I've been telling my patients and readers, “Aerobics is dead.” Now, the New York Times finally agrees - but for the wrong reason…
“Whatever Happened to Jane Fonda in Tights?” just ran in
the New York Times Sunday Magazine, but instead of revealing the real dangers of aerobics, they focused on former aerobics instructors who had developed joint injuries from too much jumping around. Overuse injuries are a common side effect of aerobic workouts. But not the worst by far. The problem with aerobics is that it's aerobic by intent. It's designed to keep you in your “aerobic zone.”
But if you want to lose fat and keep it off, and extend your “healthspan” by pumping up your heart and lungs, you have to exercise beyond your current aerobic capacity. That means crossing your aerobic threshold.
To better understand your aerobic threshold, let's take a closer look at metabolism…
Aerobic means “with oxygen.” So your aerobic metabolism combines oxygen with carbs, fats and proteins to make energy. Because walking is not a strenuous activity, you have plenty of oxygen available to make enough energy. This is why you could walk for hours and not run out of energy.
But what happens when your body can't get enough oxygen from aerobic metabolism alone?
Let's say you start sprinting. You can't sustain that high output with oxygen alone. That's the point at which the anaerobic system also kicks in. This is also known as crossing your aerobic threshold.
When you pant after the exercise, you've created an oxygen debt. This occurs when you ask your lungs for more oxygen than they can supply at that moment – like when you're sprinting. When you're using your anaerobic system, you are training your high-energy output system.
Building your “high-energy output system” may not sound too exciting. But it's exactly what you need to boost your lung volume and raise your “healthspan.” I define “healthspan” as how long you can live in perfect health.
I’ve never been interested in living past 100 just for the sake of staying alive. But increasing your healthspan is a different story. It means staying active, vigorous and full enthusiasm – until the day you die.
By exercising in your supra-aerobic zone and building your high-energy output system, you're building your lung volume. When you push yourself to the point of needing to stop and pant – like after a good sprint – you're asking your lungs to provide more oxygen than they're able to in that moment. That triggers your body to increase your lung volume.
You don't hear much about lung volume in the media these days, but the damage caused by lost lung capacity is far worse than you might imagine.
In the 1980s, a pioneering doctor named Ward Dean, MD did extensive research on lung capacity. He discovered some remarkable statistics from the Framingham Heart Study. If you're not familiar with it, the Framingham study is the most reliable source of data relating to heart health. The study has been running for over 50 years and has no interference from drug companies.
Ironically, one of their most startling discoveries had nothing to do with the heart. They found that lung capacity is the best predictor of longevity – hands down. Simply stated, the bigger your lungs, the longer you live.
This is why building your high-energy output system is so critical. And why it's so tragic that aerobics is so popular. Aerobic exercise actually takes years off your life. And all these years, doctors, trainers and fitness “gurus” have been telling you to never cross that aerobic threshold!
Look at this graph… It shows your loss of lung capacity as you age.
This is the kind of loss you can expect – even if you're healthy. By the time you're 70, you've lost about 50% of your lung capacity. And if you practice aerobics, you're going to make that loss even worse. At the end of the day, you have 2 forces working against you: Time and aerobic training.
Our ancestors lived in a world where their food fought back. Predators attacked without notice. They had to run or fight – fast and hard. These short bursts of high-output activity fine tuned our ancient ancestors and kept them fit. We still have the same physiology yet have lost that kind of challenge.
Al Sears, MD
12794 Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 16
Wellington, FL 33414