Many people are very curious to know how I lost 40lbs in a relatively short amount of time with very little sweating involved! Mostly it was the impact of changing my eating habits, but that is not to discount how I changed my exercise too. I’ve never been a fan of consistent “cardio” workouts. So when I was introduced to the latest research and understandings related to the actual results cardiovascular exercise has on the body, I saw that I did not have to spend an hour running in the gym to produce the physical health I wanted.
There’s no question that regular exercise is essential to health. For the majority of human evolution, we had to exert ourselves – often quite strenuously – just to get food. We naturally spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun, walking, hunting, and gathering. We had no concept of this as “exercise” or “working out”…It was just life.
Things are different today. 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% get no exercise at all, other than walking back and forth between the car, the cubicle and the refrigerator. We all know the rate of childhood and adult obesity is on a dramatic rise. This lack of physical activity has profound consequences.
Many Americans have been caught up in the fitness craze over the last 40 years, devoting countless hours to jogging outside of on the treadmill in the hopes of slimming down, getting healthy and preventing disease. But while this type of activity may help with stress management, research suggests that it’s useless for weight loss and may in fact be detrimental to health. .
Why “cardio” doesn’t work for weight loss
When I say “cardio”, I’m referring to steady-state, repetitive activity done at a moderate intensity like jogging outdoors, running on a treadmill or climbing the Stairmaster
Most people are surprised to learn that cardio doesn’t work for weight loss. How could this be? There are three main reasons:
- caloric burn during exercise is generally small;
- people who exercise more also tend to eat more (which negates the weight regulating effect of exercise); and,
- increasing specific periods of exercise may cause people to become even more sedentary otherwise.
Why cardio may be harmful;
Too much cardio exercise has a number of harmful effects on the body:
- increases oxidative damage
- increases inflammation (the root of all disease)
- depresses the immune system
- decreases fat metabolism
- disrupts cortisol levels
- causes neurodegeneration
Overtraining is especially damaging because of its effects on cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone which promotes abdominal fat gain and muscle loss, causing further weight gain.
No cardio? Then what should we do instead?
In short, we should move like our ancestors. They didn’t take off for a 45-minute jog, nor did they go down and swim laps for an hour. Yet they were extremely fit and almost entirely free of the modern diseases that plague us today.
They performed low-intensity movements like walking, gathering foods or working in other capacities on a regular basis. These periods of low-intensity activity were punctuated by brief periods of much higher-intensity activity – such as going on a hunt, running from a predator, or fighting for survival.
This is the type of movement our bodies are adapted for, and thus this is what we should aim for in our daily lives. But how do we do that? We should:
- Move frequently at a slow pace
- Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally
Move frequently at a slow pace
Moving frequently at a slow pace means approximately 3-5 hours a week of low level activity like walking, cycling, gardening, hiking, performing manual labor, etc. This mimics our ancestral movement, helps maintain a healthy weight, promotes proper metabolic function and provides a foundation for more strenuous activity. Another benefit of this type of activity is that it’s often performed outdoors. Spending time outdoors reduces stress, increases vitamin D levels, and brings us pleasure, joy and a sense of connection to the world around us.
I think one of the best ways to do this type of movement is to integrate it into your daily life. This could include commuting to work and doing errands on foot or by bicycle, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing your own gardening and yard work, etc.
Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally
In contrast to cardio, this type of exercise involves performing movements at very high intensity for short periods of time – usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes exercise.
How do you see best fit to incorporate these strategies into YOUR life?