In western cultures like ours, countries like the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada and other European nations, what’s the first thing that anybody thinks of or tells you whenever the idea of weight loss is brought up? You’ve got to hit the treadmill, exercise bike or the streets and burn those calories! On the surface of it, this makes sense, right? After all, you’re doing a lot of work and you’re sweating and breathing heavily. Surely, running a few miles every day must be dissolving those unsightly pounds like crazy, right? Would you be surprised to hear that this is actually wrong?
Yes, cardio does burn calories, it’s true. And yes, some cardio is good for you. Light cardio promotes a healthy heart and increases your endurance. On the other hand, though… heavy cardio actually begins to have the opposite effects. Before I get into why, let me give you a simple but sensible example. Imagine pre-historic humans. These men and women are running around the Paleolithic world chasing down antelope, red deer, aurochs, bison and the occasional woolly mammoth. Most of their diet comes from animal protein and what edible plants they can scrounge. Well, if cardio was so great for losing weight, these people would simply starve to death while running down their food. All that cardio would burn through their energy reserves faster than they could replace them. Yet they didn’t starve to death… why?
For one thing, a lot of heavy cardio is hard on your knees and feet. Second, it’s also hard on the heart. Too much cardio actually begins to add scar tissue to your heart and increases your rate of heart attack. We didn’t realize that for a while until many scientific studies were done on the subject. As for losing weight, excessive cardio actually has the reverse effect and here’s why. Our bodies are genetically designed to survive. Our body’s job is to store energy as fuel both for its immediate use and in the form of fat for those times when food is scarce. In modern times, of course, food isn’t really scarce, so this built-in safety feature is rarely needed. However, when you deprive your body of the nutrients it requires, either by starving yourself on some crazy diet or by over-taxing your body with lots of cardio, it begins to switch into survival mode. Additionally, and unfortunately with heavy cardio, your body also becomes anabolic. This means that it begins to burn the most effective source of energy first – your muscle.
Take a good look at some of these chronic long-distance runners who compete. Many of them are kind of stringy looking and have to pack in the carbs just to maintain their muscle mass. It’s not really about calories, as many diets and so-called fitness gurus try to make you believe. Calories are only a means of measuring food energy. Yes, if you want to lose weight, you must take in less calories than you consume, yet there’s so much more to it than that.