So I saw on The Project the other night (but you might not want to bother with the link, I don’t like their video player – it has too many ads), a new study has discovered the most healthiest way to exercise. The way they broke it down was this – people who run at a slow or moderate pace for anywhere between 1 and 2.7 hours per week live longer than those who run faster, and those who don’t exercise.
Of course, if you can’t run or running does you damage, this is not a healthy option for you. And there’s nothing magical about jogging or running – it will have you working at a certain degree of intensity for a given time – this is referred to as ‘steady-state cardio’. Maybe you can match that sustained intensity with a power walk, bike riding, swimming, or various moderate-to-medium intensity exercise classes.
We know that a slow run is, for some people very easy, and for others it’s very hard. Nobody can just run comfortably for thirty minutes without having some base level of fitness, let alone happy knees, hips, feet, ankles, back, etc. so it seems to me that the key here really is perceived intensity. I don’t know if the study measured heart rate or not, but I prefer to measure intensity using one’s own perception as a tool rather than the percentage of your predicted maximum heart rate. You know if you’re working hard or not and you know if the effort you are investing is something you can maintain at a steady state for a given duration.
You know yourself; your perception is reliable. You don’t need other gadgets to measure how hard you’re working. The risk is they will numb you to your own body’s signals and sensations. But they can be informative too, of course, they can be useful in certain circumstances and interesting, absolutely. All-in-all I’m not really a fan though.
I guess the point to this sort of news story – the thoughts it stimulates in me are these: people who enjoy feeling like a badass will enjoy training hard, they’ll find Crossfit satisfying, they might like weightlifting, racing, or running fast, they might like the feeling of knowing that they’re fitter than average, they may be competitive, and they wear their hard work like a badge of honour. Totally cool, do what you like, just please don’t go around ridiculing people who aren’t like you. Much of the fitness industry caters to these people, and ignores people who are not naturally competitive. So on the other hand of course, many people like exercising gently, and don’t feel the need to hit it hard all the time, they like feeling mobile, they like the sense of peace and stillness and control over their own bodies, maybe they like that exercise is not the obsession of their lives – either way, exercising in a way that is not satisfying isn’t going to lead to great results. You’re unlikely to keep doing it for long enough that it’ll have a profound impact on your health.
I forget where I heard it first: moderation isn’t sexy. And it’s true. But it is good. It’s hard to sell, because it’s subtle, and you need to bring yourself to it with patience. You can’t advertise rapid results with moderation. You can play to people’s egos – train hard, be a badass, or you can pretend that it’ll be easy, “just eat less, tra-la-la”, and in this way people like to advertise quick results – but with moderation, you can’t pretend it’ll be rapid.
But the best exercise for your health may well be moderate. A lot of research seems to support this notion. It might not be intense or frequent enough to help you lose weight. It might not make you a badass athlete. It might be boring, or it might not be, but of course what qualifies as moderate varies wildly from person to person, and likewise within the one person depending on their health, age, nutrition, whether or not they had a shitty week, and whether they slept well or poorly the night before.
At any rate, it’s not surprising to me that moderate exercise is often good for you.
Either way, do what you like. You do not need to force yourself to exercise in a way that is not enjoyable, or that is unsatisfying. You can take things merely as what they are; guidelines as guidelines – you can try to perceive the keys to the information and try to apply those concepts to your own training – and then it becomes clear: if you can’t run you need not despair. You can do something else. If moderation or steady duration is key, whatever it is that you’re doing – do it moderately, steadily, and build it up as you like, if you like. Or keep training intervals, whatever.
This study – you can look at it from an intrinsic or an extrinsic point of view – these people, how were they running? What did it look like from the outside, what was the behaviour – a slow, consistent pace? Or you can think about their intention, what it might be like for an individual who may be similar to yourself in some way – and it is this that you can emulate. To exercise at a comfortable pace, something that stimulates circulation, something that stimulates breath and perhaps a light sweat (remember that sweat is a cooling mechanism, not an indicator of fitness) – or we can think in another way; to run, to move freely over the face of the planet, on our own terms. To enjoy movement, but not to have to make it serious all the time, not to have to push the boundaries every day, but to be active and enjoy it freely. To take care of ourselves, and roll with how we feel each day. To remain flexible in our approach; to train some days, and not on others. To pay attention, and address issues as they arise.
This we can try to emulate much more easily than a behaviour as it appears from the outside. If someone is jogging at a comfortable pace for them, and you try to match that speed, you’ll get it wrong. Your fitness is not the same, therefore the intensity is not going to be the same, your weight is different, the length of your legs and stride is different to theirs; seek to match instead the intention, the experience, and let that be your guide. The mindset is relaxed, not anxious. Natural, not forced, not contrived. There is no one way to improved fitness and function.