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3 Ways Just 20 Minutes Of Exercise Can Transform Your Health 

Jason Wachob
December 26, 2022
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
Anastacia Marx de Salcedo
Image by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo x mbg creative
December 26, 2022
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There is no silver bullet for overall health and well-being, but if renowned food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo had to pick just one principle to live by, it would be exercise. In fact, in her new book, Eat Like a Pig, Run Like a Horse, she claims that exercise (above nutrition) is the foundation for optimal health. Even if you subscribe to a not-so-balanced eating plan, she says, regular exercise has the ability to turn your well-being around. 

Full disclosure: We still believe in a balanced diet around here and that health begins on one's plate. But it seems exercise is way more important than we thought. "Exercise affects every single system of the body. It's not just your muscles and your cardiovascular system," Marx de Salcedo declares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Her book includes a great deal of data and research on how exercise benefits various bodily functions. Below, discover a snapshot of her findings: 


Stimulates mitochondria. 

Mitochondrial health is the foundation of your overall health—the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, after all, and provides the energy needed for your entire body to function. (Yes, your entire body.) And exercise is downright necessary for mitochondrial benefits. 

"People have this idea that when you have this special diet, these molecules just go right into your cells and do something wonderful," says Marx de Salcedo. "That's kind of a misconception. You can take in whatever kind of molecules you want, but nothing's going to happen in those cells with those molecules unless you exercise." 

You see, when you perform workouts that challenge you, your muscles are briefly starved for oxygen (hypoxia), which stimulates the production of mitochondria1. "The mitochondria have to work at a much higher rate than they do when you're just sitting around," explains Marx de Salcedo. "The mitochondria are producing energy at a rate that is [up to] 50 to 100 times faster. Everything's just vastly speeded up." 

This is especially important as you get older since you tend to lose mitochondria with age. That's why experts encourage stimulating mitochondrial health to enhance longevity


Balances blood sugar. 

"Exercise itself opens up a second pathway for glucose to get into your cells," says Marx de Salcedo. In fact, some experts say moving your muscles for at least 10 minutes after a meal can actually reduce the blood sugar spike of that meal. 

In one randomized controlled trial2, one group of adults was assigned to remain sedentary after their meal (think watching television on the couch), while another group opted for an active post-dinner activity. The results showed that those who moved their body within an hour of eating, even at low intensity and for only 10 minutes, helped manage their blood glucose levels

But even if you can't sneak in a post-dinner stroll, simply moving at any point of the day comes with impressive metabolic benefits. "Once you exercise, it increases your metabolism, and all those effects are lasting," says Marx de Salcedo. "They trail off over the next 24 hours. So if you exercise every day, your body is in this constantly revved-up state." 


Enhances mental health. 

There's a reason so many refer to the "runner's high": Exercise just makes you feel good. "It helps me feel cheerful, energetic, and positive," Marx de Salcedo adds. Research backs up her personal experience: After 20 or 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain that can actually reduce your perception of pain—meaning you're more likely to feel positive and upbeat during a tough workout3. (In other words: That runner's high is very much real.)

What's more, your heart rate increases during exercise, which means your body pumps more oxygen to your brain; and multiple studies3 have found that a well-oxygenated brain helps manage anxiety and depression4. We could go on and on about how regular movement balances your mood, but we'll let Marx de Salcedo summarize: "Exercise is just so important for mental health," she says. 

The takeaway. 

If you asked Marx de Salcedo her No. 1 tip for overall health and longevity, she would certainly tell you to get up and get moving. In terms of how long to exercise, she recommends getting your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes a day, if you can. "Any time you get out of breath and your heart rate goes up, that's a sign that you're getting exercise that's going to have these anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and mood-elevating impacts," she notes. 

If you can't commit to an everyday workout routine, that's OK—just try to get some sort of movement in any way you can. "The cool thing about exercise is the very first time you do it, you're going to have a good impact on your body," she adds. 

We hope you enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music

Jason Wachob author page.
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO

Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.