When it comes to health and wellness in the information age, there are so many varying opinions and theories that it can often be tough to sift through the muck.
A good rule of thumb is to consider foremost what will move you in the direction of better long-term health. Using common sense as your guide, remember that certain weight-loss methods are less likely to offer lasting benefits.
Following are the top three questions I’m asked as a fitness professional.
What’s the best type of cardio?
My short answer: the type you will actually do and stick with. I could say that rowing is the best form of cardio, but what good does that do if you hate rowing?
Of primary importance is your goal. While cardiovascular exercise has been emphasized for its health benefits, chronic cardio can be detrimental to health. “Chronic cardio” – defined by Mark Sisson of marksdailyapple.com as sustained heart rate of 80 percent +/- of maximum for 60 minutes or more regularly – can lead to increased systemic inflammation; high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that breaks down tissue; and an overproduction of insulin.
The best type of cardio is regular, low-intensity aerobic exercise like walking, hiking, cycling or swimming for less than an hour, along with short, intense interval training a couple of times per week – for example, 40 seconds at high intensity with no more than two minutes of rest repeated six to eight times (for 16-22 minutes of total workout time). Such a regimen will effectively move the participant in the direction of long-term health.
I work out like a fiend, yet my body composition has not changed. Is there something I don’t know?
Simply put, you cannot out-exercise a poor diet. There isn’t a widely accepted number, but I have read estimates attributing up to 80 percent of sustainable change in body composition to diet. As an exercise professional and business owner, I would love if the ratio were more in favor of exercise, but, alas, that is not the case. Exercise is a core component of long-term health and vitality, but when focusing specifically on weight loss, nutrition is far more important. Dietary choices may help you lose the weight, but exercise will help ensure that you look good once it is off.
How do I determine the best diet?
I’m not sure there’s truly a great answer to the perennial diet question, but the cornerstone of my belief is that with the onset of the industrial revolution, our food system changed dramatically.
Our internal systems, however, have not undergone a comparable change. In short, the body has not evolved to process modern-day foods, which has led to our population getting sicker rather than stronger. Again, the message is that the choices we make should move us in the direction of long-term health. I find it hard to make the case that many processed or convenience foods fall into that category.
Any diet that involves substituting “fake” food for real food is not favorable. Healthful alternatives – low-fat this or whole-grain that – often still fall in the processed category. If you must indulge, indulge in the real thing rarely, not a fake substitute that you can rationalize as being good for you because it’s not as bad.
Consider your food choices an investment in your health, seek out the best available and expect to pay a premium for them, including grass-fed beef; sustainably caught seafood; pastured chicken, eggs and pork; organic dairy; and local produce.
Sugar, alcohol and caffeine make no contribution to long-term health and should be limited or eliminated. Specifics regarding grains and fat can and will be debated, so I will limit my answer: Making the above changes alone will lead to an improved health prospectus.
Tracey Downing is trainer and director at FIT, 600 Rancho Shopping Center, Los Altos. For more information, call 947-9831 or visit www.focusedtrainers.com.