A few of my friends who’ve recently retired decided to start walking more, sometimes for an hour or more a day.
Becoming sedentary seems to be a danger in retirement, when life can slow down, and medical research has documented the myriad health benefits of physical activity. To enjoy the benefits from walking – weight loss, heart health, more independence in old age, and even a longer life – medical experts and fitness gurus often recommend that people shoot for 10,000 steps per day.
But what’s the point of a goal if it’s unrealistic? A Centers for Disease Control study that gave middle-aged people a pedometer to record their activity found that “the 10,000-step recommendation for daily exercise was considered too difficult to achieve.”
Here’s new information that should take some of the pressure off: walking about half as many steps still has substantial health benefits.
I. Min Lee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tracked 17,000 older women – average age 72 – to determine whether walking regularly would increase their life spans. It turns out that the women’s death rate declined by 40 percent when they walked just 4,400 steps a day.
Walking more than 4,400 steps is even better – but only up to a point. For every 1,000 additional steps beyond 4,400, the mortality rate declined, but the benefits stopped at around 7,500 steps per day, said the study, published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
More good news in the study for retirees is that it’s not necessary to walk vigorously to enjoy the health benefits.
That difference is important to understand, because it’s how you can tell aerobic vs. anaerobic workouts apart. Your body creates energy in two basic ways: anaerobically (without oxygen) and aerobically (with oxygen), and each of those methods will affect your body differently. Understanding that process can help you burn calories and fat—plus increase your overall strength, power, and endurance.
What’s An Anaerobic Workout?
Any activity performed at a high enough intensity that your body can’t provide the necessary energy to complete it with oxygen intake alone is considered anaerobic. “Anaerobic workouts primarily utilize fast twitch muscle fibers that can function only for a short amount of time without the help of additional inhaled oxygen,” explains Lesley Bell, a NASM-certified personal trainer and brain health coach at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Cali.
Without oxygen, the body uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glucose in the muscle cells for energy. But that process can’t be sustained more than 90 to 120 seconds of high-intensity exercise because your muscles have produced a significant amount of lactic acid in that time; after that, “your body must begin to utilize inhaled oxygen in order to break down glucose and fatty acids” to continue to produce energy, says Bell, and that’s when your aerobic energy system takes over (more on that in a minute).
Here’s an advanced HIIT workout from Kelsey Wells that’ll get your heart pumping:
“Anaerobic is done at a high intensity and usually using multiple intervals,” says Andy Coggan, the director of fitness at Gold’s Gym. If you’ve ever done a HIIT workout, that’s anaerobic exercise. Plyometrics, sprinting, and weight lifting are all considered anaerobic—you’re going all out with 100-percent effort, but you can only sustain that effort for a short period of time. “Most sports involve anaerobic bursts followed by periods of rest,” too, he adds.
What’s An Aerobic Workout?
If the word “aerobics” makes you think of women dancing in Spandex, you’re on the right track—those low-intensity classes are designed to keep your heart rate up for an extended period of time.
“Aerobic exercise is anything where oxygen intake is sufficient enough to provide the energy necessary to sustain that exercise without tapping into alternative energy sources,” says Coggan. These workouts primarily utilize slow twitch muscle fibers and the glucose and fatty acids the anaerobic system has already produced for fuel, which can sustain activity for extended periods of time, adds Bell.
Any lower- to moderate-intensity exercise is considered aerobic. Think about steady-state exercise like walking, running, cycling, or even dancing. You’re not going to be gasping for breath during these workouts, because your body is continuously consuming enough oxygen for you to power through.
Why Are Aerobic and Anaerobic Workouts Important?
Obviously, these styles of training are pretty different. And they’re both equally important in a well-rounded fitness regimen.
Aerobic exercise triggers fat burning, because you still have oxygen in your muscle tissue. It also “improves the cardiovascular system by strengthening the heart and potentially increasing the maximal amount of oxygen the body can utilize (AKA your VO2 max),” says Bell, which can improve your endurance.
On the other hand, anaerobic exercise—like HIIT—has been shown to burn more total calories in a shorter amount of time. “Science shows that this method of training can be extremely beneficial for power development, building muscle mass, and fat burning,” says Coggan. You’ll also build stronger joints and bones due to the increased impact on your body.
To picture how these training methods affect your body, think about the bodies of elite athletes: A typical cross-country runner or marathoner follows a highly aerobic training program, whereas a CrossFitter is someone who prioritizes an anaerobic program.
But you can’t just do cardio or just do weights if you want to get fitter or stronger—even if you have a specific goal in one of those areas.
“Both styles of training will burn calories and improve the function of the heart and lungs, and the best bet for maximum adaptation and body transformation is to combine these training styles over the course of a week,” says Coggan.
“In doing so, you’re getting the power- and muscle-building benefits of anaerobic work while adding the increased stamina and endurance associated with aerobic workouts.”
Here’s How Often You Should Be Doing Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises Per Week
As Coggan said, you want to make time for both anaerobic and aerobic workouts throughout your week. The most important thing to remember is that there’s an inverse relationship between intensity and duration, says Bell. That means you want to do less of the higher intensity workouts (anaerobic) and more of the low- to moderate-intensity workouts (aerobic).
“Research has shown that a maximum of three to four days of high-intensity exercise with proper rest periods in between is optimal to see results,” says Bell.
“Anything more may yield the same or similar health benefits, but can put you at risk for overtraining or overuse injuries.”
Aerobic exercise, though, could theoretically be done as many as seven days a week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio per week. “You could split that up anywhere between two to five days, as long as you’re keeping your heart rate around 60 to 75 percent of your maximum,” says Bell. (If you’re going to increase the intensity of the cardio, you’ll want to decrease the duration of it.)
The average person should start with one to two aerobic sessions with one anaerobic session per week, says Coggan. “Over time, you can work up to three to four aerobic sessions intermixed with two higher intensity anaerobic workouts spaced a few days apart from each other,” he says.
Recently the office threw a surprise wedding party for a coworker and there was a beautiful chocolate cake with whipped icing fashioned in the wedding color scheme. The icing had a stunning diamond ring motif made of more icing and the pale lavender and purple whipped icing was a gorgeous contrast to the dark chocolate once the cake.
The hostess who coordinated the party was cutting and dispensing out slices of cake. Everyone had taken their appropriated slice and there were 2 left. She started to hand me a plate and I said “no thank you” with a smile. Her eyes got wide and asked “Whhyy?”and I respond with another smile.
A coworker sitting next to me gave me a sheepish look and said, “you’re being so good.”
I looked back at her nonchalantly and said, “it’s not about being good or bad.”
“It’s about the decisions that you make,” she interjected proudly before continuing.
“And I am making a very different decision from you” she finished just before she shoves a particular large bite of cake in her mouth.
What I really wanted to explain to her was that the truth of the matter is that I simply didn’t want to eat a piece a cake at that particular moment. ‘Didn’t want’ not as in I craved it and was purposely overcoming my urges and denying myself. No. ‘Didn’t want’ as in I genuinely had no desire, zero, zilch, nada. A notion which I am increasingly discovering is something so incredibly foreign that I may as well trying to explain the time continuum string theory. Many are simply unable to comprehend the concept of not ‘wanting’ to eat cake and actually mean it, much less accept.
And I was fully aware that when I turned down the piece of cake that my decision made many of the ladies very uncomfortable. I can see them rolling their eyes at me, some internally, some out right and that is okay. I refuse to be pressured to eat something when I have no desire for it. Random, frequent, forced social eating is one of the many habits which can easily lead me back to being obese. And their visual uncomfortableness is not really a reflection on me, personally. No. Their uncomfortableness resonates from their displeasure with their own choices but cleverly deflected on to me. I am okay with that too.
I am constantly frustrated with people’s misguided definition of what healthy living. healthy eating, healthy choices are. There seem to be a disconnect between the widely ill conceived truth from the actual reality. I think it is fairly common for people to think healthy = 100% compliance 100% of the time 0% indulgence. But the reality is if anyone only commits to healthy choices at 75% of the time, it would still make an impact on their overall health. A concept which alludes many, while most refuse to acknowledge operating under the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Which is a real shame.
I also wanted to thank everyone who shared in my momentous 1000-day MFP milestone. I have been oddly quiet because to be quite frank I was internally having mini panic attacks of failure and reverting back to 3 years ago.
As I have mentioned, my recent food experiment was an epic fail and it took me about 3 weeks to fully resolve the issues from it and feel better. It was one of my worse experiment failures to date. So here’s what happened and forgive me of violating TMI rule but I hope it will help others.
Since I have lost the weight and started to concentrate more on strength training, I have habitually been heavy on my proteins as all hours of research suggests (macros: F 30 C 30 P 40). However, the additional portions protein was causing some severe constipation where I have had to resort to using a laxative once or sometimes twice a week. I knew laxatives were very harsh on the system so I did more research for other alternatives. Many suggest the first step is try to introduce more fiber through real foods. But since I have FODMAP sensitivity I am limited to what I can implement into my eating repertoire that is high in fiber. I literally consume as much vegetables at lunch and dinner in hopes for a natural remedy but It did nothing. So fiber supplements was the next recommended approach to try this is where the downward spiral started.
I knew exactly how this frog feels! LOL
Without considering my own height & weight or additional research I simply dived in head first and took 2 gummy supplements at one time (according to the directions on the bottle). The very next day I was so ungodly uncomfortably bloated that I was literally busting out of my jeans! I decided to split the dose to one in the morning and one at night – still felt like I was a gazillion pounds. Then I cut the gummies into quarters and took one quarter in the morning and one at night. I didn’t feel worse but I certainly didn’t feel better. I did this for about a week or trying to ‘tough it out’ because it did provide the relief I was seeking otherwise. But after the scale tipped passed my ‘caution’ weight I decided that it was not working for me.
SO I stopped the fiber supplements and adopted a somewhat vegetarian eating regimen. Instead of my standard 8 oz or chicken or pork for dinner, I opted for salmon or tuna. I reduced my onion (FODMAP) consumption to about ¼ of what it was and concentrated on eating very clean for 2 weeks – no snacks, no extra carbs, clean.
I finally dropped back down to my usual weight range and I felt SO much better. All my clothes fit comfortably around the waist again and I have only recently started to snack again but very very cautiously.
It was a terrifying experience because when I see that number on the scale I had to consciously fight my panic instinct to cut calories. It is very different to understand intellectually that the weight was not fat weight but water weight and be aware that emotionally the oompa loompa sometimes can still try to hijack logic.
Moral of the story is, if you need extra fiber try natural ingredients first. If you have to go to a supplement, start slow – do NOT boom – take the full dose all at once to begin with. And only as a last resort go to a laxative.