This blog has now moved to head ♥ heart ♥ health

Recent posts from head ♥ heart ♥ health

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Cardio or not to Cardio

I am the former fat chick who lost 20kg by cutting out junk food and lifting weights. I didn't do any cardio.

I am also the former fat chick who got skinny and ran 5km nearly every morning for an entire month and didn't lose one extra gram of fat.

So I have mixed feelings about cardio.

I know that it burns calories while you are doing it, and if you do high intensity intervals, you burn extra calories afterwards. What does that mean to me? It means that I am STARVING all day. In fact, I have had my biggest binges after an intense RPM class or a long run.

I have been contemplating this thing we call cardio and I have formulated one of my weird theories. I don't think that the activity requires so much fuel that I am in massive deficit and therefore hungry. I think it is all about stress.

When I run, do sprints or an RPM class, the resultant rapid beating of my heart and shortness of breath feels like there is something wrong. It feels the same as when I am frightened, I am emotionally upset or I feel panicked about something. This is how I physically experience anxiety. I don't know much about hormones but I am pretty sure that this physical state causes my body to be flooded with cortisol.

My conditioned response to stress, rightly or wrongly, is to find comfort and the quickest route is food. It is not genuine hunger I am feeling after intense cardio but a learned coping strategy for the stress.

Curiously, I never experience these feelings when I weight train. I don't know if it is because I breathe deeply and slowly, or because there is no urgency to what I am doing but lifting seems like I am doing something right. I know my heart beats faster and I can work up a sweat (thank you Mr Deadlift) but somehow I feel more solid and grounded. It is the same when I do incline walking on the treadmill - solid, grounded, and calm.

Some people thrive on stress. Some people live their lives from one adrenalin filled moment to the next and want more. Me, I want peace. I want to quieten the chattering voices in my head. I want to feel calm.

I think I'll give the high intensity cardio a miss for now.


  1. Katiep - I love your theories.. I've been doing the high intensity cardio thing for 2 weeks now because I thought I was over doing it on weights.. result? I'm starving!! but I feel leaner.. but I'm starving!! not dropping any grams with either weights or cardio.. I'll stick it out with the cardio and never ever give up on the weights.. it grounds me and makes me feel more in control as well as stronger.. I wish I could find the right balance?

  2. Honestly, I've never gotten anywhere with cardio. I seem to do a little better when I lift as heavy as I can. Cardio leaves me feeling dizzy stressed and tired.

  3. i agree entirely that lifting weights can be far more conducive to sustained weight loss than cardio...

    but - when it comes to our long term health - aerobic fitness is just so important, and in my opinion /should/ be a part of every exercise program. i guess the trick is to not let it get too stressful - just raise your heart rate sufficiently to give your heart a workout. that's why it's called cardio, after all!

    (disclaimer - i am a runner, addicted to running... so perhaps i am biased? i personally find it crucial to my mental health, to get in a couple of runs every week) :)

  4. Hi KatieP,

    Your theory makes perfect sense if we think about evolution. I throughly enjoyed reading your entry about this matter. The only time early humans had to run (hence have their heart rates up) would have been when they were in danger (an animal or an enemy chasing them or rescuing a tribe member from danger etc.) so our primal brain still associates a raised heart rate to danger and stress. Another very stressful situation for brain is hunger. Maybe when we raise our heart rates fast and keep it high for awhile and then stop, the old brain thinks we should fuel up fast just in case the danger might come back. Whereas, with lifting heavy weights it is as if we are carrying water from a lake back to our cave or carrying an animal we hunted or fruits gathered back to our tribe. Therefore, lifting weight is not associated with any danger in the brain. You would have made a brilliant anthropologist.

    Just as a footnote, I have started exercising in a gym partly because of reading your blog. RPM, Body Pump and lifting weights have become my favourite exercise.


  5. You could absolutely have something there Katie. This comp prep (starting a fair while out), I am losing more mm's from the fat calipers per week with doing just one altitude session and one long walk than I did my last comp prep doing hard cardio for between 30-90 minutes per day. I too get extremely hungry when I cardio so by not doing much I find it easier to stick to clean eating. I quite like your theory... it makes sense considering the "fight or flight" mode that fear causes in both humans and animals.

  6. I guess you just have to do what works for you hey?

  7. I love the way you always think and look into different theories Katie... I've never thought about cardio much like that. I guess you have to do what works for you in the end. I definatley go through stages where I don't feel like high intensity cardio and will just do what I feel like that week - even if it is just to go for a walk everyday. I've never been a big cardio lover, but always clears my head and makes me feel better.