I used to be exercise freak. I would get up at 5 am in the morning to go to the gym. Often I got there before the attendant arrive, and had to wait for someone to come open the door for me. I used to exercise daily, and in the weekend I swam. More recently, I would run or walk every morning, for miles.
Despite all the rigorous activities, I noticed no significant improvement to my health. In particular, my weight continued to rise year over year. I did try to curtail my food intake, but there was a limit, to both how much I could evercise and how little I could eat. All that exercise made me feel drained. As I looked around, I also noticed that people who took up endurance exercises, particularly long-distance running and jogging, tend to appear emaciated and aged. This is especially true once you pass the age of forty.
Cpl. Earnest J. Barnes
Disappointed by the lack of progress I made, I read up on health and nutrition, comparing the studied made by a number of doctors who have written indepth on the subject. It resulted in a total makeover of my views on health and fitness. Bringing together my new-found knowledge, I was able to reduce my weight to what it was ten years ago. That I achieved between the beginning of May to mid June, 2012, a span of just six or seven weeks. At the same time, I saw a significant improvement to my blood pressure, without relying on medication. The transformation I experienced made me re-examine my past belief about health, nutrition and exercise.
I have already written about nutrition in a separate article, how I lost weight and gained health. Now I would like to share with you what I learned about exercise.
Exercise is fine, but endurance exercise may not be healthy for us. By "endurance exercise", I mean rigorous activities performed over a prolonged duration. This includes running, jogging, swimming, climbing, cycling, aerobics, skating, roller-blading, even walking. You can also add to this list sports activities such as football, soccer, tennis, squash, badminton, rugby and more.
We often perform endurance exercises with the intention of improving our health. But we don't deeply question whether this is true. Unfortunately, we may damage our health more than improve it. Often, in our pursuit of this perceived health benefit, we are often rewarded with exercise-related injuries, muscle strains, sprains, tears and more.
Is it true that if we exercise, we will live longer? This is a perceived notion not backed up by statistics. For every person who lived to an old age who exercised, there is one who did not. In otherwords, health and fitness may be unrelated. Think of all the people who lived to a very old age. George Burns lived to a hundred. Winston Churchill to ninety-one. Are they a paragon of fitness? Both drank and smoked excessively, and they are certainly not alone. I am sure you yourself will be able to name people within your own community who lived to an old age, without a record of performing endurance exercises. Do we dismiss them as a freak of nature?
On the other hand, almost every one of us know someone, or have read somewhere, about someone who dropped dead while out jogging or cycling or while playing tennis, or soccer, or badminton. We almost always blame some underlying disease or health issue that the person have, something that has gone undetected, even if that person has had an otherwise clean bill of health. Regardless how obvious it may be, we refuse to accept that the person may have overtaxed his body.
I too was once in denial about endurance exercise. I do not want to accept that endurance exercise may be bad for me, and as I write this, you could be too. Why do we insist on defending endurance exercise? I can think of a number of reasons.
Firstly because it appears health promoting. We do not want to discuss the many injuries associated with performing endurance exercises. They get in our way, interfere with our vision of good health. Secondly, endurance exercise is addictive. There was a time when I would feel guilty if I miss a day of exercise. That pushed me to run, day after day, despite insignificant results. Thirdly, we mistake recreation for exercise. We thought we can kill two birds with one stone.
Perhaps we should take a look at animals. We are the only mammal that performs endurance exercise for health reasons. Do cats or dogs perform aerobics? The only reason horses run long distances is because we humans force them to do so. Wilderbeests run long distances because they are migrating, cheetahs run at high speed but for a short period. Lions may spend a brief moment to hunt down an antelope, but relax for the rest of the day. And they all look fit. It's only us humans who run for miles and miles only to return to our own house, where we start, and hope that that will make us healthy.
The very name endurance exercise says it all. It forces us to endure. In other words, we are subjecting our body to punishment. When we jog, we are subjected thousands of pounds of force on our knees, hips and back. There is a limit to how much each of our body part can endure, and once we cross that limit, we injure ourselves. For all we know, we could be shortening our lifespan with endurance exercise rather than prolonging it.
I am not saying that we shouldn't exercise at all. Rather, I am asking you to re-evaluate endurance exercises, particularly those performed over a prolonged period. We should understand why our body aches after performing such exercises. It is a response to the punishment we inflicted upon it.
If you've been running, cycling, climbing or performing any other form of endurance exercise with the hope of improving your health, I hope this message will help you evaluate your beliefs. If you do care to live a long, healthy life, choose exercises that do not overtax your body. You'd be thankful you did.