By Dr. Mercola
Do you have three or four minutes, one to three times a day, to devote to your health? By using that time to engage in one of the best high-intensity exercises out there — the Nitric Oxide Dump — you can improve your mitochondrial health, slowing down age-related muscle decline. The fact is, if you live in the U.S. and work full time, you sit an average of 13 hours a day, then sleep for an average of eight. This means you’re sedentary 21 hours of the day!
Your body wasn’t designed for that. It functions best when you’re active more so than not, and by breaking up your day with bursts of activity, you can reap great rewards. Take nitric oxide (NO), a soluble gas stored in the lining of your blood vessels, called the endothelium. NO is produced inside your endothelial cells from the amino acid L-arginine, where it acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body.
Along with promoting healthy endothelial function and heart health, NO supports healthy blood flow by helping your veins and arteries dilate. This, in turn, allows vital oxygen and nutrients to flow freely throughout your body. NO also plays a protective role in your mitochondrial health, the energy storehouse of your cells, responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions.
Even your skeletal muscle, which is made up of only about 1 percent to 2 percent mitochondria, depend on these energy powerhouses to fuel your daily movements. When you exercise and your muscles ache, it’s because you’ve run out of oxygen, which your body compensates for by releasing NO (to dilate your blood vessels making it easier for oxygen to be delivered).
This process fuels muscle development, but here’s the secret that’s not widely known: When you exercise, it takes only about 90 seconds for your blood vessels to run out of stored nitric oxide and begin the process of making more. “So working each major muscle group out for 90 seconds,” says Dr. Zach Bush, “gives you the most efficient workout to tone and build muscles.” Bush developed the Nitric Oxide Dump workout, which is specially designed to stimulate the release of NO for muscle growth and much more.
Why Three to Four Minutes, Three Times a Day Is Ideal
It may sound too good to be true, but less really is more when you know how to harness your body’s NO-generating powers. Short bursts of high-intensity activity are best, and in the case of NO it’s important to wait at least two hours between sessions because that’s how long it takes for nitric oxide to synthesize in your body for subsequent release.
“Your body has the ability to regenerate nitric oxide every couple of hours, giving you the opportunity to release it multiple times a day,” Bush says. “What that means is the most effective way to increase your muscle function is to work out very briefly every few hours.” What’s more, the Nitric Oxide Dump workout incorporates the 16 largest muscle groups in your body, making it a full-body workout.
And unlike some of the other ways to stimulate the release of NO, like going out in the sun, this workout isn’t dependent on the weather or time of day. You can do it virtually anywhere, and it’s appropriate for all fitness levels. Remember, the Nitric Oxide Dump is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which research has shown to offer greater fitness and health gains in a fraction of the time compared to typical moderate or low-intensity gym workouts. For example:
- HIIT reduces arterial stiffness and resting heart rate in people with Type 2 diabetes and may reduce the burden of cardiovascular complications in people with this condition
- HIIT significantly improves metabolic health in older adults by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing age-related risk factors for cardiometabolic disease
- A meta-analysis of 39 studies found “HIIT is a time-efficient strategy to decrease fat-mass deposits, including those of abdominal and visceral fat mass”
- In a study of overweight and obese adults, HIIT and moderate-intensity continuous training led to similar improvements in body composition over 10 weeks, but HIIT required about 40 percent less training time to receive those benefits
The Nitric Oxide Dump workout is particularly beneficial because, by stimulating the release of NO, it also improves your immune function and stimulates the thinning of your blood and decreases its viscosity, which in turn decreases platelet aggregation. The latter may discourage the development of blood clots that may cause a heart attack or stroke. As you age, your NO production decreases, so doing this quick, simple workout is one way to fight back against the hands of time.
The Four-Minute Nitric Oxide Dump Workout
You can see Bush’s version at the top of the article and mine lower down. While the primary movements are the same, make sure you’re breathing through your nose and not your mouth, as your nose regulates more than 30 physical processes, including the release of NO.
There are only four movements to learn for this workout. Start with four sets of 10 repetitions, moving to 20 repetitions as your fitness level increases. You can also add in weights (I use 8 pound weights) as you progress, but most people will want to start without weights initially.
You can do this workout three times a day, with a minimum of two hours between each workout. However, if you are in recovery mode and have not slept well or had a hard workout it is fine to skip it. Form is everything, so be sure you carry out each movement correctly, even if you need to go at a slower pace at first.
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, feet parallel, toes pointing forward and the weight of your body distributed evenly between your heels and the ball of your foot.
- Perform 10 squats in rapid sequence, keeping your quadriceps engaged. Your butt should move back as though you’re going to sit in a chair while your arms move forward for balance. You can do a shallower squat if you have knee or back pain.
Alternating Arm Raises (10)
- Alternate swinging your arms at a 90-degree angle
- Keep your form tight and your muscles controlled, avoiding swinging your arms too high or too low
This will work a number of muscles in your deltoids, which are the rounded, triangular-shaped muscles on the uppermost part of your arm and the top of your shoulder.
Non-Jumping Jacks (10)
- Begin standing straight with your arms down, fists touching in front of your pelvis.
- Use a broad rotation, circle your arms upward on each side to touch your fists over your head.
- Circle back down to hit your fists at the bottom and repeat 10 times.
If you have shoulder problems with your rotator cuffs, try this variation instead:
- Start with your hands at a prayer position in front of your chest.
- Keep your hands pressed together lightly as you extend them above your head.
- Circle your arms out to the sides to release before bringing them back to the prayer position. Repeat 10 times.
Shoulder Presses (10)
- Bring fists above your shoulders on either side of your head, elbows bent.
- Extend your arms straight above your head.
- Return to position with fists just over your shoulders and repeat 10 times.
When you’re done, you should feel your fingertips tingling, and this is a great sign because it means nitric oxide is freely flowing through your body. For quick reference, the below infographic gives you all the details on how to perform the Nitric Oxide Dump workout.
Are There Other Ways to Increase Nitric Oxide?
You lose 10 percent of your body’s ability to make nitric oxide for every decade of life, which is why it’s important to take steps to increase your nitric oxide production, especially as you age. One way to do this is by eating beets, as the naturally occurring nitrates in beets are converted into NO in your body. Raw beets may boost stamina during exercise by as much as 16 percent, while concentrated beet juice led to improvements in people suffering from heart failure, both courtesy of increased NO.
The caveat with beets is they’re high in sugar, which is why I recommend them only in limited amounts or in fermented form. Fermenting your beets rather than eating them raw gives you all the health-boosting benefits of raw beets without the concerns of high sugar content, as the beneficial bacteria created during fermentation consume most of the naturally occurring sugars.
Dark leafy greens are another good source of naturally occurring nitrates that are converted into NO in your body. Leafy greens actually contain even more nitrates per serving than beets, with arugula taking the No. 1 spot among vegetables, followed by rhubarb. Eating garlic may also help, as although it’s low in nitrates, it helps boost NO production by increasing nitric oxide synthase (NOS), which converts L-arginine to NO in the presence of cofactors such as vitamins B2 and B3.
As mentioned, beyond your diet you can also increase NO by getting out in the sun, as when UVA from sunlight touches your skin, nitric oxide is released into your bloodstream. Certain supplements, like olive extract and bitter melon, as well as acupuncture, may also enhance your body’s generation of NO, as may using a sauna or even taking a hot bath. However, these aren’t a replacement for the Nitric Oxide Dump workout.
HIIT Is Important for Mitochondrial Health
Yet another reason why the Nitric Oxide Dump workout, and HIIT in general, is so important is because it makes your mitochondria work harder. As such, they create more free radicals, which signal your body to create more mitochondria (mitochondrial biogenesis) to keep up with the heightened energy requirement. One study found that exercise training reversed or lessened age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass, “improving mitochondrial protein quality control and biogenesis.”
Exercise also stimulates autophagy, helping to remove damaged mitochondria. This is important, since mitochondrial damage can trigger genetic mutations that can contribute to cancer, so optimizing the health of your mitochondria is a key component of cancer prevention. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunction is at the core of virtually all diseases. Exercise stimulates adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), your metabolic master switch, and SIRT1, which prevents disease by recharging your mitochondria.
This secondarily inhibits mTOR that is involved in aging and cancer and in turn stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy, both of which are deadly to cancer. It’s quite incredible how many beneficial processes are set into motion by a workout that takes just four minutes, and it should serve as powerful motivation to give it a try today and continue with this health-giving activity year-round.