"Why to Exercise?”
In your column from a few weeks ago, you mentioned the different types of activities which actually qualify as “true and on-purpose” exercise. What you said made a lot of sense to me, and I wanted to get your opinion about a book that I read years ago, called “The Cardio-Free Diet” by Jim Karas. The author says that doing cardio is NOT necessary for weight loss or even for health. I’ve always wondered about this. It doesn’t seem right to me, but I never knew whom to ask. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about cardio, in general, and this book, in particular.
- Jenny J, Kapa`a
So, Jenny, I certainly hope that you aren’t hoping that I also support you choosing a ChairMaster over a StairMaster? Not exercising is, without a doubt, not the best way to exercise.
Yes… I do remember that book hitting the marketplace a few years ago, and elevating quite a few heart rates at the time, including mine. The controversial title, “The Cardio-Free Diet,” said it all. I didn’t buy it… the book or the concept. These following excerpts alone give plenty of cause to pause.
FROM THE BOOK (not from me):
“Are you interested in losing weight, keeping it off and completely changing your body shape to the astonishment of all your friends? What if I told you this goal is best accomplished without ever stepping on a treadmill or elliptical machine?”
“My goal is two to three years from now we laugh at the fact we used to do all that cardio.”
“After 20 years of experience, I am convinced that cardio kills. It kills your weight loss plan, your joints, your internal organs and immune system, your body composition, your time and, most of all, your motivation to stay committed to losing weight.”
Yikes, huh? Now it’s my turn. This is me, Doug, talking now, “In Health & With Hope.” And, as I often tend to do, let’s take the more scenic route. Follow along:
Stretching is one of the least important components of fitness. Stretching does NOT burn body fat, reduce soreness, prevent injuries, increase strength, reduce cholesterol, improve aerobic fitness, or even necessarily develop flexibility. It does not make muscles “long and lean.” Additionally, stretching does not have major impact on the attenuation of major disease, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, obesity, and/or diabetes.
But does this mean that you should not stretch? Of course not. Although flexibility is over-emphasized, stretching should still always be incorporated into each and every workout. If nothing more than to increase your range of motion… thereby allowing you to train for strength throughout this greater range of motion… thereby resulting in stronger muscles and tendons throughout that greater range of motion… thereby indirectly decreasing your risk of injury throughout your newly developed range of motion, becoming more flexible still gives us remarkable reasons to stretch.
And what about strength training? Should we not lift weights because it could potentially increase blood pressure during the workout? Or, should we lift weights carefully and correctly because we will have lower blood pressure during every other moment throughout the day? Yes! Should we avoid dumbbells and barbells because the exercises often completely oppose the function of your muscles’ natural strength curves? Or, should we perform exercises with free weights because they mimic real life movements and should definitely be a part of everyone’s program. Yes... but be smart and stay safe. Dumbbells using free weights isn't always a wise idea.
How about machines… which don’t fit all body shapes and sizes, and can cause a lot of problems when they are used incorrectly? It is practically impossible to correctly isolate each muscle group without them. In my mind, and in my facilities, machines are most often mandatory.
...in getting back to YOUR question, and the aforementioned author’s “killer-cardio” perspective? To be blunt, I have to completely disagree with him. Stamina, aka “cardio,” is not stupid and definitely has bountiful benefits which justify the means of the myriad modes. Stamina is super smart!
Nothing has a more positive impact on the functional capacities of the heart, blood, blood vessels, and relevant endurance musculature. The level of efficiency at which these various systems transport and utilize oxygen improves tremendously with stamina training. It just can’t be done with strength alone. It’s a completely different mechanism.
Improving aerobic fitness enhances your workload capacities (every level from rest to maximum), increases fat-burning capabilities at every single intensity level, and provides more energy for daily activities through a variety of different physiological mechanisms. And let’s not forget about the super stamina side effects, such as thwarting hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, coronary artery disease, anxiety/depression, and diabetes mellitus? Yes… training aerobically is associated with a multitude of tremendous benefits.
Even if training for strength IS a better way to lose weight (and it is, via increased chronically-elevated muscle metabolism), when you consider all of the other benefits that stamina offers, who cares about the scale? Whether we like it or not, cardio routines help deter cardiac rehab. You are either going to be selecting stamina today… or essentially electing surgery tomorrow, at least eventually.
Training the heart, lungs, and blood vessels with endurance-oriented activities is a vital piece of the fitness puzzle. In your heart of hearts, I’m sure that you already know that. I may love it. You may hate it. Either way, we both need it.
Here’s one last point: “The Cardio-Free Diet” also states that you receive a cardio benefit during strength training because your heart rate is elevated. However, the author is forgetting the crucial detail that heart rate only measures heart speed. It does NOT measure blood flow or, even more importantly, oxygen consumption. True “Stamina” exercise (running, biking, swimming, etc.) is actually “aerobic,” which means “with air,” or “with oxygen.” Your heart pumps a lot of blood and your body consumes a lot of oxygen. This is a good thing… a great thing!!
In contrast, during weight training, though your heart is racing at full speed, your body is only as “aerobic” as it would be during a moderate walk. Your heart is beating quickly, but primarily due to decreased venous return to the heart. Simply speaking, all of your blood is in your muscles, so your heart has to beat out (quickly) what little blood it does have coming back into it. You only have so much blood in your body and it can’t be in two places at once, right? And, for the fitness nerds among us, heart rate during strength training is disproportionately elevated due to the autonomic nervous system’s pressor response phenomenon, occurring reflexively from systemic skeletal muscle concentric contractions and eccentrically-elongating actions… so says the dumbbell!
Trust me… as much as strength and stretching are the best ways to exercise, so is stamina. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body, and oxygen is life as we know it. Together, they are the perfect fit!
In Health & With Hope,
Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland on a full academic scholarship and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kauai and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss through his Super 7-Week Shape-Up System. Doug has trained thousands of clients personally and is looking forward to helping you reach all of your health and fitness goals.
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