Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Are you sure that exercise and dieting is making your healthier?

Something I have been thinking about a lot over the past few days is the importance of training with a focus on good health. It seems obvious, right? We eat right and work out because we want to stay healthy.

That might not really be the case though. I mean... you can't imagine many people NOT wanting to be healthy, or actually wanting to be unhealthy (no matter how much their behaviour / lifestyle would suggest it), but I'm saying this is more of an intellectual, logical reason rather than an emotional one. I think we are usually more motivated by emotion than logic, and the motivation to work out is usually to do with wanting to feel better about yourself. 

There's a bit of a politically correct notion around at the moment that we should all just feel better about ourselves automatically because we're nice people whether we're actually putting some effort into life or not. It's a nice thought and hard to argue with, but really... let's be real here; human beings did not become the dominant intelligent species by NOT applying themselves. We feel better about ourselves when we know we're not neglecting our health, are looking our best, and are taking steps in the direction we want our lives to go in.

So, whatever. Health may not be your primary motivator and that is fine as far as I'm concerned. But this next part is important. If you are training for aesthetics (aka "a hot body") and / or happiness, you are not likely to achieve either of these goals with an approach that is detrimental to your health. Sporting performance, however, is a different matter entirely.

Something I have talked about recently is that there is a Basic Level Of Human Fitness which relates to just being able to function in a natural environment, and then there is sports fitness. Particularly when we are talking about high intensity activities or endurance sports, we are applying a level of stress to our bodies that is beyond what would be expected under normal, natural conditions. 

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Well, it depends. 

As I keep saying, our bodies are designed for survival and are very good at adapting. Therefore, with an appropriate amount of an appropriate type of exercise we will get stronger, and healthier. Assuming of course, that we are providing enough resources (that means nutrients, which means food) to allow the body to make this adaptation.

Is that what most people do though? Is that the message that is put out by the diet and weight loss industries, or the majority of the fitness industry? 

Nope. What most people are encouraged to do is "eat less, burn more".... this might be reasonable advice for people with a sedentary lifestyle and gluttonous junk food eating habits, but it DOES NOT APPLY to people who are actually exercising. 

The result of this message is that people are influenced towards activities that they believe "burn more calories", rather than those that will actually produce the desired physical results. Usually this means excessive amounts of high intensity cardio (perhaps in those fast paced, dance based group fitness programs), and / or excessive amounts of endurance training. I just got distracted because a commercial just came on the TV for a product to help "burn more calories while exercising". Now, why on Earth would that be a good thing?

More exercise on less fuel only means that you are putting your body through a level of stress that is not designed to endure, without giving it the opportunity to adapt and become stronger. Even if you are losing weight, even if your performance is still improving... you are not getting healthier, you are running yourself into the ground.