Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Cardio Conundrum

So most if not all of us have been taught that we need to do cardio, like everyday, in order to lose weight and get in shape right?  Distance running, elliptical machines, spinning classes, kickboxing, workout videos, at some point or another you have probably done these things, or do them regularly.  Conventional wisdom says these things are good for us and that we need to do them every single day.  However if you look at what our bodies were designed
for and how we lived thousands of years ago, you would see that this is contradictory.  We were designed to do A LOT of walking around, virtually everywhere, there were no vehicles or bicycles to get us around.  We were designed to be able to run short distances at very high speeds, for a minimal amount of time, to escape predators and chase down our next meal.  We were designed to have a high muscle mass, lower body fat, but still have body fat to keep us warm and for women to be able to bear children and feed them.  We were designed to be able to lift heavy things and to do things with our bodies that are entirely different then what we have been doing the past couple hundred years.  Why have we been told them that getting on a "rat wheel" for an hour a day is supposed to counteract all sedentary things we do the rest of the day. Sadly as we can see by sheer statistics alone as well as just plain looking around, this conventional wisdom has gotten us to a place in our society in which 60% or more of the population is either overweight or obese.  Clearly this is not working, coupled with the bad nutritional advice that we have been listening to for many years this is not getting us healthier.  They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  Why not try something different then? 

The negative side effects of chronic cardio are far reaching, but the main important one in my opinion is putting your body in a constant state of stress.  When you are running for over 30-40 minutes a day, your body is under stress, this stress is not something the body was designed to handle for long periods of time.  Sprinting (occasionally) yes, we were designed for that, however distance running (or other long-term cardio) was not something programmed into us for survival therefore putting your body under this constant state of stress day in and day out, coupled with conventional dieting (aka eating far too little and not the right foods), as well as lack of sleep, you end up with adrenal fatigue.  Adrenal fatigue is essentially over-stimulation of the adrenal glands from too much stress whether it be physical, emotional or mental stress.  The Adrenal glands regulate cortisol levels and when they get high, from prolonged stress such as constant dieting, chronic over-training, lack of sleep etc, the result is burn out from adrenal fatigue, not a happy place to be, I know because I have been there.  In short cortisol regulates the "fight or flight" response, when faced with a situation that requires immediate action a healthy cortisol level in the body helps you to respond quickly and efficiently.

We have been told for so long that we must do this cardio thing daily for at least 60 minutes.  What we really should be doing instead is walking around throughout the day, being active in things we enjoy like cleaning the house(maybe that's just me?), gardening or playing with our kids, we should be lifting weights (heavy weights) a few times a week hitting major muscle groups with compound movements, we should be sprinting once a week, like 100 Meter or 400 meter sprint intervals for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.  Now occasionally if you do actually enjoy running or biking a couple times a week is not an issue, however its the chronic "I have to do it or I won't burn enough calories," when it becomes a problem.  We should be doing fun things that make us happy to be alive like hiking, going to the beach, surfing, ski diving, whatever anything we were made to play not just work. 

I will be completely honest chronic cardio is something I have struggled with for a very long time.  I would run about 16 miles a week and do two 1 hour long spin sessions a week.  There was even a time (not that long ago) when I did the Insanity program on top of all of that other stuff.  There were times when I would take my 2 year old to the park and be too tired to chase him, I was so confused.  Wasn't I supposed to have all this energy and be super fit to chase him around after all of that working out?  Instead I was soooo tired, exhausted from working out that I couldn't even play, that seems so counterproductive.  I will be even more honest even though I know what I know now, I struggle quite often to not hop on the treadmill and run for 4 miles everyday or hop on my spin bike more often.  It is still so ingrained in me to just go go go, to burn those calories in excess.  I would be lying if I said it is easy to get out of those habits and change your training styles/goals altogether.  In order to get our bodies back to health, we have to stop this constant stress of chronic cardio.

Here is a homework assignment: If you go to a gym, next time you are there do a quick look around at the people that are working out.  Look at their bodies, what are they doing?  For me it was so obvious the women who had the bodies I admired were not huffing and puffing on the cardio machines for hours on end, but were in the weight room or sprinting, doing things that I wasn't.  I have learned to follow the example of those I admire or long to be more like.  Life is too short to try to figure everything out myself so if I want to be financially in shape I look up to those who are, if I want to be physically fit I look up to those who are.  If what you are doing isn't producing the results you want, it is time to start thinking outside the box! 

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