How moving more can improve your immunity.
As part of Brigstock Skin and Laser’s series of articles on Dr Chatterjee’s book the 4 Pillar plan, this week we’re covering his third pillar on movement. During the Covid crisis, we’re all interested more than ever in finding out ways to help our bodies fight infection and it’s interesting to learn that exercise, or movement as Dr Chatterjee prefers to call it, can actually help your body do just that. With increasing evidence suggesting that some of the biggest risk factors associated with Covid -19 are excess weight and obesity, it is now so important that we begin to develop regular interventions to maintain our health and fitness. Hopefully, this summary of Dr Chatterjee’s movement chapter will inspire many of you to buy his brilliant book.
It’s known that exercise and movement improve your immunity by boosting your bodies’ ‘natural killer’ cells that fight off infection. Exercise also gives you more energy because it also stimulates the creation of new mitochondria. These are the power plants in your cells that convert oxygen and nutrients into energy. Other benefits of exercise including:
- Improved mental health
- Improving the composition of your gut microbiota
- Reducing chronic inflammation
- Improving blood pressure
- Improving circulatory and lymphatic flow around the body
- Preventing Alzheimer’s
Recently studies have even shown that the movement of your muscles actually releases an anti-depressant molecule called myokines that scientists have called ‘hope molecules’. Exercise can also contribute to weight loss which is so important not just because the risk associated with Covid-19 but because of the risk excess weight poses to your general health and well being.
Whilst many of us already know that exercise is good for us, it is interesting to understand Dr Chatterjee’s insistence that our relationship and understanding of what it means to exercise is confused. This is why he encourages us to think not about exercising more but rather moving more. He quotes a study by the World Health Organisation that has found that 50% of women and 40% of men in Europe and the USA are insufficiently active. This compares to only 15% and 19% in Southeast Asia which probably explains why we’re getting heavier and sicker every year. And it no surprise when we now consider the types of work we now perform in the west, typically sat down most of the day in front of a computer and sat down commuting in cars or on public transport. Our bodies have simply not evolved to be so sedentary. In fact, recent studies have even suggested that these levels of inactivity in the west can be as bad for us as smoking.
The first step Dr Chatterjee suggests we take to reduce our inactivity is to walk more. 10,000 steps a day is the goal and Dr Chatterjee has some fantastic suggestions to help you reach this target:
- Park you car a five minute walk away from your place of work.
- Use the stairs instead of the lift or escalators.
- Park your car at the opposite end of the car park from the supermarket entrance.
- Get on the bus one or two stops later and off a couple stops earlier.
- Make a rule never to sit down for more than an hour at a time – set an alarm; go get a drink of water or tea
- Drink more water as this will encourage you to get up and use the toilet more often
The key is to look for opportunities to move, fidget and walk more.
Dr Chatterjee’s book includes a fantastic bodyweight exercise program that he calls the Five-Minute Kitchen Workout. He’s created this program primarily for his patients so that anyone can fit some muscle-building exercise into their busy lives. The program includes 5 -10 squats, 5 – 10 calf raises, 5 – 10 press-ups, 5 – 10 triceps dips using a chair and 5 – 10 lunges. If you want to do more or already do more that’s great. His program is designed to ensure anyone can do something to improve their strength.
Here are just some of the benefits of improving the strength of your muscles:
- Reverses ageing
- Increases self-esteem
- Better body composition
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Better insulin sensitivity
- Improved brain function
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Improved hormonal function
- Reduced stress and anxiety
Begin Regular High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This is the real game-changer regarding our approach to exercise. The evidence is mounting that exercising less in short intense bursts is actually much more effective than prolonged low-intensity exercise sessions. This is great news because it suggests that adopting just a couple of short ten to twenty minute HIIT sessions a week will not only save you time but also help you achieve a better level of overall fitness: These are specific health benefits of adopting these short intense training sessions:
- Slowing the ageing process
- Losing dangerous, internal visceral fat
- Increasing the growth of brain cells
- Increasing mitochondrial numbers and function
- Improving insulin sensitivity, which helps you prevent type 2 diabetes
- Losing weight
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT as it is often known, is a very specific type of exercise where you exercise hard but in short bursts. So rather than going no stop for an extended period of time you break your workout into short intense sessions or ‘intervals’ with breaks in between. The key is that the sessions are intense so that you are really pushing yourself. So much so that after each interval you cannot hold a conversation for a good 30 seconds or so.
One of Dr Chatterjee’s most popular workouts from his BBC show, Doctor in the House, was a HIIT exercise. It simply involved a number of short brisk walks on your own street. The way it works is that you open your front door, start walking or running up your road as fast as you can for one minute. When the minute is over you make a note of the house number you finished you stopped at. Then walk back to your house and repeat four times, each time trying to beat the house number you last finished at. It sounds easy but after a couple of intervals it starts to get really intense…which is exactly what you want.
This is an idea of Dr Chatterjee’s about trying to do three or four ‘movement snacks’ throughout your day. He wants us to try and make these ‘snacks’ fun and to do them with a friend, colleague or a family member. Some of the suggestions in his book don’t maintain suitable social distancing rules which is a real shame because they are really good fun to do, but the point is to get yourself breathless while having a bit of a laugh with someone. The key is to take 5 minutes if that from your day, job or routine to raise your heartbeat and play.
So let’s say you’re at home waiting for the microwave to finish you could spend two minutes playing primal tag. This is where you and a family member try to touch each other between the knee and the hip. It’s great fun; a real laugh and as you both try to tag and avoid being tagged it gets your heart pumping and puts a smile on your face. Alternatively, the ‘movement snack’ could be some other form of exercise like squats, star jumps, desk press-ups, desk triceps dips, star jumps or hopping on one leg. It really doesn’t matter as long as they briefly get your heart rate up and they are fun.
Wake up your sleepy glutes
Dr Chatterjee’s focus on our buts might seem a little odd until you realise that our modern lifestyles are actually causing the important muscles in our buts to stop working. This matters because the glutes – our buttock muscles – hold our skeletons up and play a crucial role in the biomechanics of our bodies. It’s interesting and as Dr Chatterjee’ rightly points out, both men and women, whether consciously or subconsciously, judge the quality of a partner or potential mate on the shape of their buttocks.
Bad posture matters. Musculoskeletal problems are one of the most common reasons for seeing your doctor and it is not surprising. Today’s modern lifestyles in bent-over postures looking at our phones or slouched over a computer is really ruining our biomechanics. As Dr Chatterjee put it “modern life is literally a pain in the ass”. The solution is however simple. We just have to wake up our sleepy glutes and Dr Chatterjee has four simple exercises which take just a few minutes a day which do this. See the links below for Dr Chatterjee’s youtube videos explaining exactly how to do them.
Hopefully, you’ve found this summary of Dr Chatterjee’s chapter on movement useful and informative. Our bodies are designed to move and without it, our bodies do overtime become quite sick. Out modern sedentary lifestyles are responsible for many illnesses. Today’s pandemic, and the risk factors associated with excess weight, bring that into sharp focus. If you’d like to find out more do pick up a couple of the good doctor’s book and think out ways of incorporating some of his ideas into your daily routines.
Stay safe and stay proud of your skin.