Sometimes we are reminded of how insular our worlds can get. I was talking with someone this week. He’s a runner and plays soccer. Doesn’t have a gym membership and I am pretty sure he doesn’t read fitness blogs and I am guessing his Facebook feed looks different than mine 😉
As we were talking about the ideal body composition of competitive runners and how thin they were, I was curious and asked him if he’d heard the news that “running makes you fat”.
Which makes sense because the idea at face value is pretty absurd. Right?
I then explained to him that for the past few years there has been a movement in the fitness industry against running and sustained cardio in general. Again, he was baffled. If this is news to you too, the general premise from the war on cardio enthusiasts is usually two-fold.
Firstly, the human body loves to be in homeostasis. So it will adapt to any stimulus that you give it. For example, if you are someone that runs 3 miles, 6 days a week and have done this for several years, while you are most definitely experiencing the benefits of exercise on your cardiovascular system and this will contribute to your longevity as a human, the energy systems in your body will have adapted to your running habit, so you’ll be using less energy (calories, stored fat, etc.) to do this run every day. So, in all likelihood, you won’t be changing your body composition/aesthetics if you are this kind of runner.
It’s my *anecdotal* opinion that very few people actually run like this. That is, very few people are so consistent with their running distance, speed and other variability factors that they would end up in this camp. Most serious runners know that they need to adapt in all sorts of ways and will do speed work, hill work, vary their distance, etc. And the rest of us aren’t running enough to become that adapted.
And secondly, “Running eats away your muscle tissue”. This idea also has to do with the energy systems of the body and the belief that your body will tap into muscle tissue as an energy source. In my opinion, this is kind of a gross misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the fuel sources that your body likes to use. Your body doesn’t prefer to break down muscle tissue for energy. Why would it? This is the type of thing your body would like to do when it’s fully tapped out — when you are starving. It could certainly happen if you are dabbling in dangerous nutrition territory or if you have an exercise addiction.
So — the war on cardio folks and running aren’t quite wrong — there is something to their points. It’s just that in my view they are taking some rare cases and running with it to scare people out of exercise.
And I really hate it when people get scared out of exercise.
Because that is the last thing we need! We need to lovingly coax MORE people to making exercise a habit in their life. Right?
Yes, yes, we do! And if you love running, please, please don’t stop!
There are multiple benefits to running and sustained cardiovascular exercise like cycling, rowing, hiking, the elliptical machine.
- Your cardiovascular system loves it. The benefits to your heart health are well-documented research. I mean, we don’t call it cardio for no reason!
- Having a well-balanced workout routine is better for overall health than specificity. That is, if you only lift, you will miss out on the benefits cardio will give your heart and cardiovascular system, of course, but studies also show that it contributes to overall recovery. That is, if you are training for powerlifting, you could see improvements to your recovery if you engage in some cardio as a complement to your lifting routine.
- Mental Health. Regular cardio exercise will help your hormonal profile, in particular it helps release hormones that will help you feel good. So, if you are exercising for depression, anxiety or general stress-relief, cardio is your friend.
- It is accessible. The thing that I love about cardio is it’s often easy to get started. You can literally go out your door and run. And while I love my lifting and love a hotel gym with lots of weights, you can always count on nearly any gym in the world to have cardio equipment.
Again, when it comes to overall health — the more well-balanced your routine is between cardio and strength work, the better off you will be.
But mostly it’s important to find exercise you love. Because you are not going to do something you hate just because someone told you it will make you “skinny and toned”. And I really hope you don’t stop doing something you love because someone told you it would make you fat. Because, that is so absurd, I just can’t even.