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People who exercise regularly are healthier than those who don't. They are less likely to develop diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They usually live longer, look and feel better and younger throughout life, and maintain their independence for longer.

Regular exercise is a vital part of life for many people. Some people include moderate physical activity such as walking in their daily routines while there are others, such as elite athletes, whose lives revolve around training and competition. From the recreational exerciser to the professional athlete, good nutrition is vital for optimal performance through its effects on the functioning of organs, muscles and other tissues.

Aerobic and anaerobic exercise
There are two basic different types of exercise, aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic means 'with oxygen' and is any kind of exercise which forces the heart and lungs to work harder to supply the oxygen to the muscles. Aerobic exercise burns calories, strengthens and conditions the heart and lungs and improves general fitness and stamina, improves mental ability, and significantly lowers disease risk. Aerobic exercise includes activities like running, cycling, swimming, fast walking, aerobics classes and dancing.

Anaerobic means 'without oxygen' and is any exercise that requires short bursts of power, such as sprinting or lifting weights. Someone who is exercising anaerobically is using energy sources stored in the muscle rather than oxygen from the air. Because this energy supply is limited, anaerobic exercise can be sustained only for short periods of time. In reality, most exercise is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. The amount of each is dependent on how hard and fast the exercise proceeds.

Nutrition and exercise
Regular exercise increase demands for calories and most nutrients. It also improves metabolism and elimination. Good nutrition helps to improve performance, prevent bone and muscle breakdown, prevent injuries and, for competitive athletes, can make the difference between winning and losing.

A daily diet built around high levels of complex carbohydrates, moderately low fat levels and moderate protein intake is the best approach for most athletes. It is also important to obtain vitamins and minerals in amounts at least as high as the RDAs. A diet that consists of a wide variety of wholesome, minimally processed foods, fortified foods and, in some cases, supplements is essential to meet these goals.

Body mass and composition
Some people exercise to lose weight and stay healthy while others work out for weight gain. Most athletes avoid high fat diets and strive for low body fat percentages, as body fat does not contribute to athletic performance. Those who exercise tend to have more muscle and less body fat than those who don't.

Water and electrolyte balance
Dehydration can reduce athletic performance and lead to fatigue, and it is vital for those who are exercising to drink enough water. This is particularly important during long endurance events. A general rule is to drink twice as much water as is necessary to quench thirst. Water is also essential for regulating body temperature. Exercise also increases needs for the electrolytes, sodium, chloride and potassium. Magnesium and calcium needs may also be greater. Supplements may be useful during strenuous exercise although sodium supplements are rarely necessary.

Herb Supplementation
[Panax Ginseng | Siberian Ginseng]

Throughout the world, many cultures have held certain herbs and nutrients in very high esteem for promoting stamina and endurance and enhancing physical performance. Many of these have maintained their prominence today, and are backed by substantial scientific evidence. Others, especially the short-term stimulants have become controversial. Let's take a look at some of these natural products through the dual perspectives of science and history.

Not surprisingly, the herbs with the most ancient reputations for performance and endurance are the chi tonics. Chi is the life force, the energy that drives us. Chi tonics are herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine to fortify or enhance the life energy.

Panax Ginseng: Ginseng is one of the world's best-known herbs. It has been continuously in use for over 5,000 years and has been valued more highly than gold at certain times. From the earliest writings of ancient Chinese history, scholars, physicians and rulers believed that ginseng could help maintain youthful vigor and enhance longevity. Although the name "Panax" - the scientific name for the genus for ginseng - means panacea, the Chinese do not believe ginseng to be a cure-all. Rather, they value ginseng for its ability to enhance overall health, to increase strength and performance, and to increase resistance to disease.

Modern scientific research confirms that ginseng can help improve mental and physical performance and stimulate the immune system. There are literally thousands of scientific studies on ginseng. Many are not considered up to today's standards of quality control, but together, especially combined with the experience gleaned from thousands of years of human use, they provide convincing documentation of ginseng's benefits. In 1969, the renowned Russian ginseng researcher, I.I. Brekhman, PhD., reported that soldiers running a 3k race could run faster and with less fatigue when using ginseng than those using a placebo.1 He also proved that radio telegraph operators could increase their speed and accuracy when taking ginseng.2 Pharmacology research continued with Russia, Korea and China leading the way. Studies in all three countries showed that ginseng could increase stamina and endurance 3,4 and also protect against environmental stress including cold and hot temperatures.5,6 According to the Japanese Pharmacopoeia, the recommended dosage for ginseng is two to six grams per day.

Siberian Ginseng: Siberian ginseng is the root of eleutherococcus senticosus, which is closely related to Panax ginseng, has similar chemical constituents and many of the same benefits. While its more famous cousin, Panax ginseng, is a slow growing, delicate, shade loving herb of the deep forest, Siberian ginseng is a hardy shrub, up to six feet tall which grows in abundance in the cold areas of northern China, Russia, and Japan. It is much less expensive than Panax ginseng and is increasing rapidly in popularity in the U.S. Siberian ginseng is used regularly by Russian Olympic athletes and cosmonauts according to Dr. Brekhman, who studied it alongside of Panax ginseng for over three decades. Clinical research shows this remarkable plant can help human subjects adapt to high and low temperatures, intensive exercise and other stress. Brekhman conducted both human and animal studies, exploring these effects, and found impressive gains in swimming, running and climbing ability under normal and unfavorable conditions.

As with Panax ginseng, the recommended dosage is 2 to 8 grams of root daily and it is available in the form of capsules, tablets and liquid extracts and also in the form of herbal teas. Most of the research is on the liquid extract, and the purified active compounds called elutherosides. The latest products to enter the American marketplace are standardized Siberian ginseng, usually in tablet or capsule form, with a guaranteed level of the active compounds. In addition to its performance enhancing and stress reducing effects, Siberian ginseng stimulates the immune system in some ways more impressively than echinacea, helps to protect the liver and protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and blood fat levels.

Astragalus root, a Chinese herb long valued for its immune stimulating potential, is also an endurance enhancing herb which shares a place in the Chinese category of chi tonics along with Panax and Siberian ginseng. Chinese herbs codonoposis and attractylodes are also in this category.

Circulatory Stimulants
[Coenzyme Q10]

Maintaining proper blood flow to the muscles and the heart is important to athletic performance. Circulatory stimulants which have this effect include cayenne (red pepper), ginger, and the now well-known micro-circulation boosters, ginkgo biloba and bilberry. While increasing overall blood circulation, they can also prevent oxygen deprivation of the heart (cardiac ischemia).

Coenzyme Q10: Due to its role in energy production, coenzyme Q10 has also been used to enhance athletic performance. Because exercise increases the risk of oxidative damage, coenzyme Q10 as an antioxidant may have a role to play in protection from such damage. In a 1997 study done in Finland, the effects of coenzyme Q10 supplements were studied in a double-blind cross-over study of 25 cross-country skiers. The results showed that all measured indexes of physical performance improved significantly. Ninety-four per cent of the athletes felt that the supplements had been beneficial in improving their performance and recovery time, whereas only 33 per cent of those in the placebo group did.7

Stimulant Herbs
[Caffeine | Ma Huang]

The use of powerful pharmacologically active stimulants is controversial. Many health conscious active people choose to avoid even the relatively mild stimulant caffeine which has been used with apparent safety for at least as long as any of the chi tonics. However, the Chinese characterize the use of chi tonics as feeding a tired horse and the use of a powerful stimulant as beating a tired horse. While this statement may overstate the case a bit, it is true that powerful stimulants tend to deplete energy rather than build it. For example, in the Russian research on Siberian ginseng, these herbs were able to increase concentration, attention and resistance to distraction, while in general, strong stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines inhibited concentration and weakened some forms of mental performance. So, while short-acting stimulants may have benefits for increasing muscular activity, they may also have negative effects on the inner game.

Caffeine: Caffeine is humanity's most ancient stimulant. The use of both tea and coffee predates written history and caffeine-based stimulants have been used by nearly every culture. Caffeine sources used in herbal stimulants include tea, kola nut, also sometimes called bissy nut, mate and guarana. In recent years, several companies and writers have attempted to imply that the caffeine in mate and guarana are somewhat different and more healthful than that found in coffee or tea. While each plant contains a variety of compounds which may subtly alter the effects of the caffeine, each of these plants is primarily a caffeine source with all of its positives and negatives. Caffeine is considered inappropriate for use during pregnancy or lactation or by people with high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, heart disease, or stimulant sensitivities.

Ma Huang: Ma Huang, or ephedra sinensis is the source of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, two potent drugs used to treat respiratory disease. In the pharmacy these are sold as Primatene and Sudafed, respectively. It is no surprise that ma huang, the world's oldest known cultivated medicinal plant, has been known as a stimulant as well. Like caffeinated beverages, ephedrine-containing products apparently can be consumed safely in moderate amounts by healthy people. Ephedrine is the plant compound most similar in its action to adrenaline and as such, it mimics the body's own chemical compound which tells the muscles to go fast. The ma huang compounds have more activity on the heart than caffeine, and can be dangerous if abused. The use of ephedrine-containing stimulants is forbidden in some athletic contests, and it may not be the best choice for athletes seeking to maximize their performance. Ma huang is contraindicated in the same conditions as caffeine, and is also ill advised for people with diabetes, thyroid problems, or prostate disease. (Because of the dangers and controversy over ma huang and ephedra, does not carry any products that contain these potentially dangerous compounds.)

Combining caffeine and ephedrine is an especially powerful combination, and increases the risks involved in using short-term stimulants.

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