Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why You Should Give Up Cardio Workouts

A friend and I got into a discussion today about the benefits of exercise. She believes you have to exercise to stay thin and have muscle tone. I partly agree with her.

A few years ago, I was eating what most doctors and nutritionists would call a healthy diet: lean meat, cottage cheese, lots of "good carbs," low-fat. I exercised hard six days a week. And I was gaining weight! That weight wasn't muscle, either--unless gaining muscle makes it hard to button your pants.

I stopped eating wheat and started slowly losing weight. Then I went on a low-carb diet--about 50 grams of carb a day--and the fat fell off. I ditched the six-workouts-a-week plan because I didn't need it to stay thin.

I'm not alone. Cookbook author Dana Carpender wrote that she gained weight on a low fat diet while taking an aerobics class.(1) Dr. John Briffa often writes about clinical studies showing that aerobic or cardio exercise isn't effective for losing weight (see this, this, this, this, this, and this). And in nine years in Denver's lindy hop scene (lindy is a dance for the energetic--click for video), I've seen some pros, teachers and serious amateurs gain weight in their 30s. I haven't yet seen anyone start out heavy and end up thin. When I hurt my neck several months ago, I stopped exercising until it healed, and didn't gain a single pound.

I'm not against exercise. But the purpose of exercise should be to make you strong and improve your physique. Guys, do you really want to be huffing and puffing with a dance partner or while you walk your date up a few flights of stairs to her apartment? Don't sneer: the reason my friends don't date older men is because older men can't keep up with them. (Without weight-bearing exercise, people lose muscle as they age.) And what self-respecting paleo girl wants to ask her out-of-shape neighbors to help her rearrange her furniture because she can't move her couch by herself? These problems don't apply just to heavy people. I've seen thin people lacking strength and energy.

If we're being honest, I think we all know that no diet is going to give you good muscle tone. I do Slow Burn once a week--it's a weight lifting workout that's quick, and easy on your joints. In the summer, I garden, too. Pulling weeds, digging holes, dragging a hose around, and lopping off and bundling up dead stems are no dainty activities. And of course, there's dancing. Have you ever seen a dancer with a flat butt? That's another benefit of giving up cardio and other long exercise sessions for brief strength workouts: you'll have more time and energy to do the things you love.

(1) How I Gave Up my Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds by Dana Carpender.


Angel said...

I love Slow Burn! I've been doing it since July and I have built up strength and muscle, and lost fat (and some weight overall). I also managed to not work out for a month and not lose strength (which amazed me, but I eat low-carb and gluten-free, and lots of other bad stuff-free too).

I've recently started doing more body weight exercises, including a couple from Paleo Blueprint Fitness, only I do them the Slow Burn way. It's been a nice way to change up the work out routine.

It still amazes me that I don't get sore with Slow Burn, but I'm still building strength. I've done conventional workouts before and never felt this strong or this good (that was back when I was eating a lot of crappy food too, though).

Lori Miller said...

Good diet is a big part of building and maintaining strength. Without adequate protein, your body will cannibalize its own muscle.

I don't get soreness in my joints or muscles, either, from Slow Burn. I'd forgotten about it, but the Slow Burn book mentions the damage cardio exercise like running can do to your body.