By Johanna Collier
So you need to get in shape. What do you plan to do? Start running?
That’s what many people tend to associate with “getting in shape,” and that association is not without good reason.
Running is a convenient form of exercise that requires no additional equipment other than proper shoes, and the intensity level of which is easily managed. Cardiovascular exercises, like running, have many long-term health benefits when they are performed regularly. However, many people also associate running with immediate weight loss, which may lead to disappointment when all that exercise fails to add up in pounds coming off.
Think back to your high school P.E. class. Not the sit-ups, but the actual class time. Do the words “aerobic” and “anaerobic” ring a bell? Aerobic exercise is your cardio.
During an aerobic workout, your body relies on oxygen. Though running and similar exercises do burn fat stores as fuel, they do not do so in amounts that result in obvious or immediate fat loss.
While an aerobic workout does raise the body’s heart rate and, consequently, increase its metabolic output (read: calories burned), it does not efficiently target fat stores.
Translation: yes, running burns calories and burning more calories will eventually lead to weight loss. However, if you want to trim down quickly, you need to do two things: exercise in a way that leads to heightened fat burning, and most importantly, adopt a healthy diet.
HIIT – or high intensity interval training – equates to short bursts of anaerobic activity performed in intervals with small breaks in between, and is more effective than steady-state cardio for burning fat. It isn’t one hundred percent clear why this type of exercise is more efficient for fat loss, but it may have to do with the lasting effect of high intensity interval training on the body.
However, even with high intensity training, the real key to trimming down is diet. No, this doesn’t mean can’t ever eat pizza again, but adopting a healthy diet with a prevalence of fruits and vegetables and good old-fashioned water will not only help you reach your weight loss goals much more quickly, it will also result in higher energy levels all around.
But let’s come back to that running thing. You might wonder if there is a point to running anymore, but regular steady-state cardio exercise actually produces several positive effects on the body and mind that other types of training and diet alone do not.
Perhaps most importantly, steady-state exercises increase cardiovascular health. Essentially, greater cardiovascular health means that the heart can pump a greater volume of blood through the body with each heartbeat. This results in a lower heart rate, which means that the heart isn’t working as hard to do the same amount of work.
Furthermore, most of the body’s physical functions (such as digestion and breathing, walking and standing, etc.) rely heavily on the aerobic system. All in all, a better cardiovascular system means better health and a more functional body in general. You can even lay to rest the fears about joint damage. According to an epidemiological study by Donna M. Urquhart et. al., running can actually strengthen your knees. Added bonus: performing steady-state cardio exercises like running on a regular basis can also decrease stress. (If you’re interested in the science behind it, The Week features an article that summarizes a cognitive study on the subject that was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.)
The takeaway? Sure, there are better ways to burn fat than simply running on a regular basis. However, if you want to increase your overall health, don’t forget to combine your diet and high intensity training with steady-state cardio and throw on your running shoes a few days a week.
You will have better cardiovascular health, reduced stress levels, and stronger knees, which will have a positive impact on your high intensity training as well.