Technology has allowed for many wondrous things, from life-saving medical advancements to walking on the moon, but it has also made us sedentary. If our occupation does not provide the required amount of exercise then it must be supplemented. Therefore in today’s world, the gym may be a necessary place to go to meet our exercise requirements. Numerous studies have shown the beneficial effects of exercise. In fact, proper exercise is one of the keys to the prevention of every known disease. Unfortunately, the topic of exercise can be just as confusing as the topic of diet. Which kind? How much? What about fat burning? These are all common questions. After reading this chapter I hope you will have the answer to these questions and many more.
What Is Exercise? Exercise can be almost any activity that uses our muscles with a beneficial degree of intensity and for a sustained duration. Do not assume however, that all exercise is equal or that all exercise is beneficial.
What Is The Best Exercise For Our Bodies? It depends upon our goals. Losing fat, gaining muscle mass, going long distances etc. are all acceptable goals and various forms of exercise can be utilized to achieve them. However, when pursuing the goal of health, only certain forms of exercise, at certain times, are effective. In other words, a person who is healthy may use all forms of exercise, but not all exercise makes a person healthy.
Fitness vs. Health Before I ever knew anything about exercise, nutrition and the adverse effects of stress, I was able to maintain a high degree of fitness from regular exercise. Basketball and weight lifting were an integral part of my week. If a stranger looked at me, he would think I was in good shape and healthy. Yet, with a sustained increase in stress, I would usually get sick. Other signs were also present, including chronic mucus in my throat, frequent sniffling, sneezing, allergies to cats and dogs and some foods, achy joints, and swelling in my left knee. Although I was able to lift weights for two hours at a time and play basketball half of the day, I was still plagued with the above symptoms. Although I was fit, I was not healthy. I believe that most exercise programs that utilize the “no pain, no gain” approach are unintentionally producing the same problems among the public.
For our purposes, fitness is defined as adapted to, or suited. When an athlete allows his body to adapt to the various stressors he has placed upon it, the body will most certainly become fit. Health, however, is defined as all the systems of the body working together harmoniously and in their most efficient manner. The fit person is not necessarily healthy, nor is the healthy person necessarily fit. The fit athlete, having trained his body appropriately, is able to perform strenuous and astounding feats, yet this benefit will most likely come at the expense of other tissues, and often of health itself.
It is not uncommon to hear that an athlete has had his career cut short due to nagging injuries, or has even died unexpectedly while training. From my experience and study, I have found that certain deficiencies can be expected when we train for fitness and not for health. These deficiencies often lead to persistent injury, sickness and in extreme cases, death. This is because fitness training places heavy burdens on the body’s anaerobic (sugar burning) system, while neglecting the more important aerobic (oxygen and fat burning) system.
The Anaerobic System The anaerobic system is vital to life. It gives us the quick energy we need by using stored glycogen (blood sugar) to perform an activity. Very small amounts of glycogen are available for use by our muscles at any given time. That is why weight training “sets” last only a short period before the muscles, “burn out.” Too much anaerobic training can cause chemical imbalances leading to injury and eventually illness. Weight training, sprinting, fast jogging, and most other sports are forms of anaerobic exercise.
Without a doubt, we need our anaerobic systems for burning sugar, brain energy, maintaining fat burning and for an additional source of body energy during times of stress. Also, regular amounts of resistance exercise, like weight training for example, have been shown to strengthen bones and the surrounding soft tissues in women with osteoporosis. There are other benefits as well. Unfortunately an imbalance is present in this society, with too much emphasis placed on anaerobic development.
We are made up of two types of muscle fibers that are simply named “fast” and “slow”. Fast fibers are also called anaerobic fibers, while slow fibers are called aerobic fibers. Your genetic makeup often determines how much of each you have. Through training, an athlete can change the function of a particular fiber, making a slow fiber act like a fast fiber and vice versa. Once training has stopped, the cells gradually return to normal. Sprinters and bodybuilders do not have the same number of slow fibers as long distance athletes; instead, they have a great deal more fast fibers. All athletes, which include everyone who exercises regularly, have certain special needs. However, it is interesting to note that athletes participating in fast fiber sports perform better if they train their slow fibers as well according to the method given below.
The Aerobic System Aerobic training, (light jogging, easy swimming, easy biking etc.), is extremely beneficial in the promotion of health. In order to engage this system, we must exercise within a certain, low heart rate range. The aerobic system relies on great amounts of oxygen in order to produce energy, and the major fuel used when training aerobically is fat. The same amount of fat contains more than twice as much potential fuel as do carbohydrates. Therefore, when we engage our aerobic systems during exercise, we not only become more efficient, we also burn fat. Not only should fat be our fuel of choice for energy, it is also the one most people want to get rid of in the first place. Too much aerobic training is possible, but rare. For the most part, aerobic activity will strengthen our immune, respiratory, circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. Additionally, we lose fat and increase our energy.
The most appropriate exercise for people is a prolonged, steady use of our slow fibers. Studies examining the effects of aerobic exercise and general health bear this out. Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise have been recommended for all people, because of their health promoting effects.
Benefits of aerobic exercise:
• Decreases stress on sensitive tissues like the adrenal glands • Reduces the chance of over-training • Increases blood circulation to all tissues • Strengthens immune system • Promotes fat loss • Detoxifies tissues and eliminates waste
Exercise Goals It was very difficult for me to give up basketball, even when I knew that the anaerobic stress was damaging my tissues. My love for competition, continued improvement in the sport and overall enjoyment of the game were the reasons I had a hard time quitting. Needless to say, my emotional attachment to the sport allowed for a distortion of my priorities. I had often told patients, concerning their health, “Short term sacrifice means long term benefits,” and, “discipline is not a four letter word.” Knowing I was not practicing what I preached, and hearing my own words echo in my head, I soon submitted to my conscience. The good news is that once I began to develop my aerobic system, I was able to once again play basketball, and this time without pain.
Many of you who are reading this book may have an emotional attachment to one or several things that are not healthy. You may need to give up some things completely; others may be returned to you in time, once a greater level of health is achieved. You should not look at these changes as anything but positive. Always remember that when we take care of the things God has placed in our trust, including our body, we are blessed.
How to Start There are two goals with exercise - to care for our bodies, or if you are an athlete, to improve performance. The program below meets both of these goals.
Almost all people have an aerobic system deficiency; those that don’t, will not be harmed by doing extra aerobic work. Therefore, we should start by building the aerobic base. This may take up to three months. During this time, NO anaerobic exercise should be performed. For some this may sound difficult, and it is. You will find an appropriate time or season in your schedule. Just remember that exercise is an integral part of health. Without exercise, health is not possible, so the sooner you start, the better.
Dr. Phil Maffetone wrote a book, In Fitness and in Health, which discuses the topic of exercise in depth. I have found this book to be a straight-forward, common-sense approach to exercise and have included many of his ideas in the exercise programs I recommend. I present some of these ideas below.
Target Heart Rate The body switches from fat burning to sugar burning at a specific heart rate. Therefore, the purchase of a heart rate monitor is highly recommended. Once you enter the high heart rate range and engage the anaerobic system you will no longer burn fat even if you return to a lower heart rate. This means that all aerobic benefit could potentially be lost. A heart rate monitor will help you stay below the anaerobic range and will beep when you exceed it. Heart rate monitors are very simple to use and usually include two pieces: a wrist piece that tells the rate of beats per minute (doubles as a watch when not in use) and a strap that goes around the chest which picks up the electrical signal given off by the heart. They may be purchased at most sports stores for less than $100.00.
To find your target heart rate range:
Take 180 and subtract your age.
Then add or subtract from this number based upon the following:
Recovering from a major illness, surgery or taking daily medication…..subtract 10
Have not exercised before, or have exercised but have been injured or are regressing, or experience frequent colds, flu, or under high stress…..subtract 5
Exercising for up to two years without any real problems, and have not had colds or flu more than once or twice per year…..subtract 0
Exercising for more than two years without any real problems and have been making progress in your program or competition…..add 5
For example, a fifty year old man who rarely exercises and gets the flu and/or a cold or two most years would have a maximum aerobic heart rate of 125bpm (180 - 50 -5). Then, his maximum aerobic range would be from ten beats below his maximum, up to his maximum (115bpm-125bpm). The heart rate monitor can be set for this range. When exercising above or below this range, a beep will sound.
Without A Heart Rate Monitor You will still derive great benefit from training your aerobic system, even if it is below the ideal range, and you will lose some benefit when the range is exceeded. So, exercise at a very low pace. A light sweat, easy breathing and a feeling of not having done much when through are all good signs that indicate you have trained below your maximum rate.
What to Expect Most people will be shocked at how quickly their heart rate exceeds their maximum range. I frequently need to reinforce this style of exercise to patients who simply can’t believe that training so slowly can do any good. Patients who are presently joggers and who exercised two or three times per week with no apparent difficulty, are surprised to find that their normal exercise routine produced a heart rate 10, 20, 30 or more beats above maximum. These were the same patients who showed many signs of adrenal fatigue and nagging injuries. In only a short period of time, after training in their aerobic range, they were able to resume their previous running course and speed, this time with a much lower heart rate and few, if any, nagging injuries. This indicated that they had indeed developed their aerobic base and were beginning to receive its many benefits.
Another sign that you are training aerobically is the presence of sore muscles. Since most people have trained their fast fibers while neglecting their slow fibers, they have unknowingly become sugar burners instead of fat burners. While training at a lower heart rate, the slow (fat burning) fibers will be the primary tissues worked, leading to soreness. This soreness, after an easy aerobic workout, is good. It will pass in a few days and is a sign that you are on the right track.
Selecting a Program An aerobic program should be performed at least three times per week for thirty minutes each time. As the training progresses, frequency (up to five, sometimes six times per week) and time (up to sixty minutes or more) can be increased.
Walking is the best way to start and will be the only choice for most people. If you are currently doing some form of exercise, then your body may be able to lightly jog or swim. Whatever the exercise, it should involve the large muscles of the legs, be continuous for the determined amount of time and always stay in or below the target heart rate range.
The Emotional Component Wanting to exercise can be just as important as doing it. The emotional component in any activity should always be addressed. Therefore, pick a route that is enjoyable, a time of day that is convenient, clothing that is comfortable, and an attitude that is appreciative and determined. Tying productive emotions into any new routine or discipline helps to get through the tougher stages and encourages progress.
Warm Up, Cool Down and Stretching Warming up and stretching are essential, but they are not the same thing and should not be done at the same time. Warming up is as simple as a slow easy walk for ten minutes. It is necessary in order to prepare the body for exercise. Warming up should always be done first. Once exercise begins, the metabolic by-products (toxins) of muscle activity need somewhere to go. Warming up ensures that a sufficient amount of blood is circulating prior to exercise, so that these by-products can be carried away to the liver for detoxification and elimination. Warming up also increases the amount of free-floating fatty acids available for fuel - our desired energy source. Also, up to 80% of the blood in the organs will be transferred to the muscles during stressful activity. Warming up allows for this to happen slowly and gradually, decreasing the overall amount of tissue stress. Ten to fifteen minutes is all that is required for a proper warm up period.
After a brief warm up period, stretching may be performed. The added circulation from the warm up period allows for greater elasticity and flexibility of the tissues during a stretch, both of which decrease the chance for injury. Do not stretch through the point of pain and do not bounce when you stretch. Stretching beyond the normal range of motion may temporarily increase flexibility, but it also leads to micro injury. The best form of stretching is a static-active stretch. This means that you perform a light stretch, moving slowly to a point of resistance, and contract the opposite muscle for 10-20 seconds. For example, if you want to stretch the muscles on the back of the right leg, mildly contract the muscles on the front of the right leg for about 20 seconds.
The cool down is just as important as the warm up. Cooling down allows a gentle return of the blood to the various organs. If we stop suddenly after exercise, the blood rushes too quickly into the organs, bringing with it the many chemical waste products that were produced. Since most of our blood is stored in the organs when we are not active, many of the chemical waste products will be trapped there as well. This leads to chemical stress and potential toxic buildup. If severe enough, all the aerobic benefits from the exercise can be lost. Also, the cool down is the first stage of the post-exercise recovery. Recovery from exercise is just as important as the exercise itself. Simply go gradually slower than the exercise pace until your heart rate is about 10 - 20 beats above your resting heart rate. This should only take about ten minutes and is all that is needed.
You will begin to get to know more about your body and its specific needs before, during and after exercise. Always try to, “tune in,” to what is going on in your tissues as you exercise. The body gives us many warning signs; we need only to pay attention and heed its call.
Maximum Aerobic Function Test (MAF) After beginning an exercise program, it is important to monitor progress to ensure that you are developing as intended. You will notice many subjective changes: feeling better, not as tired, more energy, not as sick, sleeping better etc. Also, you should perform a maximum aerobic function test (MAF) to check for objective changes as well.
Pick a distance that can be measured. When you begin the program, while walking in your target heart rate range, complete your chosen course and record your time. Over the next few weeks repeat the test. If you are able to walk the same distance in less time while maintaining your target heart rate range then you are improving your aerobic system. The opposite can be done as well. Pick an amount of time you are going to perform an exercise, and measure how far you go. If you are making progress, you should be able to go further in the same amount of time on the next test. These tests are important emotionally because they demonstrate that progress is being made, which encourages further exercise. Perform an MAF test every 3 or 4 weeks.
If you are not improving, evaluate your health. Have you been sick, stressed, getting enough rest, eating bad foods etc.? Address these issues and keep going. Most will find that they improve rather quickly and that they have to progress from walking to a slow jog in order to maintain their minimum heart rate range.
Train aerobically for three months without anaerobic exercise.
Do not exceed your maximum heart rate at any time during your workout.
When training without a heart rate monitor, only exercise at a pace where little exertion is noticed.
Do monthly MAF tests to ensure progress.
When to Add Other Exercises After the initial three months is over, you may begin adding back your favorite exercises as long as they are the minority activity of your week. Aerobic exercise will always be the best for our bodies because that is how we were designed. You should find however, that after an initial adjustment period, you are now able to perform your old exercises at an even greater level of ease and comfort. In a two-week period, I may play basketball once or twice, lift weights two to four times and do aerobic training in between. I do these activities because I find them enjoyable, and this regimen seems to work well for me.