How Exercise Enriches a Wheat-Free Lifestyle - dummies

How Exercise Enriches a Wheat-Free Lifestyle

By Rusty Gregory, Alan Chasen

One of the toughest things to do, especially when researching and implementing a special diet like wheat-free, is carve out time in your already-hectic schedule to exercise. But it’s one of the most important. Consider the following:

  • According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.6 million people have diabetes, and 79 million people have pre-diabetes (2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet).

  • According to the Heart Foundation, about 1 million people die annually of heart disease. By 2020, it’ll be the leading cause of death worldwide.

  • According to, 33 percent of all women and 50 percent of all men will develop cancer.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.4 percent of Americans suffer from deep depression, and 9 percent experience an occasional bout of depression.

No, exercise isn’t the cure-all for everything listed, but a regular exercise program can reduce the likelihood that you’ll fall into one of those categories, and it will also improve how you feel and boost your confidence. Who doesn’t want that?

Like it or not, your health is directly related to the lifestyle choices you make on a daily basis. What you eat, how much sleep you get, and how you manage stress are all very important to a healthy life. But have you ever considered how exercise fits into living a wheat/grain-free life?

Two areas of your wellness, glucose tolerance/insulin resistance and stress reduction, are directly related to wheat consumption and exercise. Here’s how it works: When you eat wheat, the carbohydrates in the wheat are converted to glucose and stored in the liver, muscles, and fat tissue. When multiple glucose molecules bind together, they’re called glycogen. The rest of the glucose floats around in your bloodstream waiting for the hormone insulin to escort it to a muscle or fat cell to be used as energy at a later time. (The pancreas secretes insulin in response to the carbohydrates you consume.)

You become insulin resistant (glucose intolerant) when you have too much insulin in the bloodstream and your cells no longer welcome the glucose. At that point, excessive blood sugar and insulin levels can create many chronic illnesses, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, gout, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Regular, vigorous exercise several times a week improves glucose tolerance and can reduce insulin resistance by increasing insulin sensitivity. Actually, it can prevent and reverse the effects of insulin resistance before you reach one of the related diseases.

Exercise also helps lower the effects of stress on your health. Your body was built to handle stress in order to get you out of dangerous situations. However, it wasn’t designed to handle one stressful episode after another without a break. This continuous state of stress leads to elevated cortisol levels (cortisol is the primary stress hormone secreted by your body). In turn, high cortisol levels contribute to a multitude of potential health problems, including anxiety, heart disease, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), high blood pressure, sleep problems, and weight gain.

When they’re under ongoing stress, many people reach for comfort food to help ease the stress and calm the nerves. From soups to pizza, these foods are typically laden with wheat- or grain-filled ingredients. You can see where this is going.

A healthier way to deal with stress is to exercise. Exercise increases cortisol levels for the duration of each workout, but regular moderate-to-intense exercise lowers cortisol levels overall. Also, the more you exercise, the less you’ll want to eat unhealthy, wheat-filled foods for fear of undoing all your hard work in the gym. If you must eat during a stressful situation, choose a healthy, wheat- or grain-free food; otherwise, you’re just adding insult to injury.

If these reasons aren’t enough to get you to throw on your sweats and get moving, here are a few more exercise benefits to think about:

  • Improves brain function and cardiovascular/cardio-respiratory fitness

  • Improves energy levels, mood, and sleep

  • Prevents osteoporosis

  • Reduces stress and anxiety

  • Strengthens muscles, bones, and joints