LSD, for Mental Health

If you thought that I might be talking about lysergic acid diethylamide, I’m sorry to disappoint you; I’m not talking about that LSD.  Instead, I’ll be talking about LSD Cardio, or Long Slow Distance training.  This method of training was popularized by Joe Henderson, the former editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine. In 1969, Henderson published “Long, Slow Distance; The Humane Way to Train”.  In it, he discusses his philosophy of training:  That long, slow runs are an appropriate way to prepare for endurance running events.  At the time, Henderson made very good points.  Certainly, LSD training has proved advantageous for millions of people in the past 40 years, and has been the basis for a large amount of endurance training and general fitness programs.  With modern research in exercise physiology, it’s known that LSD programs are not the most efficient way to improve fitness.  Yes, obviously LSD exercise beats sitting on the couch watching The Biggest Loser, but there are more efficient and healthy ways for people to exercise.  While I don’t encourage the use of LSD training for the fitness population, I can’t devalue it’s significance in the competitive running world.  Obviously to be an endurance athlete, you must have endurance.  To build running specific endurance, you need to run.  For those who are competitive runners and triathletes, endurance running will always have a place in their training regimens.  While, I believe that endurance training should be downplayed as an exercise modality for the general fitness population, it does have a place; for mental health.

Mental Health?  Yes.  There are a few aspects of LSD training that are beneficial for people’s mental health.  They are both psychological and physiological.  The psychological reasons are numerous.  For many people, there is a huge confidence boost of being able to complete a workout of a specific distance or time frame.  Once these goals are achieved, obviously there is a high sense of satisfaction.  In this way, LSD training can improve both self-efficacy and mental toughness.  I doubt anyone will argue that the carry over from this into other aspects of life is important.  These benefits of LSD exercise can be even greater when exercise is performed with others; the social setting is great for a few reasons.  Social interaction is beneficial for mental health, and research has shown that those who work out with others perform better than when they’re alone.  Let me add though, that your training partner needs to be at a level close to yours.  You don’t want to be dragging your partner behind you, and conversely you don’t want to be watching as your partner pulls away in front of you.  I doubt either will help improve one’s performance or self-efficacy.  A partner of equal performance and dedication can really increase enjoyment and push people to improve their own performance; a psychological gift.  Let me also add that there are benefits of completing one’s exercise outdoors.  In my opinion, just about anything beats running on a treadmill, inhaling the same hot air you exhaled just moments before.  So any outdoor exercise, be it running, biking, kayaking, or swimming, is adventageous because you’re avoiding recycling air, as well as moving. MOVING?! Yes, it may sound obvious, but because your geographic location is changing and you’re not (literally) spinning your wheels, you’ll see more, go farther, and go faster.  Again, improved performance and interaction with the world: a psychological benefit.

Now, a lot of people like ‘going for runs’ because of the physiological benefits.  (Sidenote:  usually you’re only going for a jog, but clearly running sounds cooler…but that’s besides the point.)  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they like running because it’s relaxing, even when they know that there are healthier methods of training out there.  There are many hypothesises and theories on why LSD training is so relaxing.  The “runner’s high”  has been a long believed result of endurance training, but the scientific data is inconclusive.  As much anecdotal evidence as there is, we still don’t know why it occurs.  While that’s annoying for people (like myself) who like to know exactly why these things happen, it doesn’t negatively effect the runner.  After all, do you really care about the mechanism of why it happens?  No, you just like that it happens.  Hopefully though, science catches up with exercise lore.

Now, I’m not going to dispute the physiological adaptations that occur from aerobic endurance training.  These benefits include improved cardiovascular functioning, improved mitochondrial energy production, increased oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle, and increased utilization of fat for fuel.  While these are clearly great adaptations, there are other exercise modalities that create greater adaptions.  That’s not what we’re discussing here.  If someone gets a great mental boost from LSD exercise, should they take it out of their exercise regimen just to improve their efficiency of training?  No.  While I’m a huge proponent of the most efficient training possible, I think it’s important to do what benefits you the most.  If you get a huge mental boost from your LSD training, then keep on doing it! Hopefully you’ll also implement some training modalities that offer more well rounded fitness improvements, but for the clear head and low intensity, try some LSD.

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