Energize Your Life: Unleashing the Power of Motion

“If you want to be strong, run. If you want to be beautiful, run. If you want to be smart, run.” –  Ancient Greek proverb

Most modern diets offer us a set of food product recommendations, invented by some people, usually for weight loss. This does not work. You don’t want to be slim, but healthy. Believe it or not, it’s not the same.   

The goal of following the Mediterranean diet is not a beautiful shape that meets the expectations of social media addicts. No, it’s far from that. 

So now we are talking not about food but about the part of the Mediterranean diet that concerns physical activity. This is not and never has been a diet of rich and pampered slackers who laze all day long and spend their nights in feasts and orgies. This is the lifestyle of farmers and shepherds doing hard physical labor and walking many miles a day on rough hilly and mountain paths. 

Why does the Mediterranean diet place so much emphasis on physical activity? Because this diet invites you to follow the lifestyle of people who never (or almost never) suffer from cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 

That’s why their lifestyle is used as a role model for those who want to be healthy. This pattern is called the Mediterranean diet, which not only sets nutrition rules, but also requires us to lead an active lifestyle. By the way, following this lifestyle, you will either get rid of excess weight, or, on the contrary, gain your healthy weight. 

What other diet can you say the same thing about? Which one reproduces the lifestyle of some group of people characterized by excellent health? What other diet is as natural and organic? 

That’s right, none. 

So let’s find out: how does physical activity contribute to the overall Mediterranean lifestyle? 

Balancing Caloric Intake

The Mediterranean diet encourages a balance between caloric intake and expenditure. Regular physical activity helps to burn off excess calories consumed, thereby preventing weight gain and promoting weight management. An active lifestyle contributes to balancing caloric intake through several mechanisms:  

Increased Energy Expenditure: Physical activity requires energy, which is derived from the calories consumed in food. When you engage in activities such as walking, running, cycling, or strength training, your body burns calories to fuel these activities. The more physically active you are, the more calories your body burns throughout the day, helping to offset the calories consumed through food.

Boosting Metabolic Rate: Regular physical activity increases your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body burns calories at rest. This means that even when you’re not exercising, your body continues to burn more calories than it would if you were sedentary. This effect, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the afterburn effect, can help to balance caloric intake over time. 

Improving Insulin Sensitivity: Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, which is the body’s ability to use glucose effectively for energy. When insulin sensitivity is improved, your body is better able to regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of excess glucose being stored as fat. This can help to prevent weight gain and promote a more balanced caloric intake. 

Appetite Regulation: Exercise can influence appetite regulation by affecting hormones such as leptin and ghrelin, which play key roles in hunger and satiety. Many research suggests that regular physical activity helps to reduce appetite and cravings, making it easier to maintain a balanced caloric intake and avoid overeating. 

Preserving Lean Muscle Mass: Strength training and other forms of resistance exercise help to build and preserve lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it burns more calories at rest compared to fat tissue. By increasing muscle mass through regular exercise, you can boost your overall metabolic rate and improve your body’s ability to burn calories, even when you’re not actively exercising.

Enhancing Overall Health: An active lifestyle is associated with numerous health benefits beyond just weight management, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, better mood and mental well-being, and increased longevity. These overall health improvements contribute to a more balanced caloric intake by supporting optimal metabolic function and energy balance.

Heart Health 

The Mediterranean diet including regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. Physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, improves circulation, and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure levels, complementing the heart-healthy aspects of the Mediterranean diet. How does it work?

Strengthening the Heart Muscle: Like any other muscle in the body, the heart can be strengthened through regular exercise. Engaging in aerobic activities increases heart rate and forces the heart to pump more blood. Over time, this strengthens the heart muscle, making it more efficient at pumping blood throughout the body.

Improving Circulation: Regular physical activity improves circulation by increasing blood flow throughout the body. This helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all organs and tissues, including the heart muscle itself. Improved circulation also enhances the removal of waste products and toxins from the body, promoting overall cardiovascular health. 

Reducing LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides: Regular exercise can help to improve lipid profile by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol, and lowering levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. This helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries. 

Reducing Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to the development of heart disease. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body by modulating the production of inflammatory cytokines and promoting the release of anti-inflammatory substances. This anti-inflammatory effect helps to protect against the development and progression of cardiovascular disease.

Improving Heart Rate Variability: Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, which reflects the autonomic nervous system’s control over the heart. Higher HRV is associated with better cardiovascular health and overall fitness. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to increase HRV, indicating improved autonomic function and reduced risk of heart disease.

Lowering Blood Pressure 

Physical activity helps to lower blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Exercise causes blood vessels to dilate, reducing resistance to blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Over time, regular physical activity can lead to sustained reductions in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure. 

Physical activity stimulates the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps to relax and dilate blood vessels. Nitric oxide plays a key role in regulating blood pressure by promoting vasodilation and improving blood flow. 

Also, physical activity reduces sympathetic nervous system activity  which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response, which can cause blood pressure to rise in times of stress or activity. Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to elevated blood pressure, so engaging in activities such as walking, yoga, or tai chi helps to balance sympathetic nervous system activity, lower stress levels and normalize blood pressure.  

Regular physical activity improves endothelial function. The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels, and its proper function is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Physical activity promotes the release of nitric oxide and reduces inflammation and oxidative stress. Enhanced endothelial function allows blood vessels to relax and dilate more effectively, leading to lower blood pressure.

Physical activity reduces sodium sensitivity. High sodium intake is associated with hypertension in some individuals, as it can lead to water retention and increased blood volume. Regular physical activity promotes sodium excretion through sweat and improving fluid balance in the body. 

So physical activity plays a crucial role in lowering blood pressure by promoting vasodilation, increasing nitric oxide production, reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, improving endothelial function, promoting weight loss and maintenance, reducing sodium sensitivity, and reducing stress levels. 

Weight Management 

It’s no secret: if you want to lose excess weight, move more. Well, let’s imagine this is how we live, in our perfect Mediterranean world. We exercise regularly, walk a lot, and have given up traveling around the city by car, preferring a bicycle. This lifestyle helps us burn calories and maintain a healthy body weight through the following mechanisms:

Caloric Expenditure: When you engage in physical activity, your body burns calories to fuel the exercise. The more intense the activity and the longer its duration, the more calories you burn. By increasing your overall energy expenditure through physical activity, you create an energy deficit, which can lead to weight loss if calorie intake remains constant or does not exceed expenditure.

Muscle Building and Maintenance: Resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, helps to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it burns more calories at rest compared to fat tissue. By increasing muscle mass through regular strength training, you boost your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories your body burns at rest. This contributes to weight management by increasing the number of calories you burn throughout the day.

Boosting Metabolism: Regular physical activity can increase your metabolic rate, both during exercise and in the post-exercise period. This effect, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the afterburn effect, causes your body to burn additional calories even after you’ve finished exercising. The magnitude and duration of the afterburn effect depend on the intensity and duration of the exercise session.

Appetite Regulation: Exercise can influence appetite regulation by affecting hormones such as leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY, which play key roles in hunger and satiety. Some research suggests that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may help to suppress appetite and reduce food cravings, leading to decreased calorie intake. However, the relationship between exercise and appetite regulation can vary among individuals and may be influenced by factors such as exercise intensity, duration, and individual metabolic responses. 

Improving Insulin Sensitivity: Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, which is the body’s ability to use glucose effectively for energy. Enhanced insulin sensitivity helps to regulate blood sugar levels and may reduce the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, both of which are associated with weight gain and obesity. By improving insulin sensitivity, regular exercise can help to promote weight management and prevent the accumulation of excess body fat. 

Enhancing Fat Oxidation: Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming, stimulates fat oxidation, the process by which stored fat is broken down and used as fuel during exercise. Regular aerobic exercise can increase your body’s ability to utilize fat as an energy source, which may contribute to weight loss and fat loss over time.

Psychological Benefits: Physical activity has psychological benefits that can support weight management efforts. Regular exercise can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, enhance self-esteem, and promote a sense of well-being. These psychological benefits can help to reduce emotional eating, improve adherence to healthy eating habits, and support long-term weight management goals. 

Improving Metabolism

Engaging in physical activity boosts metabolism, which aids in better digestion and nutrient absorption. This synergizes with the nutrient-rich foods consumed in the Mediterranean diet, promoting overall health and vitality. 

Increased Energy Expenditure: When you engage in physical activity, your body requires energy to fuel the exercise. This energy is derived from the calories stored in your body as glycogen (carbohydrates) and fat. The more intense the activity and the longer its duration, the more calories you burn. This increased energy expenditure during exercise contributes to an immediate boost in metabolism.

Elevated Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): Regular physical activity, particularly high-intensity exercise and strength training, can increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is the number of calories your body burns at rest to maintain basic physiological functions such as breathing, circulation, and cell repair. Building and maintaining lean muscle mass through resistance training increases RMR because muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue. Even after you’ve finished exercising, your body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate due to the metabolic demands of repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue.

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC): After a bout of intense exercise, your body continues to consume oxygen at an elevated rate to restore energy reserves, remove metabolic byproducts (such as lactate), and return physiological systems to pre-exercise levels. This phenomenon, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the afterburn effect, results in continued calorie burning even after you’ve finished exercising. The magnitude and duration of the afterburn effect depend on factors such as exercise intensity, duration, and individual metabolic responses.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Regular physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, which is the body’s ability to use glucose effectively for energy. Enhanced insulin sensitivity helps to regulate blood sugar levels and may contribute to improved metabolism. When your body is more sensitive to insulin, it can better manage blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of excess glucose being stored as fat. Improved insulin sensitivity is associated with a higher metabolic rate and a lower risk of obesity and metabolic disorders.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Physical activity can increase the thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the energy expenditure associated with digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing nutrients from food. Certain types of physical activity, particularly high-intensity exercise and strength training, can increase TEF by stimulating metabolic processes involved in nutrient metabolism. This means that your body burns more calories during and after meals, contributing to overall energy expenditure and metabolic rate.

Enhancing Mental Health

Have you ever experienced euphoria after a 30-40 minute morning run? You’re ready to move mountains. You can finish your weekly to-do list before lunch today. You are charged with positivity and infect everyone within a mile radius with this feeling. But what happened? What changed in these 30 minutes? 

Exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that promote feelings of happiness and reduce stress. The Mediterranean lifestyle, with its focus on physical activity alongside wholesome foods, contributes to improved mental well-being and overall quality of life. Yes, physical activity has numerous positive effects on mental health: 

Release of Endorphins: Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while promoting a sense of well-being and relaxation. This “feel-good” effect can improve mood and contribute to overall mental health.

Reduction of Stress and Anxiety: Physical activity can help to reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Regular exercise provides a healthy outlet for pent-up tension and anxiety, promoting relaxation and stress relief. Engaging in physical activity also distracts the mind from negative thoughts and worries, allowing for greater mental clarity and focus.

Improvement in Mood: Exercise has been shown to improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. Physical activity stimulates the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure. Regular exercise can help to lift mood, increase self-esteem, and enhance overall emotional well-being.

Enhanced Cognitive Function: Physical activity has been linked to improved cognitive function and mental clarity. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients that support brain health and function. Regular physical activity has been associated with better memory, attention, and executive function, as well as a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life. 

Promotion of Better Sleep: Regular exercise can improve sleep quality and duration, which is essential for mental health and well-being. Physical activity helps to regulate the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and promote relaxation, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Improved sleep can lead to better mood, concentration, and overall mental functioning.

Social Interaction and Support: Many forms of physical activity involve social interaction and support, whether through team sports, group fitness classes, or outdoor activities with friends and family. Social connections are vital for mental health and can provide emotional support, encouragement, and a sense of belonging. Engaging in physical activity with others can also foster camaraderie, cooperation, and a shared sense of achievement.

Stress Reduction: Physical activity serves as a healthy coping mechanism for managing stress. Exercise provides a constructive outlet for expressing emotions, releasing tension, and reducing the physiological effects of stress on the body. Regular physical activity can help individuals develop resilience to stress and improve their ability to cope with life’s challenges.

So, “If you want to be strong, run. If you want to be beautiful, run. If you want to be smart, run.” – That’s what they said in ancient Greece. And like much of what they said and did, it’s worth trying. It works.  

Bone Health 

Weight-bearing physical activities, such as walking, jogging, or resistance training, help to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. This is particularly important as people age, and it complements the calcium-rich foods often consumed in the Mediterranean diet, such as dairy products and leafy greens. Let’s try to figure out how physical activities help to strengthen bones:  

Weight-Bearing Exercise: Weight-bearing activities involve working against gravity while standing, such as walking, jogging, dancing, and stair climbing. These activities stimulate the bones to build and maintain density by exerting force on them. The stress placed on the bones during weight-bearing exercise triggers a process called remodeling, where bone tissue is broken down and rebuilt stronger in response to the mechanical load. Over time, this leads to increased bone density and strength.

Resistance Training: Resistance training, also known as strength training or weightlifting, involves using resistance to build muscle strength and endurance. When you lift weights or use resistance bands, your muscles pull on the bones to produce movement. This pulling action creates tension on the bones, stimulating bone growth and remodeling. Resistance training also helps to build and maintain lean muscle mass, which is essential for bone health.

Impact Activities: Activities that involve impact or sudden jolts, such as jumping, hopping, or plyometric exercises, can help to strengthen bones by subjecting them to brief, high-intensity forces. These impact activities stimulate bone formation and remodeling, particularly in areas of the body where the impact is concentrated, such as the hips, spine, and lower extremities. Over time, participating in impact activities can increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures.

Balance and Coordination Exercises: Balance and coordination exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, and Pilates, can also contribute to bone health by improving stability, posture, and proprioception (the body’s awareness of its position in space). These exercises help to strengthen the muscles around the bones and promote better alignment, reducing the risk of falls and fractures. Additionally, some balance exercises involve weight-bearing elements that provide additional stimulus to the bones.

Vitamin D Synthesis: Physical activity often takes place outdoors, where exposure to sunlight can stimulate the production of vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D is essential for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium, a key mineral for bone strength. Adequate vitamin D levels are necessary for the formation and maintenance of healthy bones, and regular physical activity can support vitamin D synthesis and metabolism.

Maintenance of Joint Health: Regular physical activity helps to maintain joint health by promoting flexibility, mobility, and lubrication of the joints. Strong, flexible joints are better able to withstand the stresses of physical activity and daily movement, reducing the risk of injury and preserving overall musculoskeletal health, including bone integrity. 

Longevity 

Studies have shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet, coupled with regular physical activity, is associated with increased longevity and a lower risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. So, how does exercise that brings us so much health benefit and pleasure, helps us live longer? 

Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. By promoting heart health, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, and supporting cognitive function, physical activity helps to prevent or delay the onset of these life-threatening conditions, thereby increasing longevity. 

Improved Cardiovascular Health: Physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, improves circulation, and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure levels and cholesterol levels. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, which are leading causes of mortality worldwide. By keeping the cardiovascular system healthy and functioning optimally, physical activity contributes to a longer and healthier life.

Weight Management: Regular physical activity helps to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss by increasing energy expenditure, building lean muscle mass, and improving metabolism. Maintaining a healthy weight is associated with a reduced risk of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. By supporting weight management efforts, physical activity can extend lifespan and improve overall health outcomes.

Enhanced Immune Function: Moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to enhance immune function by improving circulation, promoting the circulation of immune cells, and reducing inflammation. Regular physical activity helps to strengthen the immune system, making the body more resilient to infections and illnesses. By reducing the risk of infectious diseases and enhancing immune responses, physical activity can support longevity and quality of life.

Bone Health: Weight-bearing and resistance exercises help to maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones. By promoting bone health and reducing the risk of fractures, physical activity supports mobility and independence in older adults, contributing to a longer and more active life.

Mental Well-Being: Physical activity has numerous mental health benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, improving mood, and enhancing cognitive function. By promoting mental well-being and resilience, regular exercise can improve overall quality of life and increase longevity.

Social Engagement: Many forms of physical activity involve social interaction and support, whether through team sports, group fitness classes, or outdoor activities with friends and family. Social connections are important for mental and emotional health, and they can provide a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment. By fostering social engagement, physical activity contributes to longevity and overall well-being.

In general: everything that was mentioned above is the key to longevity. We all age, this is inherent in nature and this is normal. Also, nature has established that we begin to age immediately after the formation of our adult body, that is, after 20 years.

However, the rate of aging is something that nature has left to our discretion. This means we can speed up this process, but we can also slow it down. Well, you get the idea. 

Conclusion

So, this was an article about the Mediterranean diet, in the original Greek meaning of the word diaita, that is the way of life. What conclusions can we draw?

– Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week, to maintain cardiovascular health.

– Physical activity plays a crucial role in weight management by increasing caloric expenditure, building and maintaining lean muscle mass, boosting metabolism, regulating appetite, improving insulin sensitivity and enhancing fat oxidation. By incorporating regular exercise into your routine, you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

– Physical activity boosts metabolism by increasing energy expenditure during exercise, elevating resting metabolic rate (RMR) through muscle building and maintenance, promoting excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), improving insulin sensitivity, and enhancing the thermic effect of food (TEF).

– Physical activity plays a crucial role in promoting longevity by reducing the risk of chronic diseases, improving cardiovascular health, supporting weight management, enhancing immune function, promoting bone health, supporting mental well-being, and fostering social connections.

– Participating in a variety of weight-bearing, resistance, impact, balance, and coordination exercises helps to strengthen bones by stimulating bone growth and remodeling, promoting muscle strength and stability, supporting vitamin D synthesis, and maintaining joint health.

– Physical activity enhances mental health by promoting the release of endorphins, reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, enhancing cognitive function, promoting better sleep, fostering social connections, and serving as a healthy coping mechanism for managing stress.

Overall, physical activity is an integral part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, working synergistically with the nutrient-rich, plant-based diet to promote health, longevity, and well-being. Simply put: eat well, exercise a lot and stay healthy. 

With all that said, what other reasons could you have for not incorporating this self-care practice into your busy schedules? Actually, there can be only one reason: you don’t love yourself, you consider yourself such a pathetic and worthless creature that 30 minutes of exercise or an hour’s walk in the park is an unaffordable luxury for you. 

Or not? 

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