My fitness goals have changed drastically over the past couple of years: from a couch potato to a wanna-be runner and intense cardio trainer to an individual who just likes to move her body whenever possible (in as much as possible scenic and/or fun settings). I am no longer “exercising” – I have decided to quit the mentality of obligation and embrace the freedom to sprint in open fields – quite literally sometimes!
After reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall in the summer of 2009, I was inspired to take up running in an effort to get in shape and tone up. Not actually born a runner and not having done much physical activity in my younger years, I pushed myself to learn to jog at a steady pace. After doing some light interval training on the track and by the lake in Chicago (when we lived there), I felt pretty comfortable running at a 10 min/mile pace for over three miles about a year and half ago. The accomplishment was exciting, but I also started getting some aches and pains as a result of my new-found hobby. For a while afterwards, when I couldn’t run outside and our gym membership had expired, I bought into the Insanity home video workout craze for a bit – for me, it was unbearable to complete. Not only did I not get visibly stronger over the month I was doing it; I also felt completely drained every single time I finished the workout. Something about that didn’t sit well with me.
Soon enough, after reading about the topic extensively, I found that maybe running and “insanity” cardio training were not the best forms of exercise for my body and my fitness needs. Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint taught me that “chronic cardio” – efficiently characterized in the cartoon below – can lead to fatigue, burnout and injury. Sadly, if excessive, chronic cardio can actually cause the body to hold on to fat longer and cause systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in tissue (due to free radical production), leading to lifestyle diseases and early aging. It’s also pretty boring, especially if done on a machine in a stuffy gym!
Nowadays, my preferred methods of exercising are all infinitely more enjoyable than ‘chronic cardio’. I try to walk every other day for at least a mile or more outside (weather-permitting), to increase my exposure to the sun (essential to maintaining vital Vitamin D levels). I really enjoy that time, away from technology, and in tune with nature. In addition to that, I do some light strength training, cycling through the different muscle groups, as often as I can – usually about twice or three times a week. Finally, following the Primal Blueprint suggestion to sprint every once in a while when I’m feeling energetic, I try to do so maybe once every ten days or so. Sprinting for a few seconds at a time, as opposed to long-distance running, is not straining on the body. If done with enough restful days in between, “high-intensity intermittent training [like sprinting] actually improves both anaerobic (intensity and muscle building) and aerobic (slower, oxygen consuming) body systems, while aerobic exercise only improves aerobic systems (Mark’s Daily Apple). Of course, I make sure never to over-train.
For years I’ve struggled to find enjoyment in “working out” – and I only succeeded when I completely suspended the notion that it’s an obligatory, painful process. Exercise is natural to living; every day, we move our bodies and burn energy. That’s all it is: moving the body! If it’s also purposeful – for instance, walking to a destination or through a beautiful trail in the forest (instead of walking in place on a treadmill staring at a screen), it’s beneficial on so many more levels. I’ve learned that if we’re enjoying moving our bodies and we’re not straining them, then endorphins are released – making the process both enjoyable and constructive to cells. On the other hand, overly strenuous, boring or painful exercise is destructive because of oxidative stress and free radical production that destroys cells!
In line with this concept, I make an effort to purposefully move my body throughout the day as much as possible. I take the stairs more often and choose to walk instead of drive to a nearby location. In addition to the more ‘typical’ exercise activities I mentioned earlier – walking, strength training and sprinting – I also enjoy dancing (specifically, salsa dancing), hiking in scenic places, and indoor rock climbing. Talk about moving with a purpose! Give these a try if you haven’t already. Zumba is also on my list of things to try, as I keep hearing great things from my girlfriends about it. I’m also looking into Crossfit, which focuses on interval endurance training.
As I learn more about effective strength training and interval cardio training, I’ll share with you here. When I post anything fitness-related, I’ll be sure to list it here under an appropriate heading so you can find it easily!