Health: Excessive exercise?

By Stephanie Vilendrer

A year ago, I was queen of the gym rats. I diligently performed my daily workouts on the Leonard Center’s bikes and ellipticals like any good, health-conscious individual. Now, however, I know better. Long daily workouts are overrated. Hold it! Advocating for couch lounging? Let me explain. The benefits of physical fitness are obvious and well-known. Besides looking great, you cut your risk for disease, boost feel-good hormones and increase academic performance, among countless other benefits. Plus, exercise to me is always a welcome break from a day’s demands of chemistry labs and biology exams. I might be breaking a sweat, but at least I’m not breaking another pencil. However, despite all the great benefits of exercise, you might be wasting your time and breath if you’re not educated about how to exercise the right way. For years, aerobic exercise has been touted as the fast track towards amazing health and prime fitness. If you aren’t familiar with types of exercise or need a brush up, aerobic exercises are those of low to moderate intensity. Walking, jogging, biking, and “ellipticalling” are examples. However, to receive the benefits of these workouts you need to do them for an extended period of time. Putting in an hour at the gym every day can be unrealistic. Plus, as your fitness improves, you might even need to exercise aerobically for even longer to experience the same benefits over time. There is a way, however, to dramatically increase your fitness and significantly cut down on your workout time. How does a 15-minute workout sound to you? This awesome, heart-pumping exercise consists of is interval and strength training, and it’s a form of anaerobic exercise. This occurs when the body’s supply of oxygen – which is utilized in aerobic exercise to convert fats, carbs, and proteins into energy – is depleted faster than the muscles need. Therefore, the muscles have to rely on anaerobic metabolism (i.e. without oxygen) for fuel, which uses up carbs and fats for energy far quicker than aerobics. To receive the same benefits of anaerobic exercise, you must work out for at least 20 to 30 minutes before results begin to take place. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, turns up your inner furnace right away. Additionally, anaerobic exercise has metabolic effects long after your workout is finished. This is because the body relies on fats for fuel as carb stores are replenished post-workout. The effect can last between 24 to 48 hours, which means that you only have to do intervals or lift weights every couple of days. It also stimulates the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which builds muscle, strengthens bones, controls blood sugar levels, boosts immunity and slows ageing. Sound good? I think so, too! But let me warn you that interval training—my preferred form of anaerobic exercise—is no cakewalk. The challenge is to push your limits with each workout, which will increase your fitness over time. As I mentioned, you can reach the anaerobic zone mainly by weight training or high-intensity intervals. I incorporate both into my workouts. I will leave a thorough explanation and demonstration to professionals, however, to summarize, interval training consists of exerting yourself to maximum capacity for a short duration, generally 30 seconds to a few minutes. You should be panting at the end! This is followed by a short break to lower your heart rate, (generally 30 seconds to a minute) and then the process is repeated for seven or eight times. In total, this workout should take you between ten to 20 minutes to complete depending on your level of fitness. Alternatively, you can incorporate intervals and strength training into a shortened version of your regular aerobic workouts or alternate days of lifting, aerobics, and intervals. While anerobic workouts are great way to improve health, they can be dangerous unless you complete a thorough warmup. Ten minutes on a bike or five minutes of jogging, in addition to dynamic stretching will prepare your body adequately. Check out Al Sear’s book, PACE, or any one of a number of great resources on interval training for more information. Of course, know your limits, be safe, and have fun!