Part 3 – What we really know about exercise
The “What We Really Know About …” series has become quite popular so here is another installment on Exercise. If you want to read some background on this I suggest you check out my blog post, written almost exactly one year ago that compares aerobic versus interval exercise.
I need to repeat myself so you and I are on the same page. The answer to the “What is the Best Exercise” question is always going to be “it depends!”
Most of what I see advertised on TV and in local gyms focuses on 2 things” aesthetics also known these days as 6 pack abs, and weight loss usually known as “cardio interval training”. The things you should know is that the major factor in achieving either of these end results is not exercise, its diet. Sure exercise will help and you absolutely should do it, but done on its own with no dietary restrictions it will ultimately fail you. You may even find depending on what type of diet you are on you actually are hungrier and gain unwanted weight.
I suppose this is the dirty little secret the gym and fitness industry really don’t want you to know. Said in a more direct way: You can exercise a ton and get stronger and fitter and still look like crap and be overweight. I wish it wasn’t so but it really is.
Speaking of looking like crap- Enter the pudgy small round shouldered mid section rolled, upper body skinny, treadmill runnin’ middle aged man. He is usually slight of frame, has no real muscle mass, for some reason is often bald and frankly is usually my age but looks at least 10 years older.
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I have had many smug conversations with myself about my superior knowledge about fitness and my superior results when on the treadmill next to “that guy”.
As usual when I make those kinds of judgments I wind up being the real fool in the room.
You see as I wrote last year in the blog above, Long Slow Distance (LSD) “Cardio” has made a comeback in recent months. Sure High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is still the darling of the gym industry but its star is fading under the cold light of reality. For those of you who know what EPOC is or the wonderful marketing term “after burn” it turns out the early studies way overestimated the actual number of calories you could get post exercise by doing HIIT. Like any good internet myth there are plenty of bloggers, trainers and fitness dilettantes still quoting those studies as “proof” of the superiority of HIIT over LSD.
I think HIIT is wonderful and if you are young enough and can recover fast enough to use it as primary training at least for a 4 to 6 week period you will indeed see some very rapid gains in overall fitness. But you probably won’t lose any extra weight unless you are also dieting!
So if HIIT is so great, where does LSD shine?
Well again it’s not weight loss and it’s not even 6 pack abs. As a matter of fact my middle aged pudgy non resistance trainin’ health nut described above is often the norm among runners. Just go down to your local running club and count the number of pudges versus 6 packs and you’ll see what I mean, especially in the middle aged crew.
LSD shines in blunting inflammation. Inflammation – that ugly ongoing uncontrolled imbalance so common in Western aging society and so intimately related to age related diseases and infirmities! Inflammation accelerates and exaggerates aging.
Turns out that of all types studied LSD (45 to 60 min 5 days a week at about 6 METS or 50% of your power output if you are on a bike or treadmill) is just what the doctor ordered to blunt that inflammation. Now add in your fish oil and slap on some calorie restriction and you’ve got a great combo for health, longevity, weight loss and even a 6 pack after a time!
Now LSD is NOT the BEST way to get the aesthetics or the weight loss. It’s not the fastest way to a lean beautiful body. Diet (Calorie Restriction and in my case Ketogenesis) and resistance training of a regular sort are “better” for that. But those things will not decrease the inflammation in your body. Neither will HIIT nor a whole grain based diet.
Like it or not a couple hours of LSD is probably the baseline for longevity.
Now when I see that pudgy middle aged guy spending an hour on the treadmill at 6 mph I do not feel so smug!
But I do still want to tell him to augment his efforts with weight loss and Omega 3’s!