Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Cardio is Worse Than Mussolini

"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general." - Mark Rippetoe

 Dr. Kurt G. Harris has a wonderful post showing that "Cardio" Causes Heart Disease.  In a study comparing 102 marathon runners with 102 sedentary controls:

What do you think they found? After all, these were a bunch of completely asymptomatic runners. Conventional wisdom, the New York  Times and MSN will assure you that only eating copious fiber and making turds like a gorilla could make you healthier than being a serious runner.
Would you believe 12% of asymptomatic marathon runners had evidence of myocardial damage on LGE?

Would you believe that among the sedentary controls only 4% had abnormal LGE?

So, basically, running marathons appears to not only not help your heart but damage it.  (Read the article if you want the specific medical info.)  Of course, the fact that THREE RUNNERS DIED during the last Detroit marathon also suggests that this sort of activity is not really contributing to health or longevity.

While this does seem to go against "you've gotta do your cardio" conventional wisdom, I don't really find it surprising.  A couple years ago when I decide to get back in shape, I started Googling around searching for the "optimum" amount of cardio for health.  To my surprise, I found nothing.  The only info I found was on how much cardio you need to do in order to lose weight (which, as you've probably heard, is utter bullshit, anyway).

Now, it's possible I'm wrong about this--if so, I beg someone to set me straight (and not with more "correlation equals causation" crap)--but as far as I can tell from the research, WALKING is all the "cardio" you need for optimal longevity.  Sure, a few marathoners live to a ripe old age, but this is probably despite the fact that they run marathons.

I've got nothing against the sport of marathon running, but if another person tells me that they're training for a marathon to "get in shape" I'm going to bent press them.  This is "in shape?"

Even for people who want an extreme level of cardiovascular endurance for their jobs (e.g., military, police, firefighters... etc.), marathon training--and the resulting emaciated twig arms--is not the way to go.  You probably want something more general and high intensity like Crossfit.  But even then, there's no evidence (at least that I can find) that such cardio training is healthier than simply walking.  And, of course, the injury rate for Crossfit is HIGH.

So if "cardio" is bad for you, is there some other form of exercise that has proven health benefits?

Yes, it's called STRENGTH TRAINING, bitches.


  1. You're absolutely right about cardio not being good for you, in fact more often than not, the avid runner is an addict. Certainly it's an addiction of a different kind, but an addiction nonetheless.

    I work in the cardiac lab of a hospital and we perform stress tests on patients suspected of having blocked arteries. In order for the patient to acheive their target heart rate (which is the pt.'s age subtracted from the number 220, and then 85% of that result) we have them walk, yes walk on the treadmill. Nine times out of ten they will reach that heart rate without ever running. Basically, the motion of running, the constant pounding and wearing on your joints and bones is quite simply, unnecessary.

    The best exercise for your health (since you asked) is to acheive your target heart rate, not your maximum, which is different. So for someone 35 years of age, their maximum HR would be 185, but their target would be 157. Acheive this target and maintain for 15 - 20 minutes. The heart is a muscle like any other in our body and it does require strengthening. But just as someone would not walk into a gym and suddenly start bench pressing 300 pounds (well some of guys in those pictures might) you don't want to get your heart rate up so high that it begins to enlarge. There is a common condition among athletes known as hypertrophy (which is the opposite of atrophy, where the muscles deteriorate due to lack of use) because the heart has actually grown in size.

    Too many people go to the gym to get "ripped" or "cut." They simply want to get bigger muscles for the sake of having them. Unfortunately in our culture of office work, large muscles are not necessary so there is no natural maintainance for muscles of that size. If you grew strong because you worked as a cement laborer you would naturally develop the muscles required to do your job, you would naturally maintain that physique, within reason. That is healthy, body size proportionate to your calorie intake versus calorie burning. That right there is the weight loss revolution if anyone cares: do not intake more calories than you are using. Period. Everyone is different but I'm pretty sure the majority of Americans are eating a whole lot more than they need to sustain a healthy body.

  2. @Tyler

    Thanks for the expert info confirming that "walking" is probably enough. One of these days I should try out a heart rate monitor...

    I've been a bit slack on the posts lately, but I keep meaning to do a serious one on strength training. I've gone a little gung-ho with it, but I'm not kidding myself that very heavy lifting is necessary or good for you. Just as with cardio, "moderate" seems best. (Unfortunately, I'm not a particularly moderate person...)

    As for diet, I have to disagree with you on the calories in/calories out concept. Gary Taubes's work and my own experiences have led me to believe that the specific type of calories one eats makes a huge difference.

  3. Very true on the type of calories, certainly if you're putting in your body 2,000 calories worth of donuts versus 2,000 calories of vegetables and whole grains - the outcome will be entirely different.

    Even though it's a very poor example, I always think of it in terms of a car. Your car requires a certain kind of fuel in order to run properly, if you fill your tank with something other than what it is intended to use - well, you'll be stuck, broke down, immovable. Our bodies also require specific fuel types, mainly vegetable, protein, and grain. Adding all the other crap i.e.preservatives, colors, excessive fats, sugars etc. will leave one feeling pretty bad.

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