Well it’s happened again! The rules have changed or so it seems, but have they really changed? March 2010 HOT BREAKING NEWS STORY from The Journal of the American Medical association! Women now need 60 minutes of cardio to maintain weight! The fitness boards went crazy! The debates began and my clients were so depressed! Let’s break this down a bit.
The rule of caloric deficit AKA: Calories In vs. Calories Out, will always apply as the most basic “lose weight” strategy. Aside from the very important fact that cardiovascular exercise is good for your heart, in terms of weight loss it is simply a way of burning more calories. This is a crucial piece of your fitness puzzle because you really can’t live a vibrant & healthy life if you can only eat 800 calories a day. All weight loss programs that are reputable agree that the best way to lose weight is through limiting calories AND increasing exercise. Exercise burns calories, so instead of reducing your calories by 500 a day, which can leave some people very hungry and cranky, we are advised to reduce calories by 250 AND exercise away 250 calories. Now don’t get hung up on those exact numbers please! The numbers are a bit different for every person.
Let’s look at what is fast becoming an obsession with duration. 60 minutes is not, I repeat IS NOT going to help you maintain or lose weight if you are not having an overall calorie deficit! I hope we aren’t going back to the 70’s and 80’s where people became cardio freaks! You cannot ever burn enough calories through aerobics to offset a ding dong habit! It just isn’t possible. It takes at least 45-60 minutes of moderately paced aerobics to burn 1 ding dong! REALLY folks, who has that kind of time?
I will save the lift weights to increase your muscle mass and burn more fat for another article. However I do want to make it very clear that if doing an hour a day of cardio leaves you no time in your busy lives to lift weights, you are doing yourself a huge disservice!
Back To The 60 Minute Cardio Theory
What I think this new study and many like it fail to address properly is intensity. I wrote an article about this last month called High Impact Training vs High Intensity Training.
Although the article was focused on High Intensity vs. High Impact the rules still apply. The key to doing cardio to lose weight is all about the calorie output and temporary rise in the metabolism. If you do 60 minutes of cardio at a slow sluggish pace FOR YOUR FITNESS LEVEL you could burn as little as 120 calories an hour! If you changed that INTENSITY you could burn 500-600 calories or more.
If a person has been inactive for a long period of time, recovering from illness or injury, is morbidly obese or has any medical issues with lung capacity or heart conditions then a slower pace for longer duration is in order (along with a healthy lower caloric diet). If you are a marathoner runner or need to train for a sport requiring endurance then longer is better for some of your training, although any athlete will tell you they use cross training and intensity variations when they train.
If however you don’t fall into one of these groups you are better served to stop focusing on the 60 minutes and start focusing on cross training, variety of duration and a variety of intensity.
CROSS TRAINING for the average person is simply changing the form of the cardio exercise frequently. This helps avoid injuries and also makes your body work harder (burn more calories) because it doesn’t adapt as quickly. It’s the old saying of “Keep your body guessing!”
VARIETY of DURATION simply means that you plan shorter and longer sessions of exercise. Sometimes your busy schedule forces this issue but I much prefer to have a strategic plan. That takes us to the next category
VARIETY of INTENSITY: My shorter cardio sessions are going to by my hardest. This is when I am going to blow it out of the water and push myself mentally and physically to the limit. Longer sessions of cardio will be for some intervals or steady state work. I need to reserve some energy so I can go longer.
I want to re-state that these suggestions are for people who are in good health and already have a lifestyle where they at least move a little each day. It is not intended for anyone with the conditions I discussed earlier!
If you are planning on cardio 6 days a week you might do something along these lines:
- Day 1: Power Walk 60 minutes
- Day 2: Kickboxing 30 minutes + 30-45 minutes Strength Training
- Day 3: Jog 45 minutes
- Day 4: step Aerobics 30 minutes + 30-45 minutes Strength Training
- Day 5: Jazzercise or Aerobic Dance Class 60+ minutes
- Day 6: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) 20-30 minutes + 30-45 minutes Strength Training
The more fit you become you might want to add in an additional day of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT is designed to be super efficient & hard! It is only 20-30 minutes in duration because a true HIIT training cannot be done longer. You should never perform true HIIT 2 days in a row. Most people who do basic consistent exercise shouldn’t really do it more than 3 times per week, here’s why:
If you finish your HIIT session and say to yourself I could have gone another 15-20 minutes then you have not done HIIT You may have worked very hard and that’s great, you may have done an interval workout and those rock, but true HIIT is where you take your heart rate so high and push your muscles so hard that the little rest period between intervals just barely gets you recovered. By the end of 20-30 minutes of that you are dripping in sweat, exhausted and ready for a good long stretch!
In conclusion I want to encourage all of you that were discouraged by the latest AMA report. As I always have to remind my clients, your life will not be determined by a report. It is determined by you – by your goals-by your desire – by your willingness to never take anything at face value. We are all worth more than reading a report and letting it dictate our future. Let’s go create a future of health and vibrancy and let’s do it in a way we know works for the average person.