Recently, we explored how much exercise we really need. We discovered that the most important thing is to get up and move on a consistent basis. Almost any movement is exponentially more beneficial than being sedentary. Your body is made to move. But can aerobic exercise be counter-productive?
Almost every physiological function benefits from regular exercise. Your heart, lung, brain, and immune functions improve dramatically with regular exercise. You raise your metabolism and energy levels while lowering your risk for heart disease, high-blood pressure, and diabetes, to name just a few. Exercise is also one of the best ways to de-stress and activate your body’s natural relaxation response. To be healthy, you need to engage in some consistent forms of cardio, strength, flexibility, and mind-body training.
Today, let’s explore what is the best cardio-vascular exercise. There is growing research that suggests that the common prescription of 30-60 minutes of moderate, steady-pace aerobic exercise 5 days per week is either lacking or even counter-productive for health and for weight loss. Yet, this type and intensity of exercise is still the standard advice.
Several studies show that this type of aerobic exercise may actually lower cardio-respiratory capacity and lead to increased body-fat storage. Why is that?
First, exercising at a steady pace for a long period of time trains your heart and lung capacity to downsize to become more efficient. This may actually make you less able to handle cardio-respiratory demands and more susceptible to heart attacks. Excessive endurance training also increases inflammation in your body, wears out your joints, and increases muscular tightness.
In addition, exercising in your fat-burning zone may actually signal your body to store body-fat, so that it is available as energy for this type of activity.
What type of aerobic exercise is better instead?
The answer is interval training—alternating short bursts of higher intensity exercise with lower intensity recovery periods. The key is to push your cardio-pulmonary limits, recover, and repeat several times. For example, after a short warm-up walking, biking, swimming, or doing a cardio machine, push your pace to the point where you are breathing deeply and rapidly, then lower your intensity until you recover your breath. Repeat for a period of 12-20 minutes and not longer. Follow this with a brief cool-down. You might begin by pushing yourself for 30 seconds to a minute and then recovering for 1-2 minutes. Gradually decrease your recovery time until you are working hard for one minute and recovering for one minute (repeating for 12-20 minutes).
Not only will this make your aerobic workouts more efficient and productive, but you’ll find yourself with more energy, less boredom, and all the health benefits that you are expecting from taking the time to exercise.