“If I could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
Here we discuss the basics of exercise and how us humans are designed to benefit from short, intense bursts of physical activity and how our obsession over the past 50 years with endurance sports may have caused havoc with our body.
When it comes to exercise, we need to stop worrying about our chronological age and instead focus on our biological age. Our chronological age is just a number. I hate it when I hear someone claiming, “I’m too old to exercise”. To my mind the term ‘old’ should be permanently replaced with ‘older’. We’re never old, we’re only ever older. People in remote villages around the world, where they are living into their 120s, might have earned the right to claim they are old, but for the rest of us, we should just consider ourselves as older. Unless someone suffers from a physical disability, the vast majority of the following advice is applicable to everyone, regardless of age.
Here are the two most important and most fundamental principles of healthy living:
- We must eat what we are designed to eat.
- We must exercise in a way that’s as close to ancestral daily life as possible.
Dr Aseem Malhotra
A colleague and friend of mine, a truly inspirational man called Dr Tim Noakes, a professor of sports science, says that if you have to exercise to keep your weight down, your diet is wrong. And, the point is, you can’t outrun a bad diet. You can’t outrun your fork! I was involved in exposing this in an article I wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015, where I wrote that it was time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity, in that you cannot outrun a bad diet.
To capture in its entirety our approach to fitness, we are going to use an easily remembered acronym, MOMMS, for ‘Max Out’ – ‘Move More’ – ‘Sprint’.
Max Out refers to our approach to weight training, where we use a specific type of routine that safely and efficiently pushes us to the max. We then focus on ‘moving more’ in our everyday life and eventually get to build a couple of extremely short ‘sprints’ into our weekly routine. These three separate areas of fitness build muscles and at the same time increase our flexibility and help us feel younger for longer.
The principle behind my MOMMS approach is to emulate what our primal ancestors did during daylight. It is about lifting heavy rocks (in our case weights), moving more and occasionally sprinting. It is not about laborious hours on a treadmill or exercise bike, nor is it about attending the latest craze in keep-fit classes. Caveman didn’t jog for hours on end, nor did he take part in endurance cycle events. After all, the wheel hadn’t been invented throughout most of human evolution!
What we desire is to be fit, but not at the expense of our health. What do I mean by that? Well there are lots of athletic people that put their body through hell on the running and cycling track, which in the short term might make them look fit, but in the long term potentially leads to an onslaught of health problems.
Research carried out by Dr James O’Keefe at the Mid America Heart Institute at St Luke’s Hospital, suggests that people who exercise regularly live seven years longer than those who are physically inactive. No surprise there really. However, his latest research revealed something that will most likely astonish you and that is; ‘Those individuals who participated in extreme endurance sports experienced significant heart damage’. More on this later.
Throughout this chapter, I will keep trying to highlight that MOMMS is the safest and most reliable way to achieve healthy longevity, and that the jogging fraternity and long-distance cyclists (and for three decades I wore both caps), run the risk of causing themselves a lot of long-term damage.
Let me start by introducing you to a highly relevant scientific concept: hormesis.
It’s a geeky word summarising the saying “a little of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. An example of hormesis would be a vaccination, where we are injected with a small dose of the very thing the vaccination is trying to protect against. Stress is another example of hormesis. A small amount of stress is a good thing, while a large amount can kill you. Too much stress is linked to all sorts of horrible diseases, including cardiovascular and cancer. But a small amount of stress, as in the type caused by sprinting or by weightlifting, is a good thing. Sadly, we can’t say the same about jogging long distances for hours on end, which can cause unhealthy damaging levels of stress. My exercise principles are geared around hormesis.
Caveman didn’t jump in a car and sit in a two-hour traffic jam on the way to an office, where he sat for seven hours before going home to slump in front of the TV. Put simply, in Great Britain we don’t move enough.
Even 40 years ago, I can remember my mother carrying half a dozen heavy grocery bags in each hand, the handles cutting into her fingers, half a mile from the nearest shop. Today what do we do? So that we don’t have to push the shopping trolley too far, we drive around the supermarket car park multiple times trying to find a space as close to the entrance as possible! It’s terrible to think how inactive we have become.
If you are overweight or obese and just beginning to live primally, then it is important to pay a little attention to that old saying, ‘don’t run before you can walk’. In fact, we don’t want you to run at all, ever... well, unless a lion is chasing you. Looking at the three distinct areas of MOMMS – Max Out – Move More – Sprint – I am going to advise that you start moving more immediately, so depending on your current circumstances, potentially leave the weightlifting for a short while and only entertain sprinting when your weight is well under control.
In the Move More phase, it’s crucial for our health, especially if currently you live a very sedentary lifestyle, that you start to move about a lot more on your feet. Get outdoors in the fresh air, walking, gardening, hiking, skiing, rowing, it really doesn’t matter what it is, but get moving. Get involved with a swimming class or bowls or anything that gets you moving, but not so much that you’re out of breath. Now there is a good reason I don’t want you out of breath, because I want to have a clear distinction between movement and exercise. Both are vital for our health, but both perform very different functions.
I always tell my children to take the stairs and not the lift, but if this gets you out of breath, don’t do it just yet, as that would be exercise and until our weight starts to fall off, we want to concentrate on just getting moving. Even 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates - the father of western medicine - told us, “Walking is man’s best medicine”.
If you live a few miles from work, try to walk there occasionally. If you live too far away, then park a mile or so from your destination and walk the last part. You will be amazed how you feel. Sir Richard Branson likes to get dropped off a mile or so from a meeting and walk. He will also often hold meetings with his directors while walking. Richard is patron of a charity my brother John and I started called The Colourful Life Foundation, and whenever we are with him it’s interesting to see how he rarely sits still; he is on his feet at every opportunity.
Dr Shan Hussain
One foot in front of the other. A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in 2015, showed that 25 minutes of brisk walking a day could add up to seven years to your life and halve the risk of dying from a heart attack.
While I truly believe that 80% of our health is shaped in the kitchen and only 10% in the gym, (with the other 10% being made up of combination of such things as sleep, stress and sunshine), I believe that, for numerous reasons, it is important to look after our muscles.
To understand the Max Out principle, which is a modified version of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – we need to go back and look at the daily activities of our primal ancestors. After a successful hunt, to get their catch back to their dwelling, they would carry small animals across their shoulders, or drag heavier ones by their hooves. While out gathering, without modern tools they would hack down trees and move heavy rocks looking for mushrooms and other fungi. None of these activities would take hours and hours, but our primal ancestors must have been able to muster great strength when required. Therefore, our body is designed, and in fact programmed, to do occasional bouts of heavy lifting.
But before you rush out and start lifting heavy weights, let’s invest some time in planning what our workout should look like. To start, we need to understand the concept of homeostasis. Every cell and system in our body relies on a stable environment to function. Homeostasis refers to the internal balance the body must maintain to ensure health. When we exercise, we break down our muscles (catabolic process) and then ask our body to rebuild them (anabolic process) stronger and bigger than before.
Unless we lift heavy things, our body no longer engages in any meaningful level of catabolism, but for our primal ancestors the balance was perfect. They had to expend energy to catch and gather their food (catabolic) and then while feasting on their kill for several days their body had time to rebuild its muscles (anabolic). If the only exercise we do is opening the door to the grocery deliveryman or Deliveroo cyclist, then our homeostasis is going to be well out of whack.
Here are five reasons (and medically there are many more) why you need to maintain or build muscle:
- It burns more energy than body fat.
- It support our joints and bones.
- It reduce the risk of injury.
- It replicate the lifestyle of our primal ancestors.
- It helps maintain homeostasis.
How Often Should I Max Out?
The good news is we are not talking about training every day and each session should not take more than 30 minutes! When we exercise too frequently, our muscles may actually shrink (atrophy) rather than grow (hypertrophy). The science behind the problems caused by over-training goes something like this: When we exercise our muscles but don’t completely deplete them of glycogen, they actually can suffer atrophy. By leaving glycogen in the muscles each day while at the gym, it slowly begins to reduce the energy storage capacity in each cell in the muscle. To make matters worse, if during our gym session we do too many repetitions and sets, the exercise becomes more aerobic (with oxygen), which can cause a build-up of dangerous free radicals (more on this later).
We are all built differently. Our age, sex and current fitness level plays a big part in how quickly our muscles recover between sessions, and therefore what our recovery period should be. I know from personal experience that when I have completed a gym session where I have been truly in the zone, my body almost tells me not to train for at least a week. But then in other sessions, where I just couldn’t motivate myself or push myself hard enough, I am itching to do another session, just two or three days later. Quality of sleep, diet, alcohol consumption, dehydration and even how stressed we are, can all play a big part in determining how quickly our muscles recover from exercise. And remember that all movement and exercise is accumulative. If we weight train on a Monday and then take in a game of golf or a yoga class on Tuesday or Wednesday, we might find we are not feeling ready for the next gym session for an extra day or two. My personal approach is that as long as I do at least one weight training session a week and walk plenty of miles, then the rest of the time I just listen to my body.
Age also plays a part in training frequency. In our late thirties or early forties, we start to lose muscles (known as sarcopenia). If we don’t exercise, we lose as much as 5% of muscle every decade. Sarcopenia increases the older we get, and by our seventies shifts into top gear. But, as we age, because we often can’t quite lift the same big weights as we did in our youth, ideally we need to increase the frequency of our exercise sessions. But once again, I can’t emphasise enough that we are all built differently and that we should use the above as guidelines, while in the main listening to our body for when to hit the gym. One last thought on exercising as we age – in reality we should see more 70-year- olds bench pressing in the gym than we do those in their twenties! Brad Schoenfeld
in his book Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy says, “After age 40, the body loses progressively more muscle mass each year. Regular resistance training can reduce this loss. Although the elderly do have a diminished hypertrophic response, they can gain muscle mass; however, a greater weekly training dose appears necessary to maintain the gains”.
As we get older, losing muscles not only reduces our strength, but also leads to a serious decline in metabolic function. And that’s really important, because keeping our metabolic system healthy by maintaining our muscle mass helps slow down the ageing process, fuels the brain and helps protect us against metabolic syndrome.
Time Under Load
Okay, so now we have a guideline on how often to hit the gym, let’s state something quite obvious – do everything you can to avoid injury. I say this because I constantly meet people who injure themselves training and spend as much time laid-up as they actually do in the gym. Certainly, the older we get, as our recovery time gets longer and longer we really need to make avoiding injury a top priority.
My preferred method of exercise, which is also one of the safest, isn’t to swing huge weights using momentum, but to keep each repetition nice and strict, really focusing the mind on the muscles we want to work on. Without the ability to isolate which muscle we want to work on, then the approach we are going to discuss will not prove as effective as it otherwise could be. This might sound a little vain but stand in front of a mirror and pose like a bodybuilder on stage. Try first without any weights to tense the muscle you intend to work on. This will send a signal to the brain and help focus its attention. Let’s say we want to work our biceps. We should be able to tense them for about a minute and really feel a burning sensation without lifting any weights at all. This heightened awareness (known as kinesthesia – pronounced ‘kenes-teez-ya’) increases our ability to better target the muscle we want to exercise.
This Max Out method might sound a little strange to some readers at first, but I
assure you, regardless of age, it works. Before you even lift your first weights, I would recommend that you take some measurements and store them in my Primal Living app. Once you have got all of your vital statistics noted, it’s time to head off to the gym. It’s really beneficial, especially in your first few sessions, to use the Primal Living app. It’s totally free and really easy to use and give you advice, photos and videos on more than 100 different exercises. It also allows you to log your progress, which is great news because as you start to eat and exercise primally, you will be amazed at how quickly you will build strength.
Let me now explain what I mean by ‘time under load’. Using a watch or a clock, or better still the Primal Living app, we are going to slowly and deliberately carry out each and every repetition (one complete motion of the exercise), whether it be a press-up
or bicep curl, a pull-down or deadlift. These deliberately unhurried repetitions should take between six and 20 seconds depending both on our preference and the actual exercise we are doing. Our aim is to keep going until we reach complete failure. This
is where we just can’t move the weight any further without cheating. Once we hit this point, there are great gains to be made by not putting the weight down but continuing to push to the max for around ten more seconds.
Even without the weights moving, while we are holding for these last seconds, in a phase of exercise called ‘isometric training’ or ‘static contraction’, we should in most exercises find our muscles twitching or whole parts of our body shaking. Don’t panic, hang in there. At this point, and this point only, do we class that we have reached Max Out. Unless we Max Out, we will still have spare glycogen in our muscles, and will most likely limit our growth.
Our ability to push to our true max, and the more microtrauma we can inflict on our muscles at a cellular level, combined with sufficient rest time, determines our success. Remember, weight training and sprinting are very different exercises to endurance jogging. They are polar opposites. Endurance sports are aerobic (with oxygen) and interval training is anaerobic (without oxygen). Effectively when we do short intense exercise, our muscles don’t have time to take on board oxygen or fuel. Our body is forced to use an energy supply within our muscle cells called glycogen. When our muscles burn glycogen they produce lactic acid, which if I simplify it a little is what causes the burn we sometimes experience when weightlifting.
I want to explain a little further about what’s happening inside our muscles as we exercise by using the analogy of a sponge. If we Max Out properly, we are effectively wringing out the sponge so that there is no water (or energy in our muscle’s case) left inside. Once our glycogen has gone, our sponge will soak up everything it possibly can to replace it. Any sugars floating around the body will be quickly grabbed by our muscles before insulin has a chance to hand it over to our fat stores. What’s more, we will be producing far less insulin as well, as our muscles will be hungry for any sugars and will temporarily make insulin semi-redundant. It’s also why, when we eat straight after a training session, our muscles are said to grow. But be aware, this is not the same for aerobic exercises where the muscles aren’t fully depleted.
Let’s get back to Maxing Out. At that point, when the movement has stopped and you have held for roughly 10 seconds more, note down the time. For most exercises we are targeting the total time from starting to Max Out to be between 45 and 120 seconds. The total time is what we refer to as Time Under Load. If we didn’t manage to last 45 seconds, then in our next session we must decrease the weight.
If we managed to do more than 120 seconds, then in our next session we are going to add more weight. Remember my earlier point ‘we can’t manage what we can’t measure’? What we are looking for over a period of a few months is to be able to slowly increase the weight and still last for between 45 to 120 seconds. Once we start to increase the heaviness, we will have proven, beyond doubt that we have become stronger.
- Download our free Health Resuts app. It will help you both measure your sessions and also motivate you to push just that little bit harder.
- Remember that with some exercises, great things can be achieved even with very small weights or even static contraction exercises (just holding the muscle tense without movement).
- With Max Out we achieve greater results by putting all of our effort into just one set per session. In other words, just performing each exercise once.
- To ensure we Max Out, it is not possible to aim for a precise time or a nice round number of reps – we finish only when we have maxed out!
- Make sure we don’t hold our breath and breathe out during the hardest part of each repetition.
- Don’t screw up your face – it doesn’t help lift anything and just makes you get wrinkles and lines!
- We should remember that our sessions probably take up less than 1% of our week, but these short sessions are only effective if we are truly pushing our body hard.
Other Benefits Of Maxing Out
- By lifting weights and Maxing Out, we increase our bone density and help increase our natural growth hormone.
- We increase insulin sensitivity.
- We become more metabolically efficient.
- We limit inflammation, certainly when compared to endurance athletes.
- When we Max Out primally, we get both a hormonal rush and heaps of mental simulation that slows down the ageing process.
When predators chased our primal ancestors, boy could they sprint. But can you ever imagine them going on a long jog? But shouldn’t we include aerobic exercise like jogging or cycling in our exercise regime? No. In fact for the sake of your mid- to long-term health, you really shouldn’t. Believe me when I say endurance training can be unhealthy! But when we replace log tedious jogs with extremely short quick sprints, we can experience huge health gains. Over the coming pages I am going to explain why we should say goodbye to those laborious long runs and hardcore cycle rides, and instead master the art of sprinting.
In a separate topic we discuss the mitochondria, the powerhouse/ battery of our cells. It turns out that they love sprinting so much that they start to procreate, creating a greater and greater power source. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors experienced a close call with predators snapping at their heels, during the ensuing good night’s sleep, nature decided to provide the cells with more power for the next encounter. The good news of course is the more mitochondria organelles we have in each cell, the more fat and glucose we can burn. However, our mitochondria don’t reproduce when we’re jogging or cycling because the last thing the body wants to do while undergoing endurance activities is to create something that burns more fuel!
Before we make sprinting part of our weekly routine, it is really important to get our weight down first. We will do more harm than good if our body fat is say above 25% and we start pounding the tarmac. Sprinting should be seen as pretty much the last thing on our list of lifestyle changes – in fact it’s the primal icing on the cake.
What are the benefits of sprinting and why should we do it? Let’s face it, even if there was no scientific reason it’s kind of obvious that we are designed to sprint - as if our primal ancestors were not able to do so you wouldn’t be around to read this book and I wouldn’t be here to write it. Our species would not have lasted long if we could not sprint. As we have required the ability to sprint away from danger for more than 2 million years, you can bet your bottom dollar that nature has designed us to be good sprinters and to gain benefits from doing so.
In terms of return on investment, nothing gets close to sprint training. It burns
fat while building muscle, increases the health of our heart and lungs, improves circulation and metabolism and provides us with better mental cognition. While long jogs and cycle rides rarely result in fat loss, sprinting is the king of fat burning. Even just sprinting for 10 to 20 seconds, three to six times a week, conducted over just one or two sessions can burn off heaps of fat. How is that possible? When we sprint properly, our muscles continue to burn up fat for days after the actual exercise. If you think sprinting only improves the muscles in our legs, think again. If we really want to find our six-pack, forget hundreds of sit-ups and ab-crunches – nothing beats flat- out sprinting.
Don’t panic, when I say the word sprint, it doesn’t normally mean on the road. You will most likely start with short sprints on an exercise bike in the gym or with a rowing machine, both of which are much safer for our body when we first start to sprint. However, once we have our body in shape and when we feel comfortable in giving it a go, then many people will naturally want to progress to sprinting on the road or track. Whether we are sitting on the bike or rower, or indeed running, the principles are all the same. Let’s first look at the ‘why’ and then move to the ‘how’.
When we sprint for short distances, it is done without the intake of much oxygen. It is therefore classed as an anaerobic exercise. This builds strength quickly, especially in our powerful, fast twitching muscle fibres. With our muscles’ fast explosion of instant requirements, the heart has to pump really hard to deliver blood, which in return helps to strengthen the heart. And a stronger heart is a heart more resilient to disease. Plus, when we sprint, the body believes we are running for our lives and rewards us with extra mitochondria for our next dangerous encounter. This helps us burn calories faster and lose weight. And there is another benefit; the endorphins that are released act as a natural painkiller and provide us with a real feeling of wellbeing.
When it comes to achieving a return on investment, very little in life beats sprinting. In return for less than two minutes of significant discomfort (less than 1/5000th of utter exhaustion per week) we received all of the following benefits from our flat-out sprints:
- Lose weight (post-sprint we will experience an increased metabolic rate for several days)
- Build core strength, not just in our legs but our abs and bottom too
- Increased growth hormones
- Growth in our heart and arteries (a true cardiovascular workout)
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Lower levels of insulin
- Improved cognitive skills (yes, we become smarter)
Personally, I normally try to do two lots of sprints each week. Sometimes it’s one
run and one exercise bike, other weeks if the weather is not so good, I might do one session on the bike and one on the rowing machine. I normally do them after I have finished a weight training session. In total I normally do just two or three sessions a week in the gym and never for more than just 45 minutes. So, my entire weight training and sprint sessions are on average just 8 or 9 hours per month. That’s not a huge investment of time to ensure that the body is in good working order. If you don’t want to go to a gym, you will probably need to spend around £200 to get a good exercise bike, a few dumbbells and some suspension cables and turn your garage or spare bedroom into your own fitness studio. It will most likely be the best financial outlay you will ever make.
One cautionary note on sprinting: while the legs are going to burn like crazy and our breathing becomes very loud and heavy, we should not feel any pain or tightening of the chest. If we do, we should immediately stop and let somebody in the gym know and once we recover go and see a doctor.
Endurance Sports Aren’t All That Healthy
As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, I was a regular jogger for many years. I had completed three full marathons and several half marathons and all in respectable times. But throughout the entire period I was overweight and constantly injuring myself.
It wasn’t until I read a book with the head-turning title Eat Bacon Don’t Jog by Grant Peterson, that I realised how totally unnecessary - and in fact harmful to my wellbeing - all those painful miles I had accumulated had been. Grant writes, “Your body responds to too much running by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol triggers a process called gluconeogenesis, in which your muscles (made up of protein) break down into glucose”. Grant then goes on to dig the knife in deeper to the committed jogger who suffers pain in the belief they are doing themselves good by revealing, “Jogging doesn’t build strength or fitness – it just trains muscles to tolerate more jogging, and in the real world that’s close to useless.”
In Beyond Training, America’s top personal trainer, Ben Greenfield cites lots of research detailing the long-term dangers awaiting those who undertake too many endurance sessions. For example, he writes, “The heart generally returns to normal within a week after completing a tough endurance workout or race. But for those who frequently compete in such events the results can be repetitive cardiac injury over days, months, even years”. He goes on to describe a whole list of detrimental health conditions that can develop from undertaking endurance exercises, such as jogging and long-distance cycling.
Jogging and cycling carries an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other causes of death. Yet sprinting, if we are able to motivate ourselves to really push hard, achieves the same positive results, is safer and takes up a lot less time. Sprinting achieves the same positive results as spending hours slogging our guts out endlessly jogging but is not a catalyst of cardiovascular diseases. You only get so many heartbeats, don’t use them up too quickly!
For many reading this section, you will find it hard to believe that cardio isn’t necessarily healthy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not quite as dangerous as living a life glued to the sofa, but it’s not that much better either. It certainly took me a lot of convincing to hang up my running shoes and cycling gear.
Let me be very clear, this is one of the biggest U-turns of opinion in the fitness world. I am personally full of admiration for people who realise that the advice they have been giving is flawed and are subsequently brave enough to explain how they got it wrong. Far too many people in life, especially medical and health professionals, never seem to admit to errors in judgement and spend their lives defending their flawed principles. So, with great pleasure, let me introduce Dr Kenneth Cooper who in 1968 became known as the Father of Aerobics (later creating The Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research) and who went on to sell more than 30 million fitness and health books worldwide.
Reporting on the success of Aerobics, the book that rocketed Dr Cooper to fame, Texas Monthly quoted, “The book was revolutionary, shaking up the sedentary sixties. Before its release only 100,000 eccentrics called themselves joggers, but by late 1968, the nation’s trails were overflowing, and now more than 34 million people run regularly... and Aerobics brought instant fame to the unassuming Cooper – here and around the world. To this day, Brazilians call aerobic workouts ‘Coopering’”.
But here is the game changer. In a recent interview with a reporter, Dr Cooper reveals, “At the time, I knew scientific evidence had established that regular exercise was essential to good health and an effective life. But I erroneously assumed that more was better – that the longer you ran, cycled or swam, the healthier you would be”.
He shares statistics about thousands of his clients – many of whom were rich and famous and even included President George Bush. He talked at length about how many Olympians had prematurely died of cancer and heart disease and goes on to speak about the effects of free radicals in our cells. Dr Cooper concludes, “Too much exercise can kill you”. Today, The Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research instead recommends a new approach to aerobics for cardiovascular fitness that centres around strength training, muscle mass and increasing our flexibility. Yes, you read that correctly - the father of modern jogging, now believes it is dangerous and instead we should lift weights!
If you are a committed cyclist or runner, I am not suggesting you have to give up completely, but you need to either slow down to the most leisurely pace possible, ideally between 60 – 70% of your heart rate maximum, or use your equipment to perform extremely short sprints of less than 30 seconds duration.
Dr Aseem Malhotra
Steve, both you and I were avid obsessive exercisers. And a lot of people still think that if you do loads of exercise, you won’t develop heart disease and it’s completely false. In fact, one study published in 2017 showed that people who did seven and half hours per week of quite moderate to intense exercise, and there are still lots of people that do that, they are more likely to develop heart disease than people who just did moderate exercise, such as say just two and a half hours per week.
In fact, to maximise cardiovascular fitness doing light aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, say five times a week, is perfect. It also has the best evidence base when it comes to exercise impact on reducing heart disease, cancer and increasing longevity. We are not talking heavy exercise, but where your heart rate is between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. To calculate this simply subtract your age from 220. They did a large observational study of ex-Olympic athletes, and they found that elite athletes don’t live any longer than golfers or cricketers. So, what I say is a little goes a long way and know why you are exercising and listen to your body.
One of the problems with jogging, lots of my friends are orthopaedic surgeons, and they are saying to me that they are seeing more and more people in their 30s and 40s having knee and even hip replacements. One told me that it is because they are jogging on the road and that nobody should be jogging on the road. But there is this kind of mentality driven by, I don’t know, maybe seeing it on the TV and as you know Steve, it’s not the best way to get cardio anyway. It’s much better to do high- intensity interval training and use compound movements. The question is, can you get cardio without damaging your joints and I think people need to think about that. Some people get properly crippled in older age because they have been doing lots of marathons and now, they can’t walk, and that’s not nice. I used to run 5k, slam it, every morning. Up at 6am, get on the treadmill, take a shower, straight into the operating theatre for ten hours or whatever, but then it started affecting my knees, so I stopped a few years ago. Now I do occasional sprints, very short sprints, but I don’t do the long treadmill stuff anymore.
Still Not Ready To Hang Up Your Jogging Shoes?
Of course, people undertake endurance sports for a variety of reasons. It might be to lose weight, to build muscle and to look good in front of the mirror, to live healthier and longer or to appeal to a prospective partner. It might relax you or you might be one of the very few individuals who actually enjoy putting yourself through hell. I am sure there are a few other reasons as well, but let’s look at each one of these in isolation and see how participating in endurance sports such as jogging and cycling aids or harms us in reaching our outcome.
“I jog because of the aerobic and cardiovascular benefits.” Have you ever stopped to wonder what the two words ‘aerobic’ and ‘cardiovascular’ really mean? Aerobic simply means ‘with oxygen’.
In other words, aerobic exercises are those where you take in more oxygen than normal. Is that good for us? Over the past 40 years that’s what we have been led to believe, and it’s probably the main reason we see more and more joggers on our streets. However, the reality is that forcing more oxygen into our body, beyond just normal breathing, is actually hazardous. It is the fuel needed to set lose free radicals within our cells, leading to the inflammation that itself is the root cause of many of today’s modern diseases. So too much aerobic exercise is by and large a negative and not a positive.
But what about the cardiovascular system, doesn’t that need to be exercised? It turns out that jogging and cycling for long periods of time at medium intensity does very little for our wellbeing above that of just walking and talking! The only way to really put excessive load on our cardiovascular system is to put excessive load on our muscles in other words sprinting and lifting heavy things.
“I jog/cycle to lose weight.” We might lose water spending hours jogging and therefore jump on the scales and look like the run did us good, but we’re not really burning fat. Remember, there is no such thing as losing weight. We can’t just lose weight; we have to burn off our body fat.
It might be possible under a few specific circumstances to burn a little fat while jogging, but we are just as likely to burn off muscle and as muscle requires more energy than fat, when we eventually hang up our running shoes as our knees or joints give way, our metabolic rate decreases as we now have less muscle to consume energy. If we give away our muscles too cheaply to the jogging gods, in addition to those which we naturally lose as we age, then we are setting ourselves up to gain weight later in life. Every step taken forward while jogging or cycling might potentially make a minuscule gain right now but will actually result in a bigger backwards step later in life.
Plus, there is another huge problem. My good friend Glenn Lehrer, who is both an accomplished lapidarist and philosopher, taught me that everything in life is about seeking the most stable state of harmony and balance. In our body the pursuit of harmony is known as homeostasis. If, while we exercise, we are getting most of our energy from CARBS or other sugars, the moment the exercise is complete homeostasis kicks in and notifies our brain that we are starving and that we must be fed. It’s not our fault that we reach for the sugar-loaded sports drink or CARB-loaded energy bar. Don’t beat yourself up about it or try to take full responsibility – our desire for more energy is squarely the fault of homeostasis.
And there is another reason why so many of us struggle to lose those extra pounds through jogging. It is because we would have to run some serious miles to burn off lots of weight. Just look at the maths: one pound of fat = 3,500 calories, or for the younger generation one kilogram = 7,700 calories. Let’s assume we’re a fast and fit runner and we have the ability to burn 750 calories an hour. It therefore takes us more than four and a half hours to burn off one pound of fat. That’s approximately the time it took me to complete each marathon! Plus, this assumes that we didn’t intake any sports drinks, gels or bars on our way around and that we didn’t stuff our face as a reward for our effort once we crossed the finish line. But we do! We all do – right?
In his book, The IF Diet, Robert Skinner refers to our caveman ancestors and says, “Your brain evolved a safety mechanism. If it sensed that you’d been moving for a long time, steadily depleting your blood sugar – and not replacing it – something was wrong. Either food was in short supply or you were a useless hunter. This is what your brain senses during traditional exercise”. In the book Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson says, “It’s ironic that many in their 40s and 50s start engaging in marathon or triathlon training with hopes of improving health and delaying the ageing process when, quite often, it has the exact opposite effect”.
Research has revealed that those who jog for more than 30 minutes continuously, with a heart rate of more than 85% of their maximum, are likely to damage their immune system and trigger inflammation for periods of up to three days post-exercise. Even at 75% of our maximum heart rate, joggers will experience raised cortisol levels (stress hormone) and reduced levels of both testosterone and growth hormones. Incidentally, both sprinting and weight training or any other form of high intensity intermittent training, actually increases both testosterone and growth hormones. These hormones are critical components of helping us to live more healthily and happily.
“I am an endurance jogger/cyclist because I love it.” First of all, make sure it is the endurance aspect that you love, and not the fact that you are just exercising. Why not try the MOMMS method for a few weeks and see how it makes you feel.
The Conclusion On Jogging
I don’t want you to think that I am advising you to either hang up your running shoes, or drop off your bike at the local tip, and return to a life on the sofa. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you love jogging or cycling, then I recommend that you purchase a heart rate monitor and still go outdoors and jog or cycle, but so slowly that your heart rate is only mildly elevated between 55 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Then, just two or three times throughout your journey, try to sprint flat-out for around 10 to 20 seconds. This way, your workout will better reflect the type of exertion the heart has been designed to support and will not place it under excessive stress. With the primal way of slow cycling or jogging, leaving all the huffing and puffing to the wolf, the entire outing becomes more enjoyable, more sociable and much better for our long-term health.
Author Nina Teicholz
We currently have a problem with our military getting fatter while they are in service. Sadly, they follow the current government’s food guidelines. Although they are getting plenty of exercise, both you and I know Steve, that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Because they are feeding the military, for example, lots and lots of pasta, they are getting fatter. So, we are facing a situation where we don’t have enough deployable troops, and that is a very scary thing.
It’s Under One Per Cent
With the exception of walking and moving more often, if we don’t participate in un- primal endurance sports, we can become extremely strong and fit by just spending under 1% of our life exercising. All our sprinting and gym sessions needn’t consume more than 1% of our week. Or if we find it hard to picture this, it accumulates to one full day of exercise in the spring, summer, autumn and winter! Yes – to both look and feel fit, we only cumulatively need to exercise for four days each year!
- MOMMS approach to exercise: Max Out - Move More - Sprint.
- Research suggests that just 25 minutes of brisk walking a day is associated
with adding up to seven years to your life and halving the risk of dying from a heart attack.
- Don’t participate in long cardio exercises as they can play havoc with our joints, damage our heart and wreck our metabolism.
- Both sprinting and weight training or any other form of high-intensity intermittent training actually increases both testosterone and growth hormones.
- A large observational study of ex-Olympic athletes found that elite athletes don’t live any longer than golfers or cricketers.
- By lifting weights, we increase our bone density and help increase our natural growth hormone.
- Lifting weights increase both insulin sensitivity and metabolically efficient.
- When we Max Out, we get both a hormonal rush and heaps of mental simulation that slows down the ageing process.