Take a moment to reflect back to when you were 30. A two hour walk, no problem. Running to catch your plane, barely a huff. You’d work 9 hours, chase the kids around, go for a bike ride, clean up the garden and make supper. You’d shrug that off as just part of the routine. Nothing slowed you down.
For some of you, this now may be a different story. You still have a very busy life, but all of the sudden you are feeling winded after two flights of stairs…maybe only one? Walking the dog is maybe not so enjoyable anymore; and the last friggin’ thing you feel like doing is going for a bike ride. Your back aches after only 20 minutes in the garden and; you’ve missed your flight because you couldn’t make the connection in time; or you book transfers with longer stopovers to avoid running to make the connections.
These things might feel way more taxing and require more time to recover from. So what happened to your ‘cardio’ and what is the best way to regain it with the least amount of time dedication?
What happened to my cardio?
As we age we lose muscle, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone really. What may be surprising is that it starts very early on; try 25 years old. Why does this matter? Muscle fuels your activities; and your stamina for those activities. The problem is, just ‘being active’ isn’t enough to stave off muscle wasting as we age. We need to do hard strength training in order to keep our muscle health and to continue being active the way we were when we were in our 20’s and early 30’s.
The common fallacy in the fitness conventional wisdom is that somehow the mode of exercise (what you do) is integral in ensuring that you specifically and directly improve your cardiovascular conditioning. In other words, we’ve been led to believe that running, swimming, biking and the like are the only ways to directly improve your ‘cardio’.
I want to share that the scientific literature states otherwise (see here). Your heart and cardiovascular system cannot be isolated with any single form of activity or exercise. The best way to ‘get at’ your heart is with intense muscular work; and that can take any form. This includes strength training so long as the work is hard enough.
The recent exercise literature identifies that the intensity of your workouts, NOT the type, or duration, is the KEY FACTOR in improving your fitness. I’ll say that again, it is not what you do, how much you do, or for how long you do it, but how HARD you work that matters the most.
‘Best approach’: Perform 1-2 full body, strength training workout(s) per week, with a trainer or at a gym with a partner. Taking each exercise to as deep a level of fatigue as you can tolerate. The rest of the week you should then aim to simply be active. Allow your new strength and energy to express itself organically. If you like to bike, go for a ride. If you play golf, walk the course once or twice per week. If you are a runner, for example (but any sport can replace this) and you are looking to improve your performance, incorporate some hard intervals to ramp up your specific conditioning to that sport in addition to your strength training.
Total time per week for the ‘best approach’: min=30 mins – max=60mins
‘Great approach’: Perform 1-2 full body strength training workout(s) per week at home with weights, a universal machine (such as a Bowflex) or even body weight exercises. I’d also recommend 1-2 sessions of walking, biking OR (not all 3) swimming intervals per week as it is challenging to perform resistance training at home to the level of intensity required to have great results.
An example of a great interval workout: A 3 minute light walk followed by intervals of 1 minute of walking as hard as you can, followed by a minute of slow walking. Repeat this 6 times for a total of a 15 minute workout. Remember, the hard intervals should be as hard as you can tolerate; ideally leaving you pretty winded with burning thigh muscles at the end. Otherwise, it likely won’t have the desired effect. This could also be performed on a set of stairs.
Total time per week for a ‘great approach’: minimum=60mins – maximum=90mins
‘Good approach’: Perform one session of a full body strength training workout per week at home with weights, a
universal machine (such as a Bowflex) or even body weight exercises. Then perform one session of the interval workout described above per week and otherwise; aim to be as active as you can the rest of the week. This approach is the bare minimum for the time pressed individual. Or, for those who don’t have the resources to hire a trainer, purchase gym equipment or a gym membership.
Total time per week for a ‘good approach’: minimum=30mins – maximum=120mins
There are safety factors to consider when approaching intensity with any form of exercise. You should have medical clearance from your physician; or clearance from your therapist if you are working through some injuries or pain, before you take on any new regimen.
We recommend strength training as a ‘gold standard’ because you can perform movements slowly and with control, thus minimizing the risk of injury. High impact and high speed activities such as ballistic strength training and running produce more wear and tear on your system and have a higher incidence of injuries, than slow and controlled exercise.
This is a big topic and I’ve left a lot out. I only want to highlight the importance of intensity over time and that resistance training has great cardiovascular effects when the intensity is high enough.
If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’d be happy to help you design a regime that suits your specific needs.