Cardio: Achy Joints and Love Handles Will Never Leave You Alone.
Did you know that cardio is NOT a necessary requirement to achieve fat loss? It is also not the most effective activity to improve your cardiovascular system or keep you looking fit and healthy. Now, I know this completely contradicts what you may have been told before – “cardio is the most effective activity to trim inches off of your waist” or “you need cardio for your heart”. What you may not have been told is that there are potential side effects to cardio and other chronic aerobic activities. In the “Part I” of this article, I will start to outline 2 common side effects and why you should avoid this type of exercise.
- Wear and Tear
High-impact activities, such as running, can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your body, specifically your joints. Typically, joints such as hips and knees, and your lower back, are negatively impacted with cardio over an extended period of time. If you have suffered a chronic injury, it is recommended that you avoid high-impact exercises as the continuous strain can one day become intolerable, impair your movements and functionality. Joints are meant to be functional for as long as possible – so keep in mind that running and jogging can impact the integrity of your joints, leaving them feeling weaker and less functional.
2. Increased Cortisol (The Stress Hormone)
Did you know that cardio spikes cortisol levels? Don’t get me wrong, stress is a necessary and innate process needed for survival, however, we already get enough of this in our modern day society. All this excess stress keeps our bodies in a constant “fight-or-flight” mode, which can lead to negative side effects including:
- Body inflammation
- Increased fat storage
- Poor sleep
- Mood swings
There is also a direct correlation between stress and testosterone; higher levels of cortisol directly correlates with lower levels of testosterone, and vice versa. High levels of stress does not facilitate increased muscle mass, energy levels, mental focus, or general well-being. In fact, lower testosterone (higher cortisol) can mean an increased likelihood of being in a chronic catabolic state. Over long periods of time, this bodily state becomes counterproductive and can result in decreased lean muscle.
My intention here isn’t to demonize aerobic activities. I am simply trying to raise awareness of the potential negative impact it can have on your goals as well as its potential side effects. In certain situations, cardio can be a temporary solution to introduce someone to a more active lifestyle (i.e. sedentary individuals). However, cardio is certainly not a long-term means to achieve your goals.
If activities like running/jogging make you feel good, physically and mentally, then don’t stop! My hope is that you are now aware that cardio is not an effective strategy for burning fat, looking better, or achieving overall health and well-being.
What should you be doing instead of cardio?
In order to facilitate decreased chronic stress, balanced cortisol levels, and optimized body composition without the use of cardio, you should implement the following techniques and activities:
High-Intensity Workouts. Short, intense bursts via resistance training will optimize the effectiveness of your workouts. Not only will you experience results in a shorter amount of time, your hormonal response to intense workouts is less chronic. For reference, training for 1.5 hours per day, 6 days a week causes unnecessary wear and tear on your body and is counterproductive.
High Protein Diet. Adjusting your eating habits to include high protein foods from quality animal sources will play a large role in protein synthesis and muscle tissue retention. Start to incorporate proteins such as eggs, poultry, fish, fresh meats, seafood. For reference, plant based protein are low quality protein that lack essential amino-acids.
Meditation. Studies show that mindfulness and meditation are very beneficial for achieving optimized performance. There are many resources you can lean on, including free apps on your smartphone. Simply incorporating 5 minutes per day, morning or night, is a great start. For reference, I highly recommend increasing your mindfulness time each day reaching a minimum of 15 minutes per session. Remember that consistency is key.
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