“We Interrupt This Broadcast”...
I am a baby-boomer, and I have watched the world of fitness morph though fads and crazes for many years. I remember, in 1996, the Surgeon General issued a warning that “lack of physical activity is hazardous to your health.” An ever-increasing number of us soughta way tocommute thatsentence, butwith the least possible fuss. The reason I say thatis because those who were most affected by this dramatic message were the baby-boomers - 38 to 55 years old at the time - whotypically werebusy professionals/parents/community conscious people withserious agendas. At the same time, it is thatpopulation that appreciatedthe implications of the Surgeon General’s report - and lookedfor effective, yet efficient ways of prolonging theirlives and improving the quality of those extended years.
It is still the same today for Generation X. And Generation Y as well.
But, some of usare also old enough to remember the ominous warnings and dangers of yesteryear...the “cold war” years that found us digging fallout shelters and listening for the screech on the radio that signaled that we must run for our lives to our provision-filled cement tombs and awaitthe mushroom cloud.Kruschev was banging his shoes on podiums, Castro was razzing Kennedy, and cigarettes were quietly killing our loved ones.
Baby-boomers, for the most part, werein tune and, and if not, wewerein denial. But for mostof us, the Surgeon General put the last nail in ourprocrastination coffin. Members of “The Woodstock Generation” realizedthat this announcement was a landmark. Weremembered the Surgeon General’s previousofficial warning in the 60’s about cigarette smoking,and the reality of smoking-related deaths permeated our consciousness. We all knew someone at that point who had died due to smoking...couldwe really get sick and die from lack of exercise?
In my last Path Press article I ended with talking about the importance of exercise (particularly aerobic exercise), and I said I would continue that conversation. Why do we do aerobics? (By aerobics, I do not mean just the classes, but any cardiovascular exercise). For a healthy heart? Longer life? Lower cholesterol?
Who are we kidding? Our first thought is to lose fat.
So we need to figure out the most efficient way to do that for ourselves.
Duration, Intensity, Frequency
“Aerobic” activity is any exercise done “in the presence of oxygen” - where your body can use fat for fuel. Strength training is an “anaerobic” activity, meaning it is not “in the presence of oxygen” - so your body cannot use fat for fuel. You are working aerobically if you can sustain the activity endlessly (sitting around is actually “aerobic” but you are not working at a high enough intensity level to initiate significant fat burning). Which brings us to the intensity factor of aerobics, one of the “big three”...duration, intensity, and frequency.
At what intensity should you be working?A study at the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated that, if it is appropriate to the individual, aerobic exercises with increased intensity, duration, and frequency are associated with increased health benefits. The key word here is individual.So how do you know what is the appropriate intensity level for you?
( In my last article I recommended an exercise test prior to beginning a vigorous exercise program for high risk individuals of any age. I also recommended a heart-rate monitor, and suggested the Polar Ft1 Heart Rate Monitor.)
Okay. Back to intensity. The intensity of your aerobic activity is determined by your heart rate. Not your friend’s, not David Beckham's, not your 80-year old Aunt Edna’s, but yours. You need to calculate what your heart rate should be, and then keep it within that range for the duration of your “aerobic bout” (the time between warm-up and cool-down). I promise I won’t get too technical here...so stay with me. How do we figure this out? It’s called The Karvonen Formula...and it’s simple to calculate.
The Karvonen Formula - Know Your Target Heart Rate For Fat-Burning
First, you will need to know your age. Your real one. Okay. Then you will need to know your resting heart rate. That is your pulse at rest, first thing in the morning when you wake before you even visit the bathroom. Using your index and middle finger (never your thumb, it has a pulse) press (but not too hard) along side your Adam's apple. Count the beats for a full 60 seconds. That’s your resting heart rate. (You can take your pulse on your wrist, too.) The number, depending on your condition, might fall anywhere between 50 and 80. Below 50 generally indicates that you are really fit, or if you are unfit, there might be a problem. Above 80 could mean that you’re just very unfit...or a signal to check with your doctor. In any event, do not be alarmed. Your resting heart rate, as well as your heart rate response to exercise, usually describes your level of cardiovascular fitness. (As I have said, I recommend you check with your doctor in any event before you begin an exercise program.)
If you know your age and your resting heart rate, you can do the Karvonen Formula. (Come on now - this is a key component. You can do this. You are just going back to 5th grade math. Well, that was in my day. It is probably pre-school math now.)
It is the following:
220...minus your age = X (this is called your predicted maximum heart rate)
Then you take X and minus your resting heart rate, and that equals = Y.
Then you take Y and multiply it by a percentage between 50% and 80%, and that percentage is determined by your level of fitness. So, if you have not been exercising regularly and you consider yourself unfit, you would choose a conservative percentage somewhere between 50 and 65%.
So...Y times 60%=Z.
Then you take your resting heart rate, and add it back in to the equation...
Z + resting heart rate = your target heart rate for your aerobic bout.
Remember, your aerobic bout is the time period in your cardio where you are going to sustain your heart rate range for fat-burning. That range is 5 beats below and 5 beats above your target heart rate. Your mission is to stay within that range so you can burn fat for fuel. So--say you are able to do an aerobic activity for 30 minutes. You do a 5 minute warm-up--then 20 minutes in your heart rate range--then a 5 minute cool-down.
Let’s take an example...me.
220 - 65 (my age) = 155 (my predicted maximum heart rate)
157 - 48 (my resting heart rate) = 107
107 x 80% (I’m very aerobically conditioned) = 86
86 + 48 (my resting heart rate) = 134 Beats Per Minute
So, my heart rate range is 130-140 bpm. I typically like to keep my heart rate between 135 to 140 BPM when I do my cardio. Because I am so fit at this point, I feel I personally get the most benefit out of this intensity, and I enjoy the challenge of it. Icould never, however, have sustained this heart rate when I began exercising. I was out of breath two minutes into anything cardiovascular. But, as I explained before, one’s level of exercise is very individual. You have to do what you can do. Concerning duration, reports from The American College of Sports Medicine suggest longer, lower intensity exercises burn more fat. This means that somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to 65% of predicted maximum heart rate might be the most efficient zone for liberating stored body fat to use as fuel. They also state, however, that with higher intensity you burn more calories. And, ultimately, doesn’t that translate to increased fat loss? It’s confusing, right?Well, it goes back to your condition. The point at which stored fat becomes primary fuel for exercise is absolutely dependent on the training status of the individual. Elite athletes who have developed a more efficient enzyme system can start to contribute free fatty acids within five minutes of beginning an aerobic exercise. Untrained individuals, however, can require 20 minutes before their bodies start accessing stored fat for fuel. This is one of the reasons that it is universally accepted that the best exercise protocol for burning fat is lower intensity - longer duration. As far as frequency, I recommend at least 3 times a week. Now, when to do your cardio? Many people who go to a gym to do both their cardio and strength-training in the same visit make the mistake of beginning with their cardio. Although you do need to warm up before your strength training to prevent injury (I recommend a 10 minute cardio warm-up) save your aerobic bout for after your strength training. You will burn more fat if you follow your anaerobic workout with your aerobic workout. Remember - your body cannot use fat for fuel during your anaerobic workout (strength training). Your body will use the sugar in your blood and stored glycogen as energy. Once you’ve depleted those glycogen stores, your body will turn to its fat stores sooner during your aerobic workout when your body can use fat for fuel. In any case, it makes sense to prioritize your strength training if definition, tone, and fat loss are your goals. With a pound of muscle comes an energy requirement of approximately 75 calories. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
Flexibility...Strength To Your Core
A note about stretching. I recommend it. But, you can injure yourself stretching. Warm up before you stretch. Do not stretch cold (hot metal bends before breaking, but cold metal, well, you know what I’m getting at; you are simply more pliable when you’rewarm). Once you’ve warmed up you can then stretch your muscles. Okay...so it’s boring. But, you need to be flexible. Flexibility reduces the risk of chronic pain, and it increases your range of motion. Range of motion concerns both the natural movement of a muscle or joint, as well as your body’s unique limits. For some people, it may be natural for them to touch their toes while hardly bending their knees. For others...well, let’s just say some of us need to work at this. It is a useful endeavor, however, to routinely work at improving your range of motion. Another point that needs to be made here is that we lose flexibility as we age. This is not good. We do not want to become stiff little old people who need help tying our shoes.
Before you stretch, here are some guidelines for you to follow so you do not injure yourself. Contrary to popular belief, unfocused stretching is not a benign activity. Have respect for “flexibility training”...it can enhance your life, or interrupt it...so please pay attention: *Think of stretching as relaxingyour muscles, not forcing them to submit to yourwill. Have patience. Flexibility (like anything else) does not happen overnight.*Breathe into the stretch. Key into your body and listen to its signals to stop. Then, take another deep breath, and as you exhale, gently ask it for just a tiny bit more. Stretch only to the point of mild discomfort, not pain. Going past an uncomfortable sensation into a painful one may cause small tears in the muscles, which will decrease their strength and flexibility, and initiate injury.*Never, never bounce. Never. There will be no exceptions. Ever. *Do not stretch your lower back with your knees locked.*Hold each stretch for 60 seconds.
There are actually out-and-out dangerous stretches. (1. The “Yoga Plow"--where you lie on your back--throw your legs over your body until your toes touch the floor above your head--and radically compress your cervical vertebrae constricting the airway. 2. The “Hurdler’s Stretch”--where your have one leg outstretched--and the other bent back at the knee in an awkward and unnatural position--stretching the tendons and the ligaments of the knee joint in a hazardous way. 3. Deep knee bends--where you squat down so low that your butt almost touches the floor--opening the knee joint up and overstretching the tendons and ligaments.) Remember - these are stretches I do NOT recommend.
At any age, at any stage we can improve...achieve goals we only dream about. But there are those times when we feel these aspirations are just too illusive. You think - "Wow I'm really in the dumper now, and at this point it is probably pretty much a write-off...you know--no sense in trying now--the damage is done. I've let it all go and now it's just... gone." When I was in awful shape - physically, mentally, and spiritually, that is what I thought too. But I got a very big Hand up.I wanted to somehow communicate to you how profoundly and elegantly direct your ascent can be. The most difficult task I have ever undertaken is to somehow communicate what sparked my fire and kept it burning these past 35 years. It is like trying to describe another realm--another dimension. We exist in a four dimensional world, but most of us only live in three dimensions. When you tap into your innate intelligence--the force within you--you have entered the fourth dimension. This is the dimension where all things are possible. But, we only have three dimensional words to describe an experience that exists beyond that. The best I can do with the language that we have is to tell you that it’s not just your body - it’s your connection to your body. The power to accomplish what I have presented in my articles is within all of us. Not just me.
Keep the fire burning.