So, we have recently discussed the differences between cardiovascular fitness and cardiovascular health. What we know is that muscle quality is the driving force to improving both. If muscle quality provides the best opportunity to improve both, then what value does conventional cardio, (a.k.a. aerobic activity), have, and beyond that, is it good for us?
A common theme throughout our blog series’ on muscle quality, cholesterol, and wheat has been the prevention of inflammatory conditions. Inflammation is the root cause of roughly 75% of health care conditions and costs today. Our investigation of inflammation in this post centers around aerobic activity and its contribution to inflammation in our body.
“30-60 MINUTES OF DAILY CARDIO” MAY NOT BE DOING YOU MUCH GOOD
This is a topic that has fascinated me personally for years. It is an accepted fact that performing aerobic style cardio is good for us, right? We “need” to spend 30-60 minutes a day running, biking, climbing on a Stair master or elliptical 3-6 days a week! Well, that’s what everyone from doctors to even the government would have us believe. The question is, “Why?” What physiological benefit does aerobic activity provide? As we discussed previously, we are told to do these things, if not for our cardiovascular fitness, then it is for cardiovascular health. We have examined the meaning of these terms and how research proves the combination of muscle quality and Right Intensity TrainingTM is the best combination. So where does that leave us with aerobic activity? Is there any benefit to be derived from it? Could we be doing more harm than good if we engage in this constant aerobic activity?
First, let’s begin by acknowledging the fact that millions of people are engaged in any of the many types of aerobic activity. Let’s also agree that the combination of aerobic activity and improved nutritional habits have resulted in improved health for millions of people. However, how many of us know people (or are those people) who have done a lot of aerobic activity, and have eaten less, and either have not seen any results or have had results briefly, only to give those results right back? (We can define results as fat loss, lack of more energy, no or little change in cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, diabetes risk factors, C-reactive protein, etc.). Collectively, The Exercise Coach® franchise has known numerous instances where this is the case. The question I’m trying to answer is, “Why would eating less and increasing activity yield positive results for some, but not for most?” And, “ if running or biking is truly the cure all end all, why would stories like this exist?”
CONSISTENT AEROBIC ACTIVITY DOES NOT EQUATE TO CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Below is an excerpt from the article, “The Scientist and the Stairmaster” by Gart Taubes:
Steve Blair, for instance, a University of South Carolina exercise scientist and a co-author of the AHA-ACSM guidelines says he was “short, fat, and bald” when he started running in his thirties. Now, at age 68, he is short, fatter, and balder. In the intervening years, he estimates he has run close to 80,000 miles and gained about 30 pounds.
When I asked Blair whether he thought he might be leaner had he run even more, he had to think about it. “I don’t see how I could have been more active,” he said. “Thirty years ago, I was running 50 miles a week. I had no time to do more. But if I could have gone out over the last couple of decades for two to three hours a day, maybe I would not have gained this weight.”
So if increasing activity doesn’t yield greater fat loss, and if increasing cardio activity is not the best way to improve cardiovascular fitness and health, should we be doing it?
PHYSICALLY FIT YET CARDIOVASCULARLY UNHEALTHY?
Years ago, Exercise Coach CEO Brian Cygan, gave me a book entitled, The Exercise Myth, by cardiologist Henry Soloman. Some of the direct quotes from the book are:
“There is about the same relationship between activity and longevity as you might find if you were to compare the amount of chocolate pudding children eat with the likelihood of their coming down with chicken pox–that is, no relationship at all.”
“Running injuries are especially common because of the punishing force your body has to take…If you are a 150 pound runner, you generate and must endure over 100 tons of force per MILE.”
“The evidence is unassailable. Coronary heart disease develops and progresses during exercise training and conditioning programs. Exercisers die of heart disease despite exercise.”
The book was written in 1984.
Also occurring in 1984 was the sudden death of author and devoted runner Jim Fixx, whose book entitled, The Complete Guide To Running, was credited with spreading the running and aerobic craze of the late 70’s and early 80’s. These things illustrate the difference between someone being physically fit, but cardiovascularly unhealthy (Fixx died of heart disease).
So as some evidence and questions start to mount against “cardio,” it reinforces the concept that muscle quality (MQ) is what truly allows people to improve their health. So why do people see (or think they see) initial gains with cardio but not lasting ones? Why can heart disease still progress even though someone is moving more or increasing their activity? It simply comes back to a lack of muscle quality and increased inflammation.
HOW ALL THAT CARDIO WORKS AGAINST YOU
One of the things previously discussed was the Law of Motor Unit Recruitment. This means that effort, or Right Intensity Training™, is the best way to ensure that all muscle fibers are being recruited and developed. By definition, this does NOT occur with steady state aerobic activity, (i.e. cardio). It also means that the greatest percent of muscle mass on one’s body isn’t being developed and, therefore, muscle mass is never emptied of significant levels of glucose. Thus, the resultant extra sugar ends up being shuttled into the liver, converted into triglycerides, and then ultimately stored as body fat.
Making matters worse, the muscle cell walls grow more resistant to insulin leading to greater inflammation. The body’s response to greater inflammation is to heal it with LDL cholesterol which happens to be oxidized from free radicals that cardio, i.e. prolonged running, produces.*
So a lot of evidence is starting to stack up against the need for cardio.
- Aerobic activity is not the best way to achieve cardiovascular fitness (See our blog post Muscle Quality and “Cardio”)
- Aerobic activity is not the best way to reduce your risk for heart disease (See our blog post Muscle Quality and Cardiovascular Health and this article on the effects of aerobic physical exercise on inflammation)
- Aerobic activity prevents full muscle fiber activation and full glycogen depletion*
- Prolonged aerobic activity increases inflammation and the amassing of LDL.**
- Prolonged aerobic activity increases free radical production and decreases circulating antioxidants
And these points are just in relation to how ‘cardio’ affects our cardiovascular health and heart disease prevention.
So why are we told to participate in aerobic activity so frequently? Why are we told it’s good for the heart? Does aerobic activity really increase inflammation and increase our risk of heart disease? Most studies are done for relatively short periods of time, meaning 1-6 months. During this period there are some positive adaptations that can outweigh the negatives, e.g. an initial change from the non-exerciser to anyone first taking up an activity that calls for muscular work. However, in order to see long term adaptations and ongoing protection against the risks of heart disease, improved muscle quality and Right Intensity Training™ is proven time and again to be the perfect combination.
* Body By Science, by Dr. Doug McGuff, pgs. 33-34
** Packer, L. Oxidants, Antioxidant Nutrients, and the Athlete. Journal of Sports Science. June 1997. 15(3), 353-363
Read the rest of this series:
Muscle Quality: Improving It Will Change Your Life
Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 1
Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 2
Muscle Quality and Fat Loss
Muscle Quality and “Cardio”
Muscle Quality and Cardiovascular Health
The Downside to prolonged “Cardio”
Muscle Quality and Osteoporosis
How to Combat Osteoporosis through Strength Training
Muscle Quality and Gastrointestinal Health
Muscle Quality and Inflammation
Muscle Quality and Brain Health
Muscle Quality and The Endocrine System: Part 1
Muscle Quality and The Endocrine System: Part 2