Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Exercise: How much is enough?

Our bodies were built to move and lack of movement creates a host of problems that I'm certain many of you have become all too aware--even if you don't realize these problems are caused by lack of movement.  Notice that I say movement and not exercise. Why? Because the word exercise conjures up so many negative feelings in some people even though it should not because it is, after all, just movement.

Exercise does not have to be, nor should it be, painful. It doesn't have to be torture or drudgery. Exercise is just purposeful movement: movement of your muscles and skeleton. It can be as simple as taking your dog (or just yourself) for a nice walk after dinner or it can be as complicated as a rigorous, demanding, highly-structured routine. I personally don't recommend the latter unless you are really into that sort of thing.

Shows like the Biggest Loser do exercise a great disservice and can give it a bad name. Most viewers don't realize, or don't consciously consider, that there are physical therapists and medics all over the set taking care of the numerous injuries these contestants receive, and as a result are so motivated by the fact that these enormous people are doing so much and losing so well that they hurt themselves. Well I, for one, don't have a physical therapist or medic on hand, nor do I have the time or money to suffer injuries that require medical care. I imagine that you are more like me in that regard.

I bring this show up, specifically, because I was once addicted to it. It always motivated me and made me think: If they can do it, I can do it. So, I'd start my diet (usually the low calorie/low fat/high carb one used by the contestants) and an exercise program that consisted of no less than 4 hours/day (but usually more) of brutal, punishing exercise. My husband, a master personal trainer, strenuously objected to this. I recall that he always shook his head when he'd see these trainers having these huge, out-of-shape people doing so much high impact exercise. He'd say "they're going to hurt that guy." Sure enough, next episode you'd see that person on crutches, in a sling, or unable to participate in a challenge due to injury.

Did they ultimately get results? Yes, they did. Were the results long-lasting? In most cases, no. You should do a Google search and you'll see that the vast majority of the contestants have gained back most, if not all, of their weight. It is sad, too. I know because I did that so many times over the years that I've lost count.

I'd lose, hurt myself, give up, re-gain and start all over again. My last weight loss was successful only because I chose a Paleo (or mostly Paleo) lifestyle after I lost the weight. I'm certain that had I not adopted this lifestyle, I would have gained the weight back like so many others have, or I would have been constantly correcting, which is a pain.

So, keeping the weight off (a year now) has to do with more than just what I eat. A lot more. It is also a big component of the Paleo lifestyle and it is called movement.  The idea is simple: Move frequently and purposefully. Lifting heavy things, sprinting when you feel like it and have the energy to do it, and playing. Notice, I didn't say anything about the gym. I didn't say anything about buying special equipment. I didn't say anything about getting up at oh-dark-thirty to run 5 kilometers. If that's what you choose to do, fine, but if none of that appeals to you then you won't continue to do it, so it is pointless to start.

I don't subscribe to chronic cardio--it is simply too damaging to the body in the long run to make it a worthwhile endeavor. What do I mean by chronic cardio? To me, that means working your heart rate beyond 70% of your max heart rate for more than 30 continuous minutes on a daily, or almost daily, basis. I rarely go beyond 75% for periods of 20 minutes or less and try to stay within the 60-70% range for fat burning purposes, because while I am no longer overweight I feel that I have too much fat on my body and I want to replace it with lean muscle mass.

The inflammatory affects of chronic cardio are numerous and, in my humble opinion, dangerous over time. When you look at the elite athletes of marathons and triathlons you will usually see terribly emaciated looking people. Remember, I'm not talking about ALL of them nor am I talking about your average Joe or Jane who simply wants to do one or two of these events, but the professionals. The ones who make their livings competing in these events. To me, they are not the vision of good health. Their x-rays probably aren't either. Why do you think their careers, for the most part, are so short-lived? Injuries on top of injuries compounded with years of "just work through the pain" mentality stops them in their tracks, pun intended, when they are still relatively young. Granted, there are some that have found a way to run their marathons exceptionally well like Hal Higdon--my go-to guy for running help these days--who also does not subscribe to insane training programs or fad diets.

If you enjoy running (or think you might) or using eliptical trainers, etc., be smart about it. Yes, you should get your heart rate up into the cardiovascular workout zone--but not for long periods of time, especially if you need to burn fat and most especially if you'd like to do it for the rest of your life. Cardio sports are also notoriously hard on all of your joints so when you are experiencing joint pain--stop. Yes, you will have muscular pain, especially at first and you should work through that. You will also get the famous "stitch" in your side, at first. Work through that, too. But real pain that comes on suddenly is your body's way of saying "oops! you pulled/tore/strained a muscle/tendon/ligament" and you need to stop and treat it. The best way to avoid these types of injuries, though, is to take it slow and easy. Gradually build yourself and remember to stretch. Most injuries occur as a result of improper or no stretching.

Likewise, body builders are not necessarily fit. There is a big difference between having big muscles and being physically fit. Nor is it how most of us want to look. Seriously--does anyone find these looks attractive?

So, maybe I'm the odd one out, but I would rather have a body like this:

.... and look at a male body like this than those of the body builders:
 I suspect many of you feel the same. Of course, there will always be those that prefer the body builder type than the fit athlete type, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say you are in the minority.  The point is, if the body builders really had to move their butts, say, to avoid a predator--could they? Most fit athletes could. I have also known several body builders who are so unfit that even going up a flight of stairs would cause them to become out of breath.

And that was the perfect segue into my next point: Sprinting.

Sprinting is important to our bodies. While most of us don't have the need to outrun a predator (of the wild animal variety) we may have the need to be able to move very quickly from time-to-time. For instance, your child breaks free from you and runs into the street and a car is heading their way. Your body, if properly trained to sprint, can react without thinking and without you hurting yourself (via pulled muscle) to retrieve your child from the street.

Yes, there are times when we must be able to move very quickly and without having to give it a great deal of thought--we must simply act. The muscle fibers involved in sprint training as well as the neuro pathways for these twitch responses is very different than those used and engaged in other activities, and while they may not get used as often in the course of our daily lives is no excuse to not exercise them.

I usually run sprints at the end of my daily runs, two or three times a week. However, I do so only when I feel like I have enough energy left to do them and if my body isn't hurting. I simply go as fast as I can for as long as I can until there is nothing left in the tank.

You don't have to be a runner, though, to do sprints. Whatever form of exercise you choose to do, once in a while, do it rapidly until you are spent. Just be careful not to go faster than you safely can. Your speed will improve over time.

We also need to spend time lifting heavy things. You don't need a gym or weights to do this. Use whatever is on hand--buckets or jugs filled with water, dirt, or sand. Do some arm curls with your groceries as you are unpacking them and putting them away. Whatever. Just do it. Not just to strengthen and tone but also to help your bones and joints. Weight bearing exercise helps to build and strengthen bones and will prevent bone loss--so you can't use age as an excuse, because it is even more critical the older you become.

So, what are you waiting for? Get moving. Take walks, slow or fast. Take a jog. Lift something heavy. Sprint when you can. Do something fun like playing or dancing with your kids, your parents, or your significant other. Just get moving!

1 comment:

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