Fountain of Youth - Part 1
Far and away, the best thing you could ever do for your body is exercise 5-6 days a week for the rest of your life. No questions asked. Yes, there will be times when you are sick or pregnant or injured and you absolutely cannot exercise, but a few days off here or there won't even make a noticeable effect if you are consistent the other 300+ days of the year.
There are of course many different ways of exercising. We have all heard of cardiovascular exercise, such as light jogging, brisk walking, etc. This is fine, and is definitely a great way to stay active and MUCH better than the alternative, i.e. sitting on your rump. Just fine you ask? Yes, I will explain more in a bit, but aerobic exercise is the type that you can do for prolonged periods of time keeping up with your energy demands by oxygen alone, hence the name aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is the kind that is good for your heart and circulatory system to keep the pipes clean (arteries, veins), and has its place in a training regimen, especially for those that wish to go and run a marathon or something, not to mention the ability to burn some calories along the way, great!
However, a far more beneficial type of training is pushing yourself into and past your lactate threshold. Let me explain. Most people are at least fit enough to walk at a normal pace and can meet these energy demands by their body by breathing alone. As explained above, this is aerobic exercise. Some people can even jog at a decent to extremely fast pace and still fulfill their energy demands by breathing alone. The human body is designed this way to burn body fat (adipose) along with oxygen in its energy systems for a long period of time. No matter how fit (or unfit) you are, most people could at least walk for hours at a time without needing a rest.
So back to the lactate threshold thing. Let's say you are walking along for an extended period of time, maybe breathing a little heavier, but not having any problems, fine! Then you come across a steep hill. Walking up that hill suddenly starts to cause your muscles to burn and your breathing rate to increase. You may even get to the point where your muscles are burning so badly that they either move slower or stop working all together. This is caused by a buildup of lactate in your muscles. I am sure many people have experienced this before.
The benefits to this, is that you are causing damage to your muscles. This damage causes a huge wave of hormonal response in your body that is initiated to repair this damaged tissue. That, right there, is the real fountain of youth. You see, as you age, your body produces less and less hormones, and your bodily tissues are used less and less, so you begin to decay and eventually die. I know, I sped up the process there a bit, and not everyone likes the word decay, but it's the truth. Your body lives by a "use it or lose it" mentality.
As kids, we would run around and play, climb trees, etc. This would send a message to the rest of our body to be better and to grow. As people age, they become less and less active, causing their brain to take notice and basically "pack it in" by lessening our muscle tissues, using our brain less, etc. We can slow that trend, and even reverse it to live many, healthy years!
Alright, back to the lactate threshold thing. If you are training for a marathon, or a triathlon or some similar type of event where you actually want your body to have more aerobic stamina, then fine, go and practice that and run or swim or bike a bunch of miles every day. But, if you want to simply improve your overall health on a day-by-day basis, about 20-30 minutes of intense, hard exercise is all you need!
I can hear what you're saying now, "This can't be true! I need my fix on the treadmill or else I am not myself!" Well, if you wish to use a treadmill, fine, go right ahead, I am not stopping you, but keep this in mind; running on a treadmill may burn a couple hundred (200-300) calories in a half an hour. An equal amount of time spent pushing yourself to your limits using a combination of resistance training and cardiovascular training can burn twice that! Not to mention the fact that you are pushing yourself to your limit, which is causing that flood of hormones which increases your metabolism for 24-48 hours post-workout so you will continue to burn calories at an increased rate. Simply running on the treadmill won't do that much for you!
The key here simply is quality over quantity. You do not need to be spending hours in a gym, period! You need to be making your time more efficient, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, that is what causes positive changes throughout your body. Within as little as 20-30 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week, you are maximizing your potential.
Some of you may ask, "Well, can I exercise intensely for an hour and a half then?" When you push your body outside of its comfort zone, aka, into your anaerobic training zone, you are burning stored glycogen in your body. (Refer to my previous posts regarding this) If you are pushing yourself properly, trust me, you will not be able to exercise at this level of intensity for much more than an hour!
"What do I do about cardio then?" Cardiovascular training is simply elevating your heart rate to a specific level for an extended period of time. By exercising at near-maximum heart rate levels, the point at which your muscles are burning and eventually fail out, is your lactate threshold, or in other words, using your anaerobic energy systems.This is where your body simply cannot meet the demands of clearing away lactate fast enough, and causes something known as oxygen deficit.
Think of oxygen deficit as your body's transport system failing to meet its needs during strenuous exercise. To use an analogy, think of oxygen, carbon dioxide and lactate (the burning acid in your muscles) as commuters waiting for public transit. As you exercise more and more intensely, there simply is not enough subway cars to meet the demands of all of the commuters. So, as the commuters start to build up on the subway platforms, once rush-hour is over, these commuters still need to reach their destination, so even though an exercise may be done, subway trains will continue to try and catch up to the strained demands of the system.
If you are pushing your anaerobic energy systems, even after your exercise is done, you will continue to breath heavy and your heart will be pumping fast to try and clear away all of that excess lactate and feed oxygen to your muscles, mimicking cardiovascular exercise!
When it comes down to it, doing something is always better than doing nothing. You are far better off to go and exercise as you see fit (like my pun?). But if you are going to be working out, wouldn't you much rather maximize your benefits and make your workouts that much more efficient by pushing yourself to your limits for short bursts of intense effort? I guess that is for you to decide!