Over the past 5.5 years of doing these Great Fitness Experiments, this is something I’ve discovered for myself. In fact, it’s become a pet peeve of mine. In a recent interview with College Life Styles, they asked me what the biggest fitness myth is, in my experience. I answered, “That running is the best exercise. Running is great if you love it but I’ve discovered so many people who hate it – or like it but get injured doing it – that are still running all the time because they think it’s the ultimate exercise.Everyone wants to do a marathon but that’s a performance goal, not a health goal.” And while I picked on running (I’m not saying you should never run – I run!) you can substitute “running a marathon” for any large amount of cardio activity.
The bottom line is that you don’t need much cardio to reap the health benefits. Other studies have shown that adding HIIT (high intensity interval training) and lowering the amount of steady-state cardio you do maximizes the health benefits while reducing the risks. Repeat after me: when it comes to your health, more is not better.
But as I pointed out in my confession – there are other reasons people exercise besides their health. I did more than an hour of cardio today because, hey, it was a lot of fun and I didn’t want to miss out on anything! And 5 years ago I proved that I would keep over-exercising even when it was obviously deleterious to my health. As Amby concludes, “Many aspects of exercise and running also follow a U-curve. This is why many people believe the moderate approach is the smartest path to follow. Of course, you’ll never qualify for the Boston Marathon that way. We all have to make our choices.”
He’s right. And it’s not bad to have performance goals! But what his conclusion made me realize is that I need to keep my main goal for exercising - my health – firmly in my mind so that I don’t let over-exercising creep up on me again. I’m not running Boston. I’m not competing for anything. The only thing I’m running for is to stay in my kids’ lives (and their kids’ lives) as long and as happily as possible. And to do that, that may mean not doing a lot of other things. Priorities.
What do you think about this new research – does it support what you already thought or does it freak you out like it did me? (Both?) How much cardio do you normally do? Is it hard for you to cut back?
*Note: researchers were not talking about really low cardio like walking but rather the medium-to-high intensity stuff like jogging, spinning, cycling, and other “aerobics.”