by Lee Kurisko, MD
I have had exercise as a regular habit for 41 years. Through all of that time, I have been analyzing what I do and trying to refine my approach always in search of a better way. I have read volumes on the subject of exercise and nutrition applying the knowledge to the laboratory of my own body. Although “many paths lead to Rome” and there is more than one way to skin a cat, there are some basic truths that need to be adhered to for success. If your goal is a fit functional body, here are those truths.
Don’t do traditional “cardio” exercise. Long slow aerobics in the so-called “fat burning” zone is an extremely inefficient mode of exercise for what most people want to achieve. Who looks better: the emaciated ultra marathoner or the short distance track and field athletes? Most people would say the short distance track athletes. Gymnasts are another example of athletes that focus on anaerobic strength and power and end up incredibly buff. Too much cardio can be destructive to the body.
Don’t lift excessively heavy weights. Some pundits in the fitness world argue that to build a good body, “you gotta lift heavy”. Like long slow cardio, this can be another path to nowhere and destructive to the body. Ben Pakulski is one of the top ten bodybuilders in the world and his mantra is to focus on the muscle with moderate weights. Heavy weights that you cannot lift properly defer force away from muscles and onto the joints and spine. The key is to lift moderate weights with scrupulously good form. The point of productive exercise is to be hard on your muscles but easy on the joints.
Work very hard, but be smart about it. Some experts claim that overtraining is a myth, or at the very least, that it is very rare. It is not enough to work hard. You must recover from that work. The ability to recover from stress is not unlimited. If you are working long hours or have other stressors in your life, these also make demands on your recuperative powers. If I had the time, I would probably work out about two hours almost every day. That would be fine if I didn’t have a job that consumes about 45 to 60 or more hours of my time per week. Be realistic and do not run yourself into the ground.
Don’t forget mobility. As we age, our body tissues become more rigid. At the age of 55, my strength is still quite good, but I really notice the decline in range of motion of my spine and joints. To counteract this, yoga and stretching are critical. Tight tissues can lead to abnormal forces in the joints and spine leading to pain. Do not neglect this critical component of fitness especially as you get older.
Eat a whole foods diet. The standard American diet is a disaster. Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese. Poor health seems to be the norm. It has become common to consume an array of pharmaceuticals to counteract the damage done by poor lifestyles especially diet. Eat food that would be recognizable as food prior to the agricultural revolution. That includes, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, seafood, and insects. Okay, you can skip the insects if you like. Notice that I did not include grain (which includes corn). Grain is for fattening cattle. It will do the same to you.
Use supplements appropriately. This is a very complex topic. I recommend using a few key supplements primarily for health. The basis of good nutrition is healthy food, but sometimes supplements are helpful. For example, most people do not get enough direct sunshine to synthesize enough vitamin D for health. A supplement can help. It is also difficult to get enough magnesium from food even with a really good diet. There are literally dozens of supplements that can be useful, but it doesn’t make sense to take them willy-nilly. It is wise to tailor supplement use to the needs of the individual. I only know of one legal nutritional supplement that can aid sports performance and that is creatine. The supplements that I take are chosen to build health rather than as a direct aid to performance.
Get your sleep. It is easy in today’s 24/7 society to not get enough sleep. I admit that I struggle with this myself with the demands of my job. Sleep deprivation correlates with high blood pressure, abnormal blood sugar, and weight gain. To feel your best, look your best, and perform well, get your sleep.
Exercise most days. Of course, you already knew that. Don’t use the excuse of “not enough time”. Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Make exercise a priority and not optional. If your attitude is that it is a low priority, then your results will be proportional to that attitude. Even 20 minutes, done intensely most days can produce results for a deconditioned person. If you cannot commit to that, there is no hope that you will ever get into shape.
Set meaningful goals. Don’t just wander into the gym and wander around doing whatever strikes your fancy in the moment. Have a plan based upon rationally chosen goals. They can be endpoint goals, eg. loss ten pounds in the next two months. They can be process goals, eg. workout a 250 times this year. They can be performance goals, eg. completing five strict pullups. Spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve and the time frame in which you would like to achieve them. Make the goals lofty but realistic.
Lee Kurisko MD is Chief Medical Officer of MediBid. He is trained as a family physician, radiologist, and neuroradiologist. He is author of “Health Reform-The End of the American Revolution?” He is now pursuing Board Certification in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine.” His blogposts on health and fitness can now be seen at www.healthandfitnessdoctor.com.