endurance cardio, such as marathon running, actually damages your
heart, and can negate the health benefits you’d otherwise reap
from a regular fitness program. Research has shown that once you
reach 40-50 minutes of vigorous exercise per day, the benefits
from your efforts plateau, and further efforts do not convey further
improvements in life expectancy
extreme cardio sets in motion inflammatory mechanisms that damage
your heart. So while your heart is indeed designed to work very
hard, and will be strengthened from doing so, it’s only designed
to do so intermittently, and for short periods not for
an hour or more at a time
endurance athletes have a five-fold increased risk of atrial fibrillation,
a dangerous irregular heart rhythm. Worse yet, some endurance
athletes also present ventricular tachycardia, which can lead
to ventricular fibrillation a leading cause of sudden cardiac
the health benefits from running, you’ll want to run 5-20 miles
per week the ideal amount being 10-15 miles per week. Once
you reach 25 miles or more per week, the benefits actually disappear.
Running too fast (faster than 8 miles per hour) or more than five
times per week also negates the health benefits of running
survival rates among runners are in those who run at a slow to
average pace for a total of 1 to 2.5 hours per week, divided between
two to three runs per week
In the TED
talk above, Dr. James O'Keefe, a research cardiologist and a former
elite athlete, discusses an important point that can be difficult
for some to accept, namely the fact that extreme cardio can actually
do more harm than good...
I am about
two years older than Dr. O'Keefe and had a similar running history.
Dr. O'Keefe actually won the largest sprint distance triathlon in
Kansas City five years in a row, from 1999 to 20041
. Although I was never an elite athlete like Dr. O'Keefe, I had
run a 2:50 marathon previously. It is satisfying to hear Dr. O'Keefe
validate what I have been writing about for years now. I suspect
we both wised up and stopped running at about the same age, after
many decades of intense endurance training.
The myth that
extreme endurance cardio is good for your heart took off at full
speed when, in 1977, Dr. Thomas Bassler boldly proclaimed that "completing
a marathon confers immunity against heart attack." Many die-hard
runners still believe this to be true.
the years since, research has shown that the complete opposite may
According to one study, presented in the video above, once you reach
40-50 minutes of vigorous exercise per day, the benefits from your
efforts plateau, and further efforts do not convey further
improvements in life expectancy.
When it comes
to light to moderate exercise, on the other hand such as
walking, housework, and similar less strenuous day-to-day activities
more is better. It's not as effective as vigorous
exercise (performed less than about 40 minutes a day), but the more
active you are throughout the day, the better your life expectancy.
the Moderately Fit
As Dr. O'Keefe
says, "Darwin was wrong about one thing. It's not survival of the
fittest, but survival of the moderately fit." If you can dance,
or lightly swim, or jog at six miles an hour, your mortality rate
plummets compared to someone who can barely walk a flight of stairs.
attainments of peak fitness do not translate into further increases
in life expectancy. It plateaus out," Dr. O'Keefe says. "We
weren't born to run. We were born to walk, and we need to be walking
more... you need to be moving your body more than sitting
every chance you get, move!"
described exercise as a drug that needs to be taken in the ideal
dosage to impart the optimal benefit. Too little, and you won't
get any benefit. Too much, and you could do harm.
As Dr. O'Keefe
describes, extended extreme cardio actually sets in motion inflammatory
mechanisms that damage your heart. So while your heart
is indeed designed to work very hard, and will be strengthened from
doing so, it's only designed to do so intermittently, and
for short periods not for an hour or more at a time. Repeatedly
and consistently overwhelming the heart by long distance marathon
running, for example, actually prematurely ages your heart.
athletes have a five-fold increased risk of atrial fibrillation,
a dangerous irregular heart rhythm. Worse yet, some endurance athletes
also present ventricular tachycardia (a heart rhythm faster than
100-120 beats per minute), which can lead to ventricular fibrillation
a leading cause of sudden cardiac death.
Longer But Only Those Who Run Within the Goldilocks Zone...
also summarizes new research about to be published, showing that,
yes, runners do live longer in general, nearly 20 percent
longer than non-runners. The study in question followed 14,000 runners
and 38,000 non-runners for up to three decades. And they found that,
to optimize the health benefits from running, you'll want to run
5-20 miles per week the ideal amount being 10-15 miles per
week. Once you reach 25 miles or more per week, the benefits actually
Also, if you
run too fast over eight miles an hour the benefits
tend to go away (note we're talking about speed in long distance
endurance running here, not interval sprinting). It won't make your
health worse than a non-runner, but as Dr. O'Keefe says, if you
put in that much effort, surely you'd want to get some benefit from
In order to
obtain the health benefits and increased longevity from long distance
running efforts, it seems to be best to limit your pace to six to
seven miles per hour (about a ten-minute mile). Lastly, if you run
seven days a week, the benefits also seem to disappear. The ideal
amount was found to be between two to five days of exercise a week.
study, also discussed by Dr. O'Keefe, found similar results. It
followed 20,000 Danes since 1976, and found that joggers live about
six years longer than non-runners, but again the benefit disappeared
in those who overdid it... The best survival rates were
among those who ran at a slow to average pace for a total of 1 to
2.5 hours per week, divided between two to three runs per week.
Interval Training May Be the Ideal for Most
is showing that the ideal form of exercise isn't related to long-distance
endurance after all. Rather, short bursts of high
intensity exercise has been shown to beat conventional cardio
time and time again as the most effective and efficient form of
exercise. It also provides health benefits you simply cannot get
from regular aerobics, such as a tremendous boost in human growth
hormone (HGH), aka the "fitness hormone."
to fitness expert Phil Campbell and author of Ready Set Go,
getting cardiovascular benefits actually requires working
all three types of muscle fibers and their associated energy
systems and this cannot be done with traditional cardio.
Here's a quick review:
(red muscle): Activated by traditional strength training and cardio
(white muscle): Activated by high intensity interval exercises
(white muscle): Consists of fast twitch AND super-fast fibers,
activated by high intensity interval exercises
most traditional cardio and strength training exercises work only
red muscle fibers, completely missing your white muscle fibers,
which then atrophy. If your fitness routine doesn't work your white
muscle, you aren't really working your heart in the most beneficial
way. Your heart has two different metabolic processes: the aerobic,
which require oxygen for fuel, and the anaerobic, which do not require
strength training and cardio exercises work primarily the aerobic
process and the slow twitch (red) muscle fibers. On the other hand,
high intensity interval exercises work your aerobic AND your anaerobic
processes, which is what you need for optimal cardiovascular benefit.
This is why you may not see the results you desire even when you're
spending an hour on the treadmill several times a week. You're only
working HALF of your muscle fibers!
In the case
of these kinds of Peak
Fitness exercises, less is more, as you can get all
the benefits you need in just a 20-minute session performed twice
a week. In fact, you should not do these exercises more
than three times a week, as if you do it more frequently than that
you may actually do more harm than good similar to running
Your body needs
regular amounts of stress like exercise to stay healthy, but if
you give it more than you can handle you will actually lose your
health. So it is really crucial to listen to your body and integrate
the feedback into your exercise intensity and frequency. When you
work out it is wise to really push as hard as you possibly can a
few times a week but you need to wisely gauge your body's tolerance
to this stress.
Heart Health and Your Insulin Sensitivity
interval exercises offers pretty astounding benefits to your heart
and risk of chronic diseases, like diabetes. A Canadian research
team gathered several groups of volunteers, including sedentary
but generally healthy middle-aged men and women, and patients of
a similar age who had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease3.
The participants were asked to undertake a program of cycling intervals
as their exclusive form of exercise.
weeks on the program, both the unfit volunteers and the cardiac
patients showed significant improvements in their health and fitness.
Most remarkably, the cardiac patients showed "significant improvements"
in both heart and blood vessel functioning. And, contrary to what
popular belief might dictate, the intense exercises did not
cause any heart problems for any of the cardiac patients.
widely held belief is that the short exposure of the exercise actually
helps insulate your heart from the intensity!
were the results of yet another study, in which unfit but otherwise
healthy middle-aged adults were able to improve their insulin sensitivity
and blood sugar regulation after just two weeks of interval training
(three sessions per week)4.
A follow-up study5
also found that interval training positively impacted insulin sensitivity.
In fact, the study involved people with full-blown type 2 diabetes,
and just ONE interval training session was able to improve blood
sugar regulation for the next 24 hours! This truly is amazing, and
while aerobic fitness is indeed important, improving and maintaining
good insulin sensitivity is perhaps one of the most important
aspects of optimal health.
A Simple to
Follow Approach to Peak Fitness and Longevity
If you are
using exercise equipment, I recommend using a recumbent bicycle
or an elliptical machine for your high-intensity interval training,
although you certainly can use a treadmill, or sprint anywhere outdoors.
Just beware that if you sprint outside, you must be very careful
about stretching prior to sprinting. Also, unless you are already
an athlete, I would strongly advise against sprinting outdoors,
as several people I know became injured doing it the first time
that way. For a demonstration using an elliptical machine, please
see the following video. Here are the core principles:
for three minutes
as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should be gasping
for breath and feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few
seconds. It is better to use lower resistance and higher repetitions
to increase your heart rate
for 90 seconds, still moving, but at slower pace and decreased
high-intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times. (When you're
first starting out, depending on your level of fitness, you may
only be able to do two or three repetitions of the high-intensity
intervals. As you get fitter, just keep adding repetitions until
you're doing eight during your 20-minute session)
for a few minutes afterward by cutting down your intensity by
If you have
a history of heart disease or any medical concern please get clearance
from your health care professional to start this. Most people
of average fitness will be able to do it though; it is only a
matter of how much time it will take you to build up to the full
8 reps. By the end of your 30-second high-intensity period you
will want to reach these markers:
be relatively hard to breathe and talk because you are in oxygen
start to sweat. Typically this occurs in the second or third repetition
unless you have a thyroid issue and don't sweat much normally.
temperature will rise.
increases and you will feel a muscle "burn."
effectiveness of interval training makes logical sense when you
consider that this type of exertion mimics how our ancestors lived.
This is also how animals and young children behave naturally (long-duration
exercise really isn't "natural"). By exercising in short bursts,
followed by periods of recovery, you recreate exactly what your
body needs for optimum health, and that includes the production
of growth hormones, the burning of excess body fat, and improved
cardiovascular health and stamina.
Add Variety to Your Exercise Program
to doing high intensity interval exercises a couple of times a week,
it's wise to alternate a wide variety of exercises in order to truly
optimize your health. Without variety, your body will quickly adapt
and the benefits will begin to plateau. As a general rule, as soon
as an exercise becomes easy to complete, you need to increase the
intensity and/or try another exercise to keep challenging your body.
I recommend incorporating the following types of exercise into your
(Anaerobic) Training: This is when you alternate short
bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
Training: You can actually "up" the intensity by slowing
it down. For more information about using super slow weight training
as a form of high-intensity interval exercise, please see my interview
Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly
in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides
the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening
them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and
body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and
enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should
be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions,
yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also
important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They
need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
programs like Pilates and yoga are also great for strengthening
your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from
a personal trainer. In a related article, Pilates Platinum owner
Healther Dorak shares three moves you can do at home or in the
gym. To see a demonstration of each exercise, please check out
the article posted on FitSugar.com6.
of these three moves targets and challenges several different
muscle groups at once so you get more bang for your buck," says
Dorak. "Do this routine three times a week, and you'll start
to strengthen and tone your abs, legs, glutes, and arms."
My favorite type of stretching is active isolated stretches developed
by Aaron Mattes. With Active Isolated Stretching, you hold each
stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural
physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity
of muscle joints. This technique also allows your body to repair
itself and prepare for daily activity. You can also use devices
like the Power
Plate to help you stretch.