Can Exercise Be Replaced with a Supplement?

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Dr. Mercola

Exercise is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle. It's particularly important for controlling your blood sugar and normalizing your insulin levels, which is critical if you want to normalize your weight and maintain optimal health.

Based on the principle of following ancestral practices, it is important to understand that our genetics and biochemistry are optimized for consistent regular movement, and failure to provide that will result in disability and disease.


Related Article: Breakthrough These 7 Exercise Myths for Better Health

When done correctly, exercise can oftentimes act as a substitute for some of the most common drugs used for things like diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Unfortunately, a side effect of our modern quick fix culture is that many still wish for a magic pill or elixir, and Nestlé now claims to be able to bottle the benefits of exercise…1

As reported by the Huffington Post:2

Yes, scientists at Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, published their work in the journal Chemistry and Biology3 on Nov. 24. Kei Sakamoto's research team in Switzerland demonstrated how a compound (C13) could activate a master metabolic control switch, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).

AMPK activation inhibits fat production in the liver and increases the body's capacity to burn sugar.

This is good news for the elderly and those with disabilities that preclude the possibility of physical activity. Of course the much larger potential market of simply sedentary people represents the sweet spot for such a product.”


The Allure of ‘Exercise in a Bottle’

Nutritional supplements can serve an important function by helping to correct specific nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, but trust me—they will never be able to replace physical exercise.

Nestlé claims the compound C13 increases metabolism by interacting with an enzyme that controls the metabolic process. This enzyme, AMPK, is naturally activated by exercise. AMPK stimulates the burning of fat by producing mitochondria, the power sources of cells.

The skeletal muscles of athletes have been found to contain a much higher number of mitochondria, which is likely linked to AMPK activity. AMPK declines with age, which is why you tend to lose muscle as you get older—unless you keep challenging them.

But what else might compound C13 interact with? The truth is, weight loss supplements and metabolic boosters in particular are notorious for creating potentially dangerous side effects.

The intellectual arrogance of this approach is only exceeded by Nestle’s egregious attempts at profits with disregard to health. It reminds me of their efforts to stop women in third world countries from breastfeeding so they could sell them vastly inferior synthetic formula that they made.

Clearly, a great many people struggle with weight issues. But to think that an “exercise potion” will be able to save you from the hassle of having to break a sweat is nothing short of delusional. There is simply no way a supplement will be able to stimulate your muscle to provide the complex physiology they need to provide you with optimal health.

Related Article: 7 Simple Exercises to Create an Extraordinary Life

The Synergistic Effects of Exercise Cannot Be ‘Bought’

A product like this might be able to mimic a specific biological effect that exercise produces, such as increasing your metabolic rate, but it will never provide you with all  the health effects exercise provides. As someone that has been passionate about exercise for nearly five decades, I can assure that exercise has countless effects on your body — not only on your muscle fibers but also on your brain, your immune system, your ability to fight cancer, depression, and much more.

There’s simply no way a pill or beverage could ever reproduce the synergistic benefits that exercise has on your body and mind. For example, research published in the journal Cell Metabolism4 shows that when healthy but inactive people exercise intensely, even if the exercise is brief, it produces an immediate change in their DNA.

While the underlying genetic code in the muscle remains unchanged, exercise causes important structural and chemical changes to the DNA molecules within the muscles, and this contraction-induced gene activation appears to be early events leading to the genetic reprogramming of muscle for strength, and to the structural and metabolic benefits of exercise.

Several of the genes affected by an acute bout of exercise are genes involved in fat metabolism. Specifically, the study suggests that when you exercise, your body almost immediately experiences genetic activation that increases the production of fat-busting proteins.

Previous studies have identified and measured a wide variety of biochemical changes that occur during exercise. More than 20 different metabolites5 are affected, including compounds that help you burn calories and fat, and compounds that help stabilize your blood sugar.   These biochemical changes create a positive feedback loop. Will “exercise in a bottle” be able to affect all those metabolites? It’s highly unlikely, and Nestle’s own scientists warn that their product should be viewed as a supplement to boost exercise benefits—not an actual replacement for exercise.6

You Don’t Need to Invest Hours to Reap Benefits from Exercise

One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose and insulin levels by optimizing insulin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend multiple hours in the gym each week. Research shows that short bursts of intense exercise is the most effective, so you can really maximize your exercise benefits in as little as 40-60 minutes per week, provided you’re doing it correctly.

Related Article: What’s the Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life? How to Find Your “Goldilocks Zone”

HIIT Guidelines

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a core component of my Peak Fitness program. There are many versions of HIIT, but the core premise involves maximum exertion followed by a quick rest period for a set of intervals. My Peak Fitness routine uses a set of eight 30-second sprints, each followed by 90 seconds of recovery, as taught by Phil Campbell who is a pioneer in this field. Also, while I typically recommend using an elliptical machine or recumbent bike, it can be performed with virtually any type of exercise, with or without equipment.

To perform these exercises correctly, you’ll want to raise your heart rate to your anaerobic threshold, and to do that, you have to give it your all for those 20 to 30 seconds.  Here's a summary of what a typical interval routine might look like using an elliptical (for a demonstration, please see the video below):

  • Warm up for three minutes
  • Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should be gasping for breath and feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds. It is better to use lower resistance and higher repetitions to increase your heart rate
  • Recover for 90 seconds, still moving, but at slower pace and decreased resistance
  • Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times. Depending on your level of fitness, you may only be able to do two or three repetitions to start. As you get fitter, just keep adding repetitions until you’re doing eight.

Ideally, you’ll want to perform these exercises two or three times a week for a total of four minutes of intense exertion, especially if you are not doing strength training. Doing it more frequently than two or three times a week can be counterproductive, as your body needs to recover between sessions.

If you want to do more, focus on making sure you're really pushing yourself as hard as you can during those two or three weekly sessions, rather than increasing the frequency. I also recommend incorporating strength training for a well-rounded fitness program. You can turn your resistance exercises into high intensity exercises as well, simply by slowing things down.

Super slow strength training may even be superior to HIIT exercises using a recumbent bike or elliptical machine in some regards. For instance, you only need about 12 to 15 minutes of super-slow strength training once a week to achieve the same human growth hormone (HGH) production as you would from 20 minutes. To learn more, see The Pros and Cons of Free Weights versus Resistance Machines, which also discusses the benefits of a super-super slow technique…

Keep reading full post

Related Article: Could Exercise Make You Smarter? Research Says It CAN

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