I recently had a discussion with a couple of people on the topic of exercise, better health, fitness, wellness and longevity and it struck me how diverse the opinions and firmly held beliefs of people are, especially from those whom I thought should or would know better.
Quick note: I’m going to make some people very angry with this article. Maybe even you. How do I know? Because I’ve broached this subject before and it’s brought about a huge response of both positive and negative feedback.
If you’re O.K. with that, keep reading…
For this topic to be effective, it needs to identify 4 issues that possibly circumvent the better health, fitness and longevity. These 4 issues are the ones meant to enhance or exemplify the quality of life (and if applied appropriately, will) but often have the opposite effect because of their inadequate, incomplete or inappropriate misapplication.
We’ll look at A) cardiovascular activity, B) nutrition, C) stress, and D) recovery.
Too Much Of a Good Thing
Tom (not his real name) is an avid exercise enthusiast and has been for quite some time. He’s in his late 50’s, is a busy business man and an entrepreneur and loves to run.
He has also survived a heart attack.
And then there’s Frank (again, not his real name) who is highly educated in the medical field, in his mid-60’s and does quite a lot of endurance training.
He’s also survived a heart attack.
“The right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little,
not too much, is the safest way to health.” – Hippocrates 440 BC
The misguided and often prevalent belief in this country is that more is somehow better. It’s as if embracing the extremes is somehow commendable, laudable or meritorious. My colleague Jonathon Angelilli calls is the militarization of fitness.
Anyone remember Jim Fixx? He was an American who wrote and bestselling book in 1977 called “The Complete Book of Running.” He is often cited as helping to start America’s fitness revolution, making the sport of running popular and demonstrating the alleged health benefits of regular jogging.
Oh…he also died of a heart attack while jogging at 52 years of age.
In the last thirty years the number of people in this country who can be clinically labeled as being obese has tripled. In that same time frame, the number of people who run marathons has gone up twenty fold.
Both are on the extreme ends of their particular spectrum’s.
Contrary to many popularly held beliefs, we were not “Born To Run”, but rather born to walk. Should the need to run come about, it was meant to be for a short distance in a burst of speed, as in running down game or fleeing an imminent attack.
The race we call the “marathon” was made popular in the Olympics in 1896 commemorating the distance run by Pheidippides delivering a message of victory to the King after the Greeks defeated the Persians in a battlefield just outside of Marathon, Greece.
Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens, which was a distance of about 26 miles, and upon arrival in front of the King announced, “Victory is ours!”
And then he fell down dead.
Makes ya want to jump up and go run a marathon right now, doesn’t it?
Bragging Rights or Better Health, Fitness and Longevity
What I’m talking about here today is not death by running, although that is a distinct topic of interest…especially if you’re a distance runner.
I want to talk about what is ideal for cardiovascular health, better general overall fitness and longevity.
But abide by the guidelines and you’ll be around to talk about it when all of your adrenaline junkies, over achieving, type-A personality and perfectionist friends have long since deceased.
If your desire or goal is better general health, fitness and a long life, extremes in pretty much anything is not the way to go. And while I personally loathe the term, moderation in things is really a pretty smart way to approach much of life.
But we’re talking cardiovascular activity right now, so let me begin by giving you a few statistics:
- According to a study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010 in Montreal, regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor of two or three, but the extended vigorous exercise performed during a marathon raises your cardiac risk seven-fold!
- In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers recruited a group of extremely fit older men, all members of the 100 Marathon club (having completed a minimum of 100 marathons). Half of the men showed heart muscle scarring as a result of their endurance running—specifically, the half who had trained the longest and hardest. If running marathons provided cardiovascular benefit, this group would have had the healthiest hearts!
- A 2011 rat study published in the journal Circulation was designed to mimic the strenuous daily exercise load of serious marathoners over the course of 10 years. All the rats had normal, healthy hearts at the outset of the study, but by the end, most of them had developed “diffuse scarring and some structural changes, similar to the changes seen in the human endurance athletes.”
- A 2012 study in the European Heart Journal found that long-term endurance athletes suffer from diminished function of the right ventricle of the heart and increased cardiac enzymes (markers for heart injury) after endurance racing, which may activate platelet formation and clotting. Twelve percent of the athletes had detectable scar tissue on their heart muscle one week post-race.
- A 2010 study presented by the American College of Cardiology showed that endurance runners have more calcified plaque in their arteries (which also increases stroke and dementia risk) than those who are not endurance athletes.
- A 2011 German study revealed a very high incidence of carotid and peripheral atherosclerosis among male marathon runners.
- A 2006 study screened 60 non-elite participants of the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathons, using echocardiography and serum biomarkers. Researchers found decreased right ventricular systolic function in the runners, caused by an increase in inflammation and a decrease in blood flow.
- Research by Dr. Arthur Siegel, director of Internal Medicine at Harvard’s McLean Hospital, also found that long-distance running leads to high levels of inflammation that may trigger cardiac events.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture…
“But Uncle Steve, I just love to run and ride my bike for long distances! Are you telling me I have to stop?”
You’re NOT An Elite Level Endurance Athlete
I can say with almost 100% certainty that you are not an elite level endurance athlete. I know some elite level athletes from different sports and they eat, drink, breath and do elite level athlete stuff.
Elite level athletes are a breed apart. They’re not built like you and me. They have something genetically superior to them that give them certain training, recovery and performing capabilities.
Don’t believe me? Check out this article on who makes it and who doesn’t in the world of professional sports. The odds just aren’t in your favor…
But even elite level endurance athletes succumb to the extremes of the “sport”, training and lifestyle. It’s inevitable.
You participate in some activities designed to make you feel like an elite level athlete. You may even have some of the same swag or training gear. But in reality, you do these things to relieve stress. You do them to scratch that nagging itch for competition you can’t quite reach or to quell that voice in your head that says things like, “You’re not good enough.”
And that’s cool, as long as you’re doing it with A) the understanding that you’re more than likely doing more harm than good to your long term health, and B) you’re not doing it to prove something to someone else.
It really doesn’t matter if you like to go on long bike rides or your preferred manner of extreme training is running a marathon, you’re probably doing irreparable damage to your heart.
There are better and safer alternatives for exercise than doing marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons and other such pavement pounding, joint destroying and health killing endurance based things.
In an ideal world, to get the most benefits from exercise you must push your body hard enough for a challenge while allowing adequate time for recovery and repair to take place.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is with HIIT, or high intensity interval training, which consists of short bursts of high-intensity exercise, as opposed to extended periods of training and exertion.
A typical high intensity training session would look something like this:
- Warm up for 3 to 5 minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn’t possibly go on another few seconds.
- Recover for 90 seconds.
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery cycle 7 – 10 more times.
HIIT style training can be done by running/sprinting (if you love running), or utilizing a treadmill, a stair climber or Schwinn Airdynne Bike at a gym or fitness center. My personal preferred method is using resistance training tools like dumbbells, barbells or bands to do the work.
HIIT maximizes your secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), optimizes your metabolism and helps regulate your insulin and blood sugar.
And the best news is that it takes much less time than training for a marathon! You can do a complete high intensity training session at Firestorm fitcamps! in just about 30 minutes!
Remember, adequate recovery is crucial between workouts, and we’ll talk more about this in a little bit.
If you are convinced that you’re deep down an endurance runner or feel your life just won’t be complete without completing at least one marathon, please review the International Marathon Medical Director’s Association guidelines, which outlines steps you can take to reduce your risk for a cardiac event. And please, don’t depend solely on a stress test, because people who exercise regularly are not likely to show signs of a problem.
Another thing is to start taking more minerals, like the ones my friend Donald Maher of MyO2Meds markets. Minerals are the signal carriers of the body and replace what you expel during long training bouts that mere water can’t replace.
Above all, listen to your body and don’t ignore its signals of distress. Let’s stop with the “no pain no gain” mentality, because in this case, it can lead to serious problems with potentially disastrous health consequences.
Let’s Talk About Nutrition
Good food is good medicine and leads to better life. Just ask this guy…
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
I know a ton of people who will take umbrage with this statement, but here it goes: you don’t have to buy “organically” grown food to eat well. Just make sure that what you buy isn’t crap.
That’s a kind of vague statement, so let me clarify a little.
You’ll never find truly pesticide free food. It may be distinctly reduced from some other farm, but is will have some form of fashion of it on there. The wind and the rain see to that. Sorry to burst your bubble.
If you want to buy “organically” grown vegetables, knock your socks off and get ‘er done. More power to you. I’m not buying it, but then again…I’m a rebel.
If you’re primarily eating a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and fish and drinking pure water, you’re doing about all you can do give yourself a shot at long term health and life. It isn’t rocket surgery, and there are no guarantees, so just eat good food most of the time and don’t sweat the other stuff quite so much.
If you’re fat or overweight, I can probably guess it’s because of one or more of these things:
- You simply consume more calories than you expend.
- You ingest too many processed starchy carbs and sugar.
- You don’t move enough.
It’s a short list, I know. Here’s a little more detail if you so desire.
And it’s accurate, I know.
There is a fourth category, although they are few (usually women) who don’t eat enough, but never see any fat loss. They just maintain or slightly gain over the years due to the body’s mismanaged caloric intake and screwed up metabolism. It’s what is termed “metabolic syndrome X”.
I’m not going to go into great detail on the necessity and importance of eating a steady and supportive regimen of single ingredient, whole foods for better health. Instead, I’m going to give you some options for reading on topics of interest to YOU based upon your needs.
If you’re a premenopausal woman wanting to lose fat, gain muscle and get stronger by working in conjunction with your hormone cycles, click here.
If you’re struggling to drop body fat, and want some answers, click here.
If you want to make healthy eating really easy, click here.
Ever wondered why it seems harder for women to lose fat than men, click here.
If you think a 1200 calorie diet for fat loss is right for you, click here. (Warning: Language alert)
Are you a woman over 40 and want to up your metabolism, click here.
Worried about controlling your cholesterol, click here.
Just looking for a few dieting tips from experts, click here.
There are some good starting points for you. If you have further questions or want more info, I’m happy to help. Email me.
Stress: What is it really?
Here’s something you may or may not know: Stress causes cortisol levels to rise in the body. Your body perceives any stress on the body as a stressor not just the ‘I feel stressed at work’ stress.
For example your body sees the reaction caused by irritants to the body, like processed food, as a stress. High cortisol levels will also add to the fat bank as high cortisol levels will affect your digestive system and ultimately your body will lay down more fat.
You can’t buy stress at the store or online. You can’t order it at a restaurant. In fact, you can’t go to a doctor and get a prescription for stress. You have to manufacture it.
In your own mind.
Stress comes upon us in many ways, but primarily (at least in my experience) through our perceptions of events and how we deal with them or express them.
Your words have power.
Telling yourself, “I’m so stressed” or “This is really stressing me out” is true, because your mind seeks to brings about that with you perceive and think about.
Have you ever heard the verse from the Bible that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”? Or maybe you’ve heard the famous quote from Marcus Aurelius’ that says, “A man’s life are what his thoughts make of it.”
Change your thoughts and you change your life.
You can also stay a lot healthier, get more lean and extend your life.
And that’s a fact…
Recovery is the Real Key!
I don’t remember who I heard it from, but the saying goes like this: “You don’t get better (or stronger, leaner, healthier, etc) by how hard you work out, you get those things by how well you RECOVER from how hard you work out.”
Working out, eating right and lowering your stress levels is important, to be sure. But above all of that, recovering from everything you do (or don’t do) is the real key to long term and overall success.
And your primary recovery tool is sleep.
Fatigue is an issue that plagues many of us. It could stem from an excess of stress, a lack of sleep, mental strain, or something else. But rest assured it will affect you. If you want some possible answers as to why you may be fatigued, read this.
Getting good sleep is probably number two in terms of its importance in relation to fat loss success. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you’re struggling to drop body fat and you’re not sleeping well, correct that immediately before doing much of anything else.
And not getting adequate sleep will have long term effects not only on your health, but your career as well.
Recovery post workout is important, and it not only includes resting your body, but also giving it the nutrients it needs to support recovery. Your post-workout meal can support or impair your recovery.
If you’re interested in a definitive guide as to what proper recovery nutrition is all about, here’s a FREE 35 page guide on the subject: What To NEVER Eat After A Workout
As an example, drinking a fast-assimilating protein like as high-quality whey protein within 30 minutes of your workout will essentially “rescue” your muscles out of their catabolic state and supply them with the nutrients they need to make their repairs.
Any sort of intense exercise should be balanced with strength training, proper stretching, foam rolling, core strengthening, stress reduction, good sleep and an optimal nutrition plan.
I know this article has probably felt like a drink from a fire hose in terms of information, but please don’t let it complicate things for you.
Keep things simple, in perspective and brief…if possible.
And take these parting words of encouragement from some of my colleagues to heart:
Bret Contreras: “This point really, really, really needs to be driven home. All of my clients who stay the same weight and gain a lot of strength via resistance training lose size. Even though their scale weight doesn’t change, they find that their clothes are swimming on them. Trading 10 lbs of fat for 10 lbs of muscle will have a large visual impact on the body since the less dense fat will take up around 20% more volume than the more dense muscle.
Case in point. One client who has been training with me for 12 months has stayed at 128 lbs the entire year. She can currently squat 190 lbs, deadlift 245 lbs, hip thrust 365 lbs, bench 100 lbs, and perform 3 chin ups, so she’s gained considerable strength. She is lean and athletic and loves the way she looks – in fact she just told me that she feels like she has achieved her dream body in just one year. She quit doing cardio, began resistance training 3X/week, started tracking her calories/macros, and focused on setting PRs in the gym each week. She also had to buy new pants as her old ones have a 3″ gap at the waist.
Strength training is a tool that is used to influence body composition and shape. Food is a tool that is used to influence bodyweight and body composition. The people who want to lose weight or lean out but end up bulking up on strength training are consuming more calories and then blaming it on the weights. At any given bodyweight, you’ll be leaner if you lift weights compared to if you don’t.”
Althea Raum: Hey Ladies… yes I am only speaking to the women here. You know I am always harping on tossing the scale, buy clothes that you love without worrying about the size etc. I do this because you could potentially go into six different stores looking for let’s say a size 12 and have six different fits – some too small, some too big and some way too big and then some that just fit perfectly. Kinda like Goldilocks looking for the right chair.. Anyway that just happened to me. Went to a store where jeans were on sale. Found a pair that I liked, as I was paying decided to look at a different style by the same manufacturer and the same fit – one straight leg and one boot cut (yup still like my cowboy boots) anyway one pair fit me perfectly the other – now remember same make, same fit… well I couldn’t even get them all the way up… Had to go to a larger size… … What this all comes down to is buy the clothes you love, that make you feel good and please forget about the size.. You are not clothing size… just the same as you are not the number on the scale…
Jill Coleman: Fat loss and body change takes what I call “The Four P’s:”
1) Persistence: This is our ability to stay consistent (not perfect) 7 days a week. We don’t have to do everything right, but we have to do most things right most of the time. There’s plenty of wiggle room, but there’s no room for deprive-then-binge wink emoticon
2) Patience: True body transformation has no deadlines, no time frames by which WE NEED ALL THE RESULTS OR ELSE. And it doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly is not linear nor predictable. The ones who are the most successful are in it for the long haul.
3) Perspective: Successful people take the long view and trust that they don’t have to be perfect to get results. They practice giving themselves the benefit of the doubt, and practice self-compassion. Perspective is trusting that all we can do is our best.
4) Priority: Focus is finite and those who get and stay lean work to build their “skillpower”–finding shortcuts and workarounds so that they can prioritize their 3 Daily Nutritional Commitments on the regular and don’t have to white-knuckle their way through some crazy, strict meal plan.
Where do you fall? My personal practice (there’s another P!) is simply doing my best and remembering that there’s no rush, no deadlines, no have-to’s or expectations. I honor my process.