“You Must Do A Lot of Cardio!”

17 09 2013

Tracey

This morning I had some blood taken and my nurse was running me through the typical stuff: height, weight, waist v. chest measurements (30 v. 40, for the record), etc. etc. Finally came the time to take my blood pressure and pulse. The results? 110/70 and a resting heart rate of 50.  His reaction? “You must do a lot of cardio!” I almost laughed out loud.

For the record, I currently engage in no regular cardiovascular activity. I went for a run back in July when I was on vacation in Italy… and that’s the last time I did anything resembling cardiovascular activity. I lift heavy things at the gym 3-4 times per week, play a round of golf every 2 weeks, and eat real food. Don’t get me wrong- cardio is a very healthy activity and has many positive benefits, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, weight training trumps cardio in arguably every area. Many people think that it is necessary to engage in cardiovascular activity to better your heart health, but studies have shown that resistance training can elicit equal-if-not-better results. Of course, as the cited article also states, weight training has the added benefit of strengthening bones- something especially critical for women who become susceptible to osteoporosis as they age.

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In the end, engaging in both weight training and cardiovascular activity is almost surely the most beneficial thing to do, but you haven’t yet given weights a shot, I encourage you to get after it; you won’t be disappointed!

That’s all for tonight- as always, don’t hesitate to drop me a line for more information!

DW





The Dangers of Excessive Cardio

29 05 2013

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I’m sure many of you are already thinking it, so let’s get it out of the way: Here Dain goes again, ripping on cardio. Indeed, I’m not a cardio guy, but my bias has nothing to do with this post; even if I’m not a fan, a reasonable amount of cardio has nothing but positive health benefits. Let’s recap a few things:

  1. Almost any kind and any duration of exercise is better than no exercise at all
  2. Weight training is simply more efficient than cardio for burning fat, has very similar (if not equal) cardiovascular health benefits, additional functional strength gains, and more desirable body composition results
  3. Regardless of the activity, excessive habits can lead to problems

In general, I’m never going to advise anyone against good habits like exercising and drinking a lot of water, but even though these are examples of healthy activities, if done in excess they can lead to serious health issues.  A friend brought this Wall Street Journal article to my attention the other day, The Exercise Equivalent of a Cheeseburger?, and it inspired me to write this post. The Coles Notes:

  • Although cardio is healthy (improved blood pressure, cholesterol, longevity, etc.), endurance athletes (or anyone running more than 30 miles/48 kilometers a week) are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation and developing coronary-artery plaque.
  • Anecdotal concerns about endurance athletics have been building for years and cardiac conditions that required surgery have forced into retirement two winners of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
  • Research shows an association between endurance athletics and enlarged aortic roots.Cardiotoxicity-Cycle-Chart
  • Heart disease comes from inflammation and excessive exercise causes inflammation. Why wouldn’t there be a link?
  • Doctors are afraid to say that any kind of exercise may have a negative effect, for fear of giving people an excuse to stay sedentary.
  • Long-term excessive endurance exercise may induce pathological structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.
  • Parallels can be drawn to the dangers of over-hydration, which was once seen as impossible- the more water the better. Long after evidence emerged that over-hydrating could prove fatal to marathoners, experts continued encouraging runners to drink as much as possible, and the dangers were not fully believed until deaths had occurred.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m super guilty for living life in extremes- for example, I’ve got a strongman competition coming up in a few days, which is pretty much the definition of excessive. I completely understand the desire to push the human body as far as possible, but common sense should still reign supreme; Along with my penchant for lifting heavy things, I’m diligent with prehab and rehab exercises, I eat extremely well, I sleep plenty, and I supplement my lifting with lots of brisk walking and recreational sports. I schedule annual physical check-ups with my family physician to make sure my health is where it should be (my blood work couldn’t look better, in spite of my “extremely dangerous” dietary habits of eating half a dozen eggs daily and embracing saturated fats) and I’ve been living this lifestyle now for almost a decade, so I feel pretty strongly that my exercise habits, although sometimes excessive, aren’t harmful.

Research like this only serves to enhance my personal opinion that competitions like marathons are of the most detrimental activities to human health. We all have our own individual reasons to push our bodies, but I’ll never understand the desire to run excessive distances when the end result will surely be skeletal overuse injuries and damage to my cardiovascular system; not to mention the muscle-wasting that will reduce my strength and wilt my physique.

If you haven’t already seen it, there is also a pretty good TEDxTalk on this subject. Cardiologist Dr. James O’Keefe’s conclusion? Balance and moderation; shocking, I know. If you have 18 spare minutes, give it a watch:

If you are a marathoner, or someone who engages in any sort of excessive activity, I implore you to consult your physician to ensure that you don’t have any underlying cardiovascular health issues. The jury is still out on exactly how much cardio is detrimental to human health (we are still likely years away from truly understanding the line between beneficial and detrimental amounts of cardio)  but it is without argument that a pre-existing health condition can easily be life-threatening if undiagnosed prior to excessive exercise.

In the end we’re all going to do what makes us happy in this life, so I just want to make sure that we’re all aware of the pros and cons of excessive exercise, and that these activities are done in the most responsible way possible.

DW





Cardio and Calorie Restriction: The Facts

13 05 2013

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about why I “hate” cardio and why I say that people need to lift weights in order to avoid being fat. Let me clarify some things:

  • Personally, yes, I do hate steady-state cardio. I get bored running long distances, and find bike seats uncomfortable. It’s just not my thing.
  • Scientifically, however, steady-state cardio is inefficient for fat-loss. Can it be an effective strategy for losing weight? Absolutely it can- I never said otherwise. But don’t confuse fat loss with weight loss.
  • There are many ways to avoid being fat. Physical activity (of any kind) and a healthy diet will prevent you from being fat. Unfortunately, most people fail to incorporate both (and oftentimes neither) into their lifestyle. As weights are the most efficient way burn fat, I recommend weights over cardio.
  • My bottom line is always health. In order to be healthy, you should be physically active and eat a full, well-balanced diet. Lifting weights enables you to eat more and therefore gives you the best opportunity to consume the most nutrients.

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But I have this skinny friend who does nothing but cardio!

First of all, there are exceptions to every rule. We all know people who stay thin without paying much attention to their diet and/or activity level. These people are outliers. For the other 99% of us who are either overweight or who are striving for a lean body type, we have to weigh our dietary and exercise options.

As I mentioned above, cardio can be an effective tool for weight loss. However, cardio cannot be deployed alone in an effort to lose weight. In order to capitalize on this type of exercise, one must also employ a calorie-restricted diet. If you’re not going to be challenging your muscles or metabolism, you’re going to have to be very careful with your caloric intake. Remember, cardio has very little afterburn effect (EPOC), and therefore does not help you burn calories after the exercise is finished (your resting metabolic rate returns to normal very quickly after steady-state cardio). Therefore, in order to lose weight or maintain a lower body weight, you have to make sure you don’t eat too many calories. The body will soon adapt to a certain level of cardio as well, so eventually you will have to eat fewer calories or increase your activity level. If you skip a day of cardio, you’ll also have to decrease your calories accordingly. It’s a very tough balancing act and often leads to large weight fluctuations (ie, it’s easy to regain any lost weight).

Additionally, this strategy will not build muscle (as a matter of fact, it will likely cause a decrease in muscle mass over time) and eventually your body will start to hold on to fat cells in response to cardio; this is where you hear the term “skinny fat”- people who don’t appear overweight, but who have a much higher body fat percentage than normal because of their decreased muscle mass. To boot, these people are more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and decreased immune function due to their decreased caloric intake.

With all of this in mind, exercise of any kind is always good thing, but cardio-driven/calorically-restricted diets are difficult to follow and hard to sustain.

Weight training, on the other hand, builds muscle, burns fat and allows you to eat more food. Who doesn’t want to be able to eat more food? Not only can you eat more food, but you can get away with “cheating” from time to time without immediately ballooning back up to a previous weight.

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In conclusion, pros and cons of cardio/calorie restriction vs. weight training/eating real food:

Cardio/calorie restriction

Pros: You can do cardio anywhere without equipment. You can lose weight. Cardiovascular health will improve.

Cons: You have to limit calories in order to lose weight. You lose weight, but maintain fat, not muscle. You look “soft”. You are prone to large weight fluctuations. You cannot eat what you want, nor as much of what you want. Health many suffer due to lack of nutrients from a restricted diet. Long-term results are difficult to achieve.

Weight training/eating real food

Pros: You lose fat weight but maintain and gain muscle. You look “toned”. You can eat more. You don’t have to count calories. You can spend less time exercising. You get results quicker. Your results are sustainable. Your overall health will improve.

Cons: You have to have access to weights. You will spend more money because you are eating like a normal person.

In the end, I want to encourage everyone to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet. However, for more sustainable, efficient, and health-improving results, I will always first encourage people to lift weights, eat a balanced diet and do more general activity on a daily basis (walk more, take the stairs, etc.)

For more information on how to incorporate weight lifting into your life, you know how to find me!

DW