The Great Cardio Myth

The Myth

To get or stay lean, you must do hours of running, rowing, swimming, cycling, walking, hiking, or similar exercise. You must do “cardio” to be lean.

The Truth

Being lean is our natural state and it results from doing any form of movement you really enjoy (yes, any form of movement will keep you lean). Combining movement with a nourishing diet, plenty of sleep and rest, and an enjoyable, relatively low-stress life is what produces vitality and wellness and being lean is simply a natural byproduct.

The Science

Like most myths, this one is rooted in some truth. When you exercise, the lower the intensity of the exercise is, the greater percentage of fat you burn. For example, when walking, 70 percent of the calories burned can be fat, with 30 percent being carbohydrate. When you are doing more intense exercise, things shift and you burn less fat and more carbohydrate. However, when you do more intense exercise, you burn more total calories in the same amount of time and you burn more calories later in the day (a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). So all exercise ultimately uses your stored bodyfat for fuel, either now or later.

The Picture Proof

The photos here are of a sprinter, a yogi, and a weight lifter. All are quite lean. I know people who are sprinters. They exercise three or four times a week and they never run more than 200 meters at a time in their workouts. They never run slow as they know it makes them slow.  I know regular yoga practitioners who do yoga five or six times a week as their only form of exercise. I know people who lift weights three times a week and never do “cardio”. All are quite lean. I also know triathletes, cyclists, and runners who exercise as much as 10 to 20 hours a week. Some are lean, but many are not. Doing lots of “cardio” or endurance exercise is not the only way to be lean.

Photo 17--Sprinter

Photo 18--Yogi

Woman Lifting Weight

The Take-Home Message

Do exercise you love! Moving in ways that you love, first of all, brings you all kinds of joy while you’re doing it. Second, being lean, and all the other wellness benefits of exercise can be gained from any exercise. There are no forms of exercise that are inherently better than others. Get out and play. Do what you love. Do it today.



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