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Why I Am Fitting in More Low Intensity Exercise

Monday, October 29, 2012

I think there is currently too much emphasis on high intensity exercise.

I'm definitely a practitioner of HIIT, but I don't do it to the exclusion of everything else. There's a lot going for low intensity exercise, but most people dismiss the most basic of exercise - walking - as not being a legitimate 'workout'.

I've read tons and tons of articles over the years explaining why short, intense workouts are just as good as longer exercise. There's lots of articles debunking the 'fat burning zone' myth. These articles explain it's calorie total burn that counts, and more is burned with very intense exercise.

Probably. Maybe. But I have lost 40lbs (and kept it off), and I've never done any jogging that I didn't have to do. Only running from a thunderstorm, or catching the bus.

Especially in the earliest part of my weight loss journey, my primary exercise was long distance and low intensity - hiking and cycling. My heart rate rarely exceeded 140bpm.

Once my weight came down and endurance went up, I started adding HIIT on the elliptical, not usually exceeding 30 minutes. In the early days, I did it believing in the 'calorie burn', but now I do it for another reason. As you know, I don't really pay much attention to calories anymore. "Sprinting" increases lung and heart efficiency, thus increasing oxygen efficiency.

Low intensity exercise is an unsung hero, I believe.

I read an article recently about health care costs, and one of the graphs stuck out at me. It showed the rate of obesity increase in the past 20 years. The United States had the highest rate of increase. Japan had the lowest. We already knew that. But what stands out to me is just how low Japan's rate of increase is. Just about 1% per year.

Here is the article: www.pbs.org/newshour/run

Here is the graph:

I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and it led me to where I currently am with my carb/intensity cycling experiment.

Many people believe that asians have low obesity rates because of their high vegetable, low protein/fat consumption. Maybe, but they don't really do this for health reasons in the same way some Americans do. Protein is highly desirable, but it is very expensive. The concept of 'vegetarianism', as in purposely avoiding meat protein, is considered weird.

They do avoid sugary sodas and treats for health reasons. Asian baked goods are far less sweet than Americans are used to. They eat far, far less sugar than Western industrialized countries.

When I was in Seoul, Korea, we walked everywhere. We took the underground metro in order to cover far distances, but we still walked from point to point. I have no idea how much we walked, but it was a lot. All day, everyday.

But it wasn't just my family and I that did all this heavy walking as tourists. It was everyone else, too. People walking to and from work, carrying briefcases and laptop bags. Groups of girlfriends shopping. They didn't take cars to the grocery store - they brought shopping bags and carried them on the metro or on the sidewalk.

We ate everywhere. I don't think there was a single stop where we didn't eat something. I was sure I would gain 10 lbs when I got home. We seemed to never stop eating. Giant bowls of thick noodles. Kimchi soup. Bulgogi and kalbi. Fish and shell fish. Lots of rice. Lots and lots of rice.

When I got home, I was shocked to discover I didn't gain weight. I lost 8lbs. Eating. Not counting a single calorie. And walking.

I didn't see a single native who was overweight.

The other thing I didn't see? People working out in gyms. Here in the US, walk down almost any street in a metro area, and you'll see a gym every other building.

I noticed the same phenomena in France. Lots of walkers. Not many fitness gyms. I walked everywhere and ate whatever I wanted. Pastries, chocolate, wine, desserts, and prix fixe dining. I didn't lose weight this time, but I didn't gain anything either, even eating some of the richest and decadent foods. The only overweight people I saw were American tourists. The locals were incredibly thin and healthy. Even the bakery owners!

While the US has a very serious obesity problem, I have seen a thinner population overall in certain US cities as well. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Lots of walkers and bikers. Plenty of fitness gyms, though. Especially in LA.

The fitness gyms in the US may be a necessity for us due to our high urban sprawl and less organization around city centers. Most of us have very busy lives, and just want to get in and out in the quickest amount of time.

However, I am personally coming around to believe that the tortoise may be just as important as the hare when it comes to weight loss and maintenance. Unless I am sick or injured, I am walking at least a few minutes every single day.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Walking everywhere is so good! I started back up with walking everywhere this summer, and am still going at it, even though the weather is turning from bad to worse here in Glasgow. I walk to get groceries, walk to my gym and back, walk wherever I need to go, providing it's not terribly far. I'm fortunate to live in an area that is far enough from the places I need to go to make them all worthy of a good walk, but not TOO far! Lately I've been really enjoying my walks to and from my new gym. It's half an hour's walk each way. Makes a great warm up/cool down! Also...I've discovered there's a Korean restaurant right on the corner I turn down to go to my gym, and it's got great reviews. I'm excited to try it out, as I haven't had any Korean food since leaving San Francisco two years back. emoticon
    2001 days ago
    It's funny because I lost the bulk of my weight on the "European vacation" plan, my friend and I spent 5 months touring Europe pretty much right out of college, and with all the meal splitting, eating healthy, local cuisine and walking everywhere (we were on a tight budget) I lost about 40 lbs without really trying...and have kept it off since. No "formal" diet or exercise plan, just eating healthy and walking a lot.

    That said, now I do try to focus on unprocessed food, and getting in my resistance training on a regular basis, but have over the past year started walking more, and am able to stay within my range fairly easily without stressing too much about the food.

    I think the everyday activity does help more than we sometimes give it credit for.

    Nice blog!
    2003 days ago
    Yep, plain ol' walking does wonders.
    2004 days ago
    It makes a lot of sense when you think about evolution, too. Our ancestors didn't just sit around under a tree all day. They walked constantly, foraging for food, hunting game, finding new/changing sources of fresh water, and avoiding danger. Our ancestors didn't sprint to get away from danger or to hunt animals -- they just kept moving at a moderate pace. We're meant to be active as well, and definitely for more than 45 minute stretches.
    2004 days ago
    I like it.....i have always been at my slimmest when I've lived in a large city that required a lot of walking. Whenever I move out to the 'burbs....

    I was in Istanbul last month and walked miles every day....one afternoon mu nephew and I did 17 miles just touring around!
    2004 days ago
    Totally agree. I think the most important thing for keeping weight off is consistancy of exercise not the type of exercise you do. I read about one group of people who had managed to maintain their weight loss after getting down to goal weight and the only exercise this group did was to walk at least half an hour every day.
    2004 days ago
    Good blog, as usual. :)

    When people say that our healthcare delivery system is "second to none" they're absolutely right. It's the most expensive in the world. And we're all still popping pills and having strokes. Depressing.

    We're Number One!!!

    2004 days ago
  • CGREEN9310
    Great blog! The only thing I did after my first pregnancy was the "Walk Away the Pounds"...I had 40 of them to lose and did it in 6 months simply by walking. I have lost 21 pounds since August 20th of this year just from walking (although I started SP in September and the nutrition tracker has helped me with 13 of those pounds). I spent 18 months in Korea and saw exactly what you are talking about. When I wasn't working we walked everywhere and the town I was in was a lot of hills.
    2004 days ago
    I agree when i was younger in school I didnt have a car, walked everywhere and was amazingly thin and strong. Now I drive and you know the rest.....

    I work out in the gym but need to do more walking.... just like you.
    2004 days ago
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