Want to Get Lean and Fit? Then Don’t Do Traditional “Cardio” Exercise
by Lee Kurisko, MD
For many, this is heresy but I believe that it is true. Have you ever noticed the people frequenting the ellipticals and treadmills at the gym? Most of them look exactly the same six months later. In fact, virtually none of them would stand out in a crowd as looking very fit. The treadmill is literally the path to nowhere. Exercise like that that imposes a “steady state” demand on the body, is a very inefficient means to improve fitness. Steady state exercise is exercise in which you are breathing harder than usual, but can still carry on a conversation. If your goal is to run a marathon (a ridiculous goal for most people), then you will need to do plenty of steady state exercise like distance running. Research in the last few years has demonstrated that short intense bouts of exercise can produce a higher level of fitness than steady state exercise. This is exercise that causes intense shortness of breath and burning muscles. Think sprinting and not jogging.
Another major problem with traditional cardio is the fact that the same movement pattern is repeated over and over thousands of times leading to injuries. The human body is capable of myriad movements so why focus on just one?
One more problem is that very prolonged exercise, leads to loss of muscle tissue. We all tend to lose muscle with age. Muscle is critical for mobility so we should work to at least preserve it and better yet build more. People that do this type of exercise lose muscle with age at the same rate as people that don’t exercise at all. So you can run a marathon. Big deal I say. Can you do a few good chin-ups and pushups. If not, you have work to do, but marathon running isn’t going to get you there.
Prolonged cardio style exercise isn’t even really very effective at improving body composition. Even a five mile run only burns about 500 calories. Most people can scarf down 500 calories in the blink of an eye offsetting any calorie burn effect. Getting lean is mostly (but not entirely) about nutrition. Unfortunately, most people have nutrition all wrong also. Perhaps I’ll save that one for another blogpost.
There is even some research coming out now that extreme lifelong aerobic exercise may be a cardiovascular risk factor!
If your goal is to run great distances and this is a sport you love, then go for it. If your goal is to be functionally fit, lean, and healthy, mix up the movements and concentrate on building anaerobic power and strength. Think intelligent weightlifting with moderate weights, calisthenics, and sprinting (whether it be running, swimming or cycling).
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.