Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Exercise Myths

I get my exercise acting as a pallbearer for my friends who exercise.
-Chauncy Depew (American politician, died at age 94)

Three common myths about exercise pervade our culture today: any physical activity is exercise; all exercise is good for you; and being fitter means being healthier. As myths so often do, these three have taken on the mantle of absolute truth. A measure of the depth to which they have penetrated our collective consciousness is the way most people react to their even being called myths. Be honest. Weren't you just a little shocked when you read those initial statements? Sure you were--because if these are truly myths, then the implication is that exercise is not necessarily good for you. It would mean that the golf or tennis or roller-blading you've been doing isn't necessarily exercise, or that being fitter doesn't automatically make you healthier. And that's impossible . . . isn't it?

No. Simply put, some forms of exercise are good; some are not so good. And, as we'll explain, some can be downright dangerous to your long-term (and even to your short-term) health. Moreover, some activities that most of us would consider to be exercise don't give us nearly as much bang for our fitness buck as we've been led to believe: walking, for example. How can this be? The confusion arises out of common misconceptions about exactly what exercise is and what it isn't.

Many examples of what people consider exercise are in reality pleasurable leisure pursuits. That probably seems to be a nitpicky point, but it really isn't. Golf, softball, basketball, tennis, skiing, racquetball, and other sportsactivities are just that: sports. Games. Fun. There are undoubtedly some fitness benefits associated with these activities, but not as many as you might think. And--here's the kicker--these benefits come at what risk? Even golf, that most gentle of sports, sends its devotees to emergency rooms, physical therapists, orthopedists, and chiropractors in droves with hurt backs, twisted ankles, and injured shoulders. The other activities are even worse.

And what about the hard-core "getting-in-shape" endeavors--jogging, aerobics, roller-blading, cycling, stepper workouts, Tae Bo? Surely they improve fitness, don't they? Of course, but the way they do it is tremendously inefficient and comes with an almost harrowing amount of risk.

In 1999 alone weekend athletes and exercisers ended up in emergency rooms by the millions at a cost of some $22 billion. Most of these casualties were aging baby boomers injured trying desperately to stay in shape through jogging, biking, aerobics, roller-blading, and a host of other activities. Sadly, most of these sufferers probably accepted the idea that injury in some form--shinsplints, muscle strains, sprains, pulls, tears, or even worse--was the price of admission for better health and a trimmer, fitter physique.

Running is a case in point. Even if they don't suffer other injuries, runners end up with bad knees, damaged hips, and weak backs--all injuries that arise from the punishing beating the body takes when you run. It may surprise you to learn just how punishing it is, so let's take a look.

The impact transmitted through the ankles, legs, knees, and hips to the rest of the body from each running step is about three times your body weight. If your feet pound the ground eight hundred to a thousand times per mile, which is about average for the typical stride, and you are a 150-pound runner, you will jolt your body to the tune of about 120 tons of collective force per mile you run. If you are obese and trying to "get into shape" by running, these figures are much more frightening. A 220-pound jogger generates 175 tons of force. That's 350,000 pounds of force on knees, hips, and back. Brutal! If you don't think these forces injure runners, think again. Go pick up a copy of one of the many magazines devoted to running, and you're almost guaranteed to find at least one article on treating running injuries. Or better yet, go to the Runner's World website and navigate to the sections on injury, where you will find descriptions of over fifty typical running-related injuries and their treatments. And as if all those injuries aren't bad enough, a recent study reported that runners and boxers had the same amount of a potentially harmful protein, S-100B, in their blood. Elevated blood levels of this protein which leaks from certain brain cells when they are traumatized, have been shown to correlate with neuropsychological deficits. So, not only does running pound your back, it pounds your head as well!

Legions of people are willing to accept these risks in an effort to improve their health. And why shouldn't they? It seems like every time you open a newspaper or turn on CNN you're being told of yet another study purporting to show the health and/or longevity benefits of moderate exercise. Despite the fact that these studies are virtually all flawed, it seems as if physical activity should be good for you. To a great extent, it probably is, but not if you end up badly injured in the process. And not if you're spending hours and hours of your time engaged in pursuits you don't really enjoy in an effort to seize whatever benefit exercise has to offer. But take heart, there is a better, safer, more efficient way to reclaim or preserve your health, fitness, flexibility, and strength.

Slow Burn is a form of exercise that has been shown to provide all the benefits you seek from an exercise regimen in only thirty minutes per week, with negligible risk of injury. It's a revolutionary method of strength training that far exceeds the benefits of almost any other kind of exercise you can think of. Slow Burn will change the way you think about exercise forever. In fact, Slow Burn will establish a new paradigm for exercise, a whole new meaning for the word, and, like all truly revolutionary discoveries, a whole new vocabulary for talking about it. Exercise will never be the same again.

Exercise Versus Play

So that you'll know where Slow Burn fits in the universe of exercise and fitness activities, we need to define a few terms: exercise, for one. Most people seem to think of any physical activity they perform, from walking around the block to running a marathon, as exercise. By this common definition, bowling, golf, gardening, dancing, and even flying a kite are considered exercise, because doing any of them is more strenuous than sitting around watching television or reading. And it's true that these activities, undemanding though some of them are, all do improve fitness to some degree. So, exercise would appear to be any activity that improves fitness. But then, what is fitness? Well, fitness is what you get when you exercise--but that definition just brings us back full circle to where we started.

Let's agree instead that to be considered exercise, an activity must make you stronger, improve your cardiovascular system, help you lose excess body fat, improve your endurance, improve your flexibility, and build you up by preserving or increasing your bone density and muscle mass. Any activity that accomplishes all these objectives is exercise; anything that falls short, while perhaps beneficial to some degree, we'll categorize as play, if indeed it's a pleasurable pursuit, or not worth the effort, if it doesn't measure up and we don't enjoy it.

As you'll see in coming chapters, perhaps to your surprise, all these objective measures of fitness that we've said define exercise are chiefly manifestations of becoming stronger. The bottom line is that exercise is something that builds strength, and Slow Burn is the best way to do that.

You may think that all this business about what's exercise and what's fun is just semantics, but it isn't. It illustrates a point central to dispelling the myths of exercise. The distinction is evident not so much in relation to golf, softball, tennis, and other sports that you might honestly pursue for fun, but rather in relation to jogging, aerobics, stationary cycling, pumping a stepper, and a host of other mindless "fitness" activities that you might be doing, not particularly for fun but out of a desire to be more fit. We don't mean to imply that there aren't many people who truly enjoy jogging or biking, because obviously, some do; for these people, such activities clearly qualify as fun. What they don't qualify as, however, is exercise according to our definition. Let's examine why.

Virtually all the benefits that come from these activities derive from increased strength. If you're out of shape and you begin to jog, for example, you'll strengthen your thighs, calves, hips, and abdomen, but not the rest of your muscles and bones. The Slow Burn regimen strengthens these same muscles along with all the rest--to a much, much greater degree, and in about one-tenth the time. So if it's strength you're looking for as you grimly jog mile after mind-numbing mile three or four times a week to stay fit, why not save your ankles, hips, knees, and back and spend just thirty minutes a week doing Slow Burn instead? You'll be way ahead of the game. Not only will you get stronger faster and more safely, you'll also have the 3 1/2 hours you saved to do something you truly enjoy.

In the same vein, if you're playing tennis, racquetball, basketball, or any other sport a couple of times a week just to stay in shape (or to get in shape) and not really for the enjoyment of the game, bag it; spend a fraction of that time doing Slow Burn (without risk of twisting an ankle or taking a racquet in the eye) and spend the rest of your time doing whatever it is you truly enjoy, which may not be an athletic activity at all. But if you do love the sport you play, your added strength and stamina from doing Slow Burn is sure to improve your level of performance.

But what about endurance? What about cardiovascular fitness? Surely we need to jog or walk or bike or do some other sort of endurance-oriented activity to keep our hearts and lungs fit, don't we? Again, the surprising answer is no. Although most people think of these two exercise objectives--cardiovascular fitness and endurance--as one and the same thing, in fact, they aren't. You'll learn why in Chapter 4, which is devoted entirely to the subject of strengthening the heart.

In that chapter, you will see that while jogging does indeed improve endurance, it does so not by improving the capacity of your heart or lungs, but by increasing your strength and making it easier to run. The more you jog, the stronger your running muscles become, and the easier it is to jog. Cardiovascular fitness is another matter. As the full Slow Burn story unfolds in successive chapters, you'll come to understand that what people commonly think of as cardiovascular fitness--i.e., endurance--improves as much with Slow Burn as it does with jogging. We're not saying that doing Slow Burn will increase your running endurance better than running itself will, but by the same token, neither will running increase your endurance for other activities--rowing, for instance. Your muscles must adapt to each specific demand placed on them. That said, however, Slow Burn will indeed make you a stronger runner if you run already, and it will make you a better rower if you row already. In short, it will make you better at any endeavor you're adapted to doing.

Don't Beat Yourself Up--Build Yourself Up

The promise of the Slow Burn fitness program is to quickly and efficiently build your strength without injury and without the risk that accompanies most of the activities all of us pursue in an effort to be fit. Remember: the goal of exercise is to build yourself up, not to beat yourself up. When you're stronger you can be better at whatever it is that you want to do, whether that means athletic endeavors, leisure pursuits, or simply everyday activities.

When you join the Slow Burn Fitness Revolution, your muscles and bones will become stronger, your endurance will improve, you'll enhance your flexibility, and you'll burn more body fat. Performing a Slow Burn workout will set in motion biochemical forces that will make you less hungry and get rid of many of the aches and pains that may have seemed to be an inescapable part of getting older. Slow Burn will definitely make you fitter and, to a certain extent, healthier. Why do we say "to a certain extent"? Isn't a fitter body a healthier body? Not necessarily, which leads to the last of the exercise myths: fitness equals health.

Fit Does Not Mean Healthy

To illustrate the fallacy of this myth, let's look at two examples. The first is that of Jim Fixx, the running guru and author who died from a heart attack while jogging at age fifty-two. Certainly he was fit. But was he healthy? His autopsy report said no. Fixx had a family history of heart disease and had developed coronary arteriosclerosis himself, but he ignored the warning signs of impending cardiac disaster, apparently feeling invincible because of his extraordinary fitness. Since taking up running years before, he had shed sixty pounds, run about 37,000 miles, and completed numerous marathons, and he continued to run fifty to sixty miles per week. He walked out of the house one day in July of 1984, began his jog, and fell over dead. With all the fitness in the world, he couldn't outrun his diseased coronary arteries. Fit, but still unhealthy.

Compare Jim Fixx to Sir Winston Churchill, who was not only obese, but smoked, overate, and drank with abandon, yet lived to be ninety-one. No one would describe Mr. Churchill as fit, but he was certainly healthy. Jim Fixx could have run circles around Churchill, but Churchill lived to be forty years older. Health is a state in which all the components of the body are functioning properly and there is an absence of disease. Fitness is the ability to perform strenuous work or exercise. Clearly, it is possible to be healthy without being fit and vice versa.

Why the distinction? Because it is important to realize the limitation of all forms of exercise, including strength training, when it comes to your health. If you have severe heart disease, following a Slow Burn regimen is not going to make your heart disease go away. In fact, just as with any form of exercise, it could actually cause you to exceed the capacity of your heart and develop problems. Slow Burn cannot cure cancer. These diseases involve health issues, not fitness issues. You can undoubtedly improve your fitness doing Slow Burn, but your health is another matter. For this reason, as with any exercise prescription, it is important that you seek the advice of a physician before beginning your Slow Burn regimen to ensure that your health will support your fitness efforts. While you are doing Slow Burn training, should you experience any worrisome symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or headache, don't ignore them. Don't be like Jim Fixx. Seek the attention of a physician.

Excerpted from

The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution
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