like to swim, some like to lift weights, some like to do Crossfit, and some like to do jiu-jitsu. Some like to do different combinations of any of the above or others (kayaking, rowing, rock climbing, hiking, etc.) So different folks like different forms of exercise, but that’s not the point. The kind of exercise isn’t the issue, it’s the exercising that matters. My wife loves to play tennis, but she also runs several days per week. The kind of exercise isn’t important. Exercising is. If you are in a routine that you don’t enjoy, that you find nothing fun about, then you need to get out and try something else. Honestly, I would play basketball every day, or do jiu-jitsu, or run, but the idea of biking makes me want to eat my own face. I couldn’t stand it if I had to kayak or row every day. But that’s just me. I found something I liked and I stuck with it.
So what do you like? Don’t know? That’s okay. Just try some different things out and see how you like them. Wanna run? Get some good shoes and try it. If you don’t like it (assuming you try with a real effort), at least you have yourself some new shoes. If you don’t like to run, try something else. Some people love the elliptical machine or stair climber. If that seems to appeal to you, try it.
You get the idea.
Once you find something you like, I have one final recommendation. There are two main types of exercise methods that I would recommend. The first is long, slow, kinda easy exercise. If you run, that would be like going out for an hour at a very leisurely pace. That’s a great way to get all the benefits of stress relief, mental focus, and stamina increase. It also means you don’t have to do it every day. Three time a week is more than sufficient. The other type of exercise I would recommend is the exact opposite, very short, very intense exercise where you bust your hump with every interval.
What’s an interval?
Interval training is when you go all out for a short spurt, and then rest, and then do it again. The most common is the Tabata Protocol, which lasts 4 minutes, but don’t let the time fool you. You will hate every second of it, and probably throw up. You go all out for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat that sequence for 8 rounds. You can do this with body exercises, sprints, biking, or any other of a long list of things. It provides a very intense, very good workout, but doesn’t require the use of hours of time.
No matter what you decide to do, just get out there and move. Your brain will thank you for it.