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SANE 203 / Lesson 2

Is Traditional Exercise Bad?

Jonathan: Hey everyone. Jonathan Bailor and Carrie Brown coming at you with another episode living the Smarter Science of Slim. Carrie, how are you living today?

Carrie: I am full of turkey!

Jonathan: You are full of turkey from Thanksgiving?

Carrie: No. From the leftovers from Thanksgiving.

Jonathan: Fair, fair. Well, it’s funny because this podcast is probably going to air sometime in late Q1 of 2013 but we are recording it now at Thanksgiving so there you go. But yes, and Carrie actually brought in some leftover Turkey and some spectacular SANE dishes to try so I am recording this podcast on a full stomach and endorphins rushing around in my brain from all these delicious SANE foods. Carrie, describe what I was munching on.

Carrie: Well, I was just going to say that you were fat and happy, but of course you are not fat and happy at all, you are lean and happy.

Jonathan: Yes, so one out of two is not bad.

Carrie: Ha ha. So I made you turkey and leek casserole, leeks had to be in there somewhere…

Jonathan: Which to me tasted a bit like chicken pie which was fabulous.

Carrie: Used up a pound of that leftover Turkey, so that was good. And then I made a prototype of a peanut butter chocolate refrigerator cookie which Jonathan loved, and I say prototype because I don’t think most of the world will love it so I need to make a version that everybody else will love. And then I made some tomato-basil biscuits which were incredibly tomato-ey.

Jonathan: And basil-ey.

Carrie: And basil-ey and Bailor thought they were awesome.

Jonathan: I very much enjoyed them.

Carrie: So there, that was Jonathan’s little pre-podcast feast.

Jonathan: So it’s got me energised and ready for… today we’re going to do some more FAQs. Actually I’m going to stop saying that because we’re going to be doing FAQs for a while because there are quite a few frequently asked questions. So happy to help. The first question we are going to cover today has to do with traditional exercise. Basically when people listen to the Smarter Science of Slim and they read the book some people get the impression that we are saying traditional exercise is bad. So the question is basically: ‘Should I avoid traditional exercise?’ That’s the FAQ.

Carrie: Could I give my answer to that?

Jonathan: Sure.

Carrie: Yes. All exercise should be avoided at all costs!

Jonathan: Ha ha. Not all exercise. The Smarter Science of Slim does recommend *some* exercise.

Carrie: I’m joking! Kind of…

Jonathan: Ha ha. Let me give you the answer that at least my research shows. So, a couple of things. I think it makes most sense for us to break down the various types of exercise. I like to pivot this with two factors so let’s look at intensity and let’s look at impact. First let’s talk about low intensity, low impact activities. That’s like walking. You can do it for a long time, low intensity and it’s not banging on your joints. Low impact.

Carrie: I like doing walking. As long as it’s flat.

Jonathan: And casual bike-riding, playing with your kids, your niece, your nephew. Just things we would generally describe as just being active. That is fabulous for you. We should absolutely do as much of this as we can. Our bodies were designed to be active. The more active we are the more healthy we become and we are not really going to wear down our bodies because it’s just a natural state our bodies are designed to be in. So that is all good. OK let’s go to the complete other end of the spectrum now high impact, high intensity activity. This would be things like the extreme workout dvd’s we see or boot camp classes or doing sprints or running up stadium steps or a lot of the training you’ll see for intense athletics like football or wrestling where you’re really working hard but you’re also taking quite a toll on your body. Now this type of exercise is metabolically beneficial but it really does take a lot of negative toll on your body. It’s sort of like boxing for exercise. It’s good exercise but you are also messing up your brain. So it’s probably not our best option. Low intensity, low impact = good stuff. High intensity, high impact = not as good. High intensity is good, but the high impact is not so much. What we want to do is go in the middle: High intensity, low impact activities. And those are things like the eccentric training, because your joints aren’t banging, it’s a very slow, controlled movement.

Carrie: Very slow, if you are not so good at it.

Jonathan: Exactly, very slow. And even our version, our smarter interval training. Because you are not moving quickly, you are moving forcefully and you are doing it on a machine such as a bike or an elliptical machine that allows you to move into a continuous motion and you are not putting that pressure on your joints. That is really the sweet spot of exercise because it’s that high intensity that activates all of our muscle fibres, triggers all those clog-clearing hormones. And the fact that it is low impact means that we can do it for the rest of our lives which we know we will have to do if we want to continue our health for the rest of our lives. So far we have talked about three forms of exercise: Low intensity, low impact activity which is good. We’ve talked about high intensity, high impact, extreme exercise, I would recommend against that. Then we have smarter exercise which of course we are all about. Then we have what most people think of when they talk about ‘traditional exercise’. This is high impact, low intensity/medium intensity activity. And as you can probably gather, that is bad on both fronts. The intensity isn’t enough to do anything to our body and it’s high impact. Jogging is the perfect example. When you jog, you can go out and people jog for an hour on pavement, they’re banging on their joints and they get out of breath, you do it for an hour, but you’re not exhausted. So it’s not intense enough to really cause any metabolic change and it’s super high impact so it’s 0 for 2. So, do I think traditional aerobic low quality, high impact, low to moderate intensity activity is good for us. No, I would avoid it and I would advise against it. That’s also why in, really any magazine that targets individuals who do these kinds of activities like Runner’s World, half of the magazine is about injury management. Because these types of exercises just fundamentally break us down over time. And if you enjoy them, that is one thing, think of them as a hobby. But if you are asking me ‘Jonathan, what type of exercise should I do to maximise my metabolic health and my overall health?’ You should do low intensity, low impact activity and you should do high intensity and low impact training and smarter interval training. Everything else is counter-productive.

Carrie: Awesome. I have thought for as long as I remember being able to think that jogging was stupid. I’m thrilled to hear you say that jogging is not where it’s at.

Jonathan: Ha ha. You don’t need to feel bad for not doing it. And also keep in mind that things like jogging…

Carrie: I feel validated now.

Jonathan: That’s good… and they also have a tendency to, we already talked about this, but stimulate your appetite. When you do these very lower to moderate intensity activities, so walking generally doesn’t make you hungry but if you go for a jog, people are like ‘oh my god, I’m hungry’ and it also causes a psychology of ‘man, I jogged for an hour, I deserve this ice cream sundae’ so you get hungrier, you have a tendency to crave starchy and sweet foods so it’s not only breaking your body down, but then it is making it harder for you to stay SANE so it’s really a double-edged sword. Whereas when you do low intensity activities, they don’t stimulate hunger, and when you do very high intensity activities that are low impact, it generally raises your heart rate so high and it’s so intense that you don’t want to eat anything.

Carrie: He has never said a truer thing in his life. When I first starting doing eccentric exercise it was enough just climbing of the bike, let alone the thought of actually getting in and constructing something in the kitchen was just like completely beyond me. But I wasn’t hungry. It did not stimulate my appetite.

Jonathan: No, and for a lot people, myself included and the research shows this as well, it’s an appetite suppressant and a lot of this is because you are putting so much stress on your body, digesting and metabolising food is actually very metabolically expensive for your body. We burn about a third of the calories we do over the course of a day just converting food into energy so when our body is going through extreme stress, such as the exercise type induced stress, we are not like ‘oh, I’m just craving food’. Think about people that are running marathons and things like that, they need to constantly re-fuel themselves but when we are doing burst type training that’s not as much an appetite stimulant, it’s more of an appetite suppressant so it helps us in that sense too because it makes it easier to stay SANE because we don’t finish up and crave a big bowl of ice cream.

Carrie: Awesome.

Jonathan: The other type of activity I want to call out, because there are people in the world, Carrie and I know it is hard for you and I to believe, but there are people in the world who do enjoy exercise, and I would encourage, especially in the States, there is a whole class of ‘exercise’ that I personally don’t think we leverage enough and I like to call these types of exercise ‘restorative exercises’ and these are things like Yoga or tai chi or even meditation or stretching or Pilates, these type of activities help to restore and heal our bodies which when we are doing high intensity, low impact exercise can be very helpful, because it’s like the yin and the yan, we are going to stretch those muscles out and help them to relax. Help them to get the blood flowing right after we traumatise them. That’s a good balancing act. So if you have some spare time and you want to do stuff. Be active. Do your smarter exercise and then take a Yoga class, try Pilates, get flexible, try some tai chi, try these things that we don’t do as much in the West which I think we should. They are great things.

Carrie: Do you have a view on hot Yoga?

Jonathan: I don’t know too much about the differences between hot and cold Yoga or any other kind of Yoga. I personally just love it. I started doing it not in classes or anything like that but I read a great book called ‘Real Men Do Yoga’, this is 10 years ago, and I started doing Yoga just because I was not training smarter at that time so I had all kinds of back pain and knee pain and I was just horribly inflexible, if I bent at the waist I could get maybe 4 inches below my knees but that was it, like not even close to touching the floor. Which to be clear in men that have some muscle on their body, I would say that’s pretty typical, complete lack of flexibility. So I started to do just the stretching portions of Yoga. I’ve never looked back since. I do it once a week now, I don’t have to do a lot of it, but just the stretching is about ½ hour a week and it’s combined with the fact that I have moved my training to be smarter but no chronic pain anywhere. I think it’s just a wonderful compliment to intense strength training.

Carrie: And I’ve heard, I’ve never done Yoga other than a couple of times, but I have heard it’s very good emotionally too… mentally for that whole… you know… it’s got to be good in today’s mad world.

Jonathan: And the other thing about Yoga is that a lot of people who do Yoga and then read the Smarter Science of Slim actually tell me… those are the people who understand eccentric training because in Yoga what you do is that you get into a challenging position and you hold it. There’s no ‘move quickly and flail around’. It’s ‘put your body in this interesting position that is challenging and now hold it’. Very calm, breathe. You’re sweating and you’re leaving the class ‘oh my god, that was so hard’. But if you just watch someone doing it – and again it’s not like this insanity, crazy, extreme – it’s this very controlled, deliberate, safe movement and really in some ways, if you think about it, is kind of like weighted Yoga. Kind of. Because we are saying: Get in this position and now slowly either hold it or slowly lower it over the count of 10 seconds which is what you do in Yoga classes with your own body weight.

Carrie: It’s interesting because while I’ve never done Yoga and everyone that has listened to these podcasts know that I don’t really enjoy exercise I did do ballet for 17 years and it has often struck me, when I’m doing my eccentric exercises, how similar the ballet exercises… it’s very much like Yoga, it’s all about holding your leg in a really strange position for a long period of time and I do love that so that’s probably why the whole eccentric exercise make so much sense to me.

Jonathan: I actually love that you brought up ballet because I think one paradigm shift that I’d love…I’m sorry to use that word because it’s kind of trite and business-ey, but we tend to have this very… I’m going to call it ‘brutish’ approach to exercise. At least that has been my experience.

Carrie: Did you say ‘British’ or ‘brutish’?

Jonathan: ‘Brutish’ like ‘do more weight and sweat and roarhhhh… extreme… roarhhh… boot camp… roarhhh…’

Carrie: Yeah, that’s not very British.

Jonathan: Ha ha. If we look at things like gymnastics or ballet or Yoga or eccentric training or smarter exercise, they’re the opposite of that. They’re slow and controlled and deliberate. And here is why I like that: When we think about what we are trying to do to our body in many ways a good metaphor is ‘sculpting’. We’re trying to sculpt our bodies. Now, when a sculptor is working on a piece of marble or clay they are not wacking it with hammers and they are not brute-forcing anything they are very meticulously and very deliberately taking calculated strikes. That’s what I want us to do when we exercise. I want us to be very meticulous. I want us to be calculated. I want us to be very slow and I want us to be very safe. We are not going to waste any movement. And because of that we are not going to hurt ourselves, we are going to see lasting change and we will be able to keep it up for all our lives and that’s really important because again, anything we do to improve our health and fitness we have to keep doing or it’s counter-productive. And I know that DVD looks cool. You look on TV and everyone who is the infomercial has six pack abs and never mind, they’re 23 and that’s probably what they do for their job, I bet you it wasn’t the DVD that made them look that way. Just like you watch people play basketball and they’re all tall, it doesn’t mean basketball made them tall, it means tall people play basketball.

Carrie: Ha ha ha.

Jonathan: So, you won’t get young and skinny by doing those exercises! You will however likely hurt yourself and no matter what you won’t be able to do it in 20 years. So why not just pick up an approach today that you will be able to carry through the rest of your life. It works for me.

Carrie: So if people do want to do, because I know a lot of people where there’s a social element to it, if they want to keep going to a class, Yoga or ballet or something like that would be a good choice?

Jonathan: Absolutely. And that’s the last thing I’ll say on the subject here. Let’s be very clear and summarise: 1) Generally being active, define ‘being active’ as something you can do without sweating, walking around, playing with your kids, do that as much as you want/can. It’s great for your health, studies are unambiguous on that. Low intensity, low impact, awesome, do it. 2) High intensity, low impact – that’s smarter exercise, awesome, do it. 3) Restorative things, Pilates, Yoga, tai chi, ballet, do it. Things like, let’s say you and your friends like doing cardio-kick-boxing class. If you do that *for fun* that’s fine. However, do it intelligently, meaning: Don’t think that because you did it you now have a free pass to go inSANE.

Carrie: You do not have a calorie deficit.

Jonathan: Exactly! Thank you! You do not have a calorie deficit. You don’t. And know that you are going to start craving stuff afterwards and just be aware of that because you can fight it off more easily and don’t do it the day before you are supposed to do your eccentric exercise. If possible do it right after or the day after so you still have those five days to recover. So that you don’t compromise your eccentric exercise. Think of it as a hobby. If you want to go out and play basketball you’re doing that because you like to play basketball, not because it’s ‘exercise’. If you want to do ultimate fighting, that’s because you like to do ultimate fighting, that’s not your exercise. Your exercise should be being active, restorative activity or smarter exercise. Those are exercises in my book. Everything else is a hobby and those hobbies may have negative consequences and you just need to weigh the cost-benefit. And that’s it. But it’s totally up to you. If you enjoy it and you are able to do it, more power to you.

Carrie: What about swimming?

Jonathan: Swimming is an interesting one because swimming is great from a low impact perspective but it’s not particularly easy to add resistance to swimming. On a bicycle you can continuously add resistance… there might be a way… put it this way: Swimming is better than any moderate intensity activity that is also high impact. So for example jogging. I’d rather you swim, than you jog, but I’d rather you do like we talked about, restorative activities or smarter exercise. But again if you just like swimming because you like swimming, more power to you, just don’t do it the day before you train eccentrically.

Carrie: I can’t swim.

Jonathan: Well, that makes it easy for you.

Carrie: I was just asking for everybody else.

Jonathan: What about sinking… is that a good… ha ha.

Carrie: I’m very, very good at sinking. It’s one of my core competences. Sinking. But I know that a lot of people love to swim and I think it is a good skill to have, can save your life, but I was just wondering where that came on your scale of things to do or not.

Jonathan: Ha ha. Just remember, we haven’t covered it here, there is two criteria to look at: 1) How likely are you to get hurt? How much inappropriate stress is it putting on your body. 2) How intense is it? Is there a way for you to do it where you can do it for short… actually swimming, you might be able to do this, you could probably do sprints in the pool where you swim as hard as you can for 30 seconds and you can’t swim anymore. That would be great. But you just need to pick an exercise that is not going to put unnecessary stress on your body AKA you are not pounding your joints and an exercise where you are able to increase the intensity so much that you are not able to do it for more than 30 seconds to a minute at a time. And of course don’t just do that by speeding up, such as sprinting vs jogging because that again causes a risk. So it’s got to be low impact and it’s got to be high intensity. Now that I think about it more, swimming probably could be done in that way. If you like swimming, sounds like it’s a viable option.

Carrie: OK.

Jonathan: The last thing I’ll mention while we’re on this subject of exercise is just one last disclaimer. Anyone that tells you that you need to do some wizz-bang-ABC-TRX… complicated exercise routine is likely more interested in taking your money than they are in helping you get healthy. Exercise is NOT complicated. Now let me clarify this real quick: If our goal is to be an elite athlete that is very complicated and that requires sports-specific training and you probably need all kinds of stuff to help you. However, if our goal is to be healthy and fit, just like we do that via eating is simple, maybe not easy, but it is simple. The way we do it via exercise is simple. Anyone who is trying to complicate it – again you just have to ask why, what is the marginal benefit if I stand on this ball with one leg and hold this kettle bell above my head which is just a dumbbell with the handle positioned in another place, it’s not some magical new device, while I spin on my head. Yes, that might make you sweat and you may feel it the next day but why? Why do you need to do that other than for the personal trainer to make you feel like you can’t possibly exercise unless they come with you because it’s so darn complicated.

Carrie: And I think that goes back to the whole… One I think a lot of people they have the best interests at heart, they don’t understand the science behind how it works. So they do think they are doing us a favour. But also I think because, and this is coming from someone who has been on the dark side, it feels like it must be hard and complicated because we have tried everything else and it doesn’t work so therefore it must be hard and complicated because we can’t do it. But I think… so… paradigm shift… you have to reverse that thinking before everything else will actually work.

Jonathan: This actually reminds me. I love that you brought that up, the whole fact that we think it must be complicated because we tried so much and it hasn’t worked. Stephen Covey – we’ve used the word paradigm shift several times this podcast so we have to credit him, he’s the guy who brought this idea of shifting one’s paradigm to the surface with his book ‘The 7 Habits’ which I think came out late in the ‘80s, early ‘90s, wonderful book, I got a chance to meet Stephen and he is a brilliant, brilliant man – the idea, or the analogy he uses in his book is talking about how you could have… imagine we were back in the day where we still bled people, what doctors did to cure people of diseases was to bleed people. They would literally cut them and think that if they drained enough of the bad blood out of the person they wouldn’t be sick anymore.

Carrie: Or they got leeches to suck it out of them.

Jonathan: Leeches, not to be confused with leeks, that are quite delicious. I’m like, if you serve me leech casserole, I’m not going to… ha ha.

Carrie: … we’ve got a problem… ha ha.

Jonathan: What Covey talks about in his book, and forgive me if I’m misrepresenting this or confusing myself in some way, is if you think that bleeding someone is the proper approach you are going to try all this crazy… new bleeding techniques and ‘we’re going to hang you from the ceiling while we bleed you and we’re going to do all this fancy blood thinner medication so that bleeding becomes more effective’, the problem is that bleeding is not the right approach. It doesn’t matter what technique you use on top of that. It’s wrong. You are facing North when you need to be facing South. What people then discover with medicine was that the concept of bacteria and viruses and that if we just wash our hands people don’t get sick anymore. The same kind of thing applies here. We’re on the brink and I promise you, at least I’m going to dedicate my life to, 50 years from now we are going to look back on starving ourselves either by eating less or exercising more as we look back on using leeches for medicine. It’s just like, actually this metaphor might work really well, using leeches or bleedings ‘oh, the blood is bad, we need to do everything we can to remove the blood from the body’, now we go ‘food is bad, calories are bad, we need to do everything we can to eat less and exercise more to remove that from the body’. False. We have a misunderstanding of the system. It’s not our fault. It’s the people’s fault that told us and now it’s just time to get the new science on the surface and that’s the science of quality, and once we have that paradigm – just wash your hands and your patients won’t get infected.

Carrie: And look how simple that was. It was simple.

Jonathan: But you got to have the information first. Wow, we just covered… that was a long answer to that question. Why don’t you summarise what you think we have covered here, Carrie. I think I’ve talked a lot.

Carrie: Well, you know, exercise is not really my strength of the two of us, is it, you know, we can talk about leeks, I can talk the hind of a donkey, but when it comes to exercise, that’s not me. What do I do? I do 10 minutes of eccentric stuff every week. I do my 10 minutes on the bike every week and I call it good.

Jonathan: I love that. So here’s a what to do – here’s the take away for folks: Let’s say there is two types of people in the world and there is a spectrum so there is more, but let’s define either end. You’ve got Carrie on one end of the spectrum and frankly me, but I do like my eccentric once a week, I like getting pumped up and I feel like I’m back in my athlete days I need to go perform and it’s cool. So you got Carrie on one end, who prefer to never exercise, and you got people on the other end who just love exercising, they’re all about it. For the Carries of the world. Good news.

Carrie: This is the best thing ever!

Jonathan: Good news. Keep doing what you are doing in terms of walking up stairs, take the stairs instead of the elevator if you can, stay active, that’s all good. Don’t get a little Segway, don’t get one of those mechanised carts, walk around, it’s good for you, but in terms of actually going out and exercising, just do your 10-20 minutes of eccentric exercise, your 10 minutes interval training, you’re good to go. Done. And you will get better results than you have ever had before.

Carrie: Have I ever told you that I love you?

Jonathan: Ha ha. Similarly good news if you are on the other end of the spectrum I’ve got good news for you too. The good news is: Chances are you have not actually seen good aesthetic and health results from your approach. A lot of people run marathons and continue to gain weight. ‘How am I gaining weight? I’m running marathons!’ We all know, and they will know too when they discover the new science. For those people there is good news though. Take what you are already doing, think of it as your hobby and then add to it the eccentric and the smarter interval training and if what you’re doing compromises your ability to do those two things you may have to scale back a little bit, but for example maybe you do your eccentrics on a Saturday and then maybe you take Sunday off and maybe Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe Thursday you do whatever the heck you want but really make sure that Friday you get a good day of rest so that you are able to really hit those eccentrics. Either end of the spectrum, we can make it work for you, just be smart about it and if you are somewhere in the middle you can find out what works for you. And for all of us I highly encourage us to pursue alternative forms of exercise, these restorative forms of exercise en masse because they are great for you, they make you feel good and they’ll help reframe your mind to think about exercise more as you are a sculptor that very intentionally and deliberately is sculpting your body rather than maybe a construction worker who is using a jackhammer to try to get results. What do you think, Carrie?

Carrie: I think I will always be down this end.

Jonathan: Ha ha.

Carrie: And I’m so excited you just gave me permission to do that.

Jonathan: Absolutely. Not only permission,but endorsement. Well folks, thanks for joining us this week on living the Smarter Science of Slim where we’re going to eat more, we’re going to exercise less, we’re going to do it smarter. See you next week.

This week:
– Is The Smarter Science of Slim saying that we shouldn’t do traditional exercise?
– The four different types of exercises
– How we have to think of exercise in terms of impact and intensity
– How to avoid exercises that cause cravings for inSANE foods
– The merits of restorative exercises
– How to think of exercise as a precise sculpting of your body…not something extreme
– How anyone who tells you exercise is complex is likely more interested in taking your money than making you fit
– How we’re in desperate need of a exercise paradigm shift
– How you should approach exercise if you don’t like exercise and if you do like to exercise