Hey friends, and welcome to this episode of HGTV. In the next 5 minutes, I’m going to make a case for including more low-intensity aerobic activity in your life. I was chatting with MFF’s Rog Law last week, and he asked me:
“Do you think that a lot of the fit pro advice of getting people to do 120-150bpm work is largely misguided, or good enough for most people to apply without getting too in the weeds?”
Staying between 120-150bpm for at least 20 minutes is the standard advice from the fitness industry, and if you want a single piece of advice about aerobic exercise before moving on from this video, that’s it. But, if you want more of an education – and more mastery – let’s travel back in time to your 7th grade biology class.
There’s aerobic metabolism, during which your body uses fat as the primary fuel source, and anaerobic metabolism, during which your body begins to use carbohydrates. Fat for fuel is incredibly efficient, whereas carbohydrate for fuel is less efficient but far more powerful. An appropriate metaphor would be comparing your body to a Toyota Prius that has an electric motor for lower-intensity tasks, and a gas engine for higher-intensity tasks.
If you’re starting with a full tank of gas, those carbohydrates will give you about 90 minutes of all-out intensity before you hit the wall, but when you’re using fat for fuel, your energy reserves are nearly limitless. Just like with high-performance cars, most of the fitness industry is focused on our horsepower, or how hard we can go, rather than efficiency or duration. Power, intensity, all-or-nothing, ‘go hard or go home’ workouts are all the rage these days, and our constant quest for “time efficient” workouts prioritizes inefficient metabolic pathways. That means we’ve got a whole lot of people who have been doing strength training or high-intensity interval training for YEARS without ever really considering their baseline aerobic abilities as an aspect of their fitness, or more importantly, their health.
A well-developed aerobic system can increase cardiovascular efficiency, decrease resting heart rate, improve your body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source, improve hormonal profiles, decrease stress and anxiety, and most importantly to me – aerobic training develops a base level of fitness that you can then use to live a physically active life. Our industry standard cardio guideline is 120-150bpm, but I’d bet that the upper end of that is actually anaerobic and unsustainable for someone with an under-developed aerobic system. Wearing a heart rate monitor and staying in the 60-70% range is actually my preference for most people because it allows for better nasal breath control and all but guarantees we’re staying aerobic. (Click here to learn more about heart rate training.) Personally, I’ve been focusing 1-2 days per week on my “Blue Zone Diet” where I stay in the 60-70% range using my MyZone app and breathe exclusively through my nose for 2-3 hours on my bike. These workouts are very easy, and that’s entirely the goal!
I should point out that this isn’t the kind of training I’d want to try to program for someone to do in a class like the ones we have at MFF, or for most people to do inside of gyms because let’s be honest – most people don’t want to spend 3 hours staring at a heart rate monitor inside.
Consider my extension of Gray Cook’s saying, “Activity is Diet, Exercise Is Supplements.”
My dream is that people don’t have to ever worry about aerobic base training because they’re active enough in their daily lives that the aerobic base is already there. Imagine a world in which everyone walks or rides bikes to work, takes walking meetings instead of sitting in board rooms, goes out dancing with their friends or takes a Zumba class instead of going to a happy hour, walks their dog for two hours on a Saturday morning, goes hiking on Sunday morning, walks the length of Manhattan on a whim, the opportunities are truly endless. An active lifestyle won’t always work for event specific aerobic training, say climbing Mt. Rainier or racing a triathlon, but for most of us an active lifestyle is going to be plenty of movement to keep us moving.
The guideline of doing aerobic training between 120-150bpm is a great place to start, but I think it’s even more important to consider what role you want physical activity to play in your life.
Yes, low-intensity training can also mean long-duration training, but the goal isn’t to walk in place while watching all of Tiger King on Netflix – the goal is to artfully use activity in the design of your life.
Personally, I love the idea of spending less time in the gym “exercising” and spending more time outside moving for fun! I know that COVID-19 related lockdowns and appropriate social distancing make outdoor recreation less likely right now, which means that now right now is a perfect time to consider how you’ll use physical activity as your aerobic training in the future – but, we’ll talk more about that next time.
Alright friends, thanks for joining me for this episode of HGTV. I’d love to know about what lower-intensity aerobic activity you’re loving these days, so let me know in the comments. This probably won’t surprise you, but I’m about to head out for a bike ride myself. As always, you can watch these words on Instagram below. Cheers!