Why Just Running To Stay In Shape Is a Mistake


“Well, yeah I do. I get in at least three days a week of about 30 minutes of jogging and sometimes I’ll do some push ups or maybe some squats. That’s pretty good isn’t it?” asked my trumpet teacher, Bruce.

Bruce had asked me what I do to stay in shape. We’re about the same age and love playing trumpet which is a very physically demanding instrument. Keeping yourself in good physical condition helps. So, after I explained the basics, I asked him what he did for his physical conditioning and that was his reply.

I guess my pause was too long.

“I mean I always heard that running was one of the best forms of exercise and, you know, it works the lungs and legs. Am I doing enough?” he asked.

“Well, that depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. I would say, that if the goal is optimal physical condition, running wouldn’t be my first choice.”

A lot of people share my trumpet teacher’s perspective.

The problem may be bigger than an incomplete physical training program though.

In a review of the effects of endurance training on the heart by the Mayo Clinic and American College of Sports Medicine, the researchers had this to say:

“a 15-year observational study of 52,000 adults found that runners had a 19% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared with non-runners, with U-shaped mortality curves for distance, speed, and frequency. Running distances of about 1 to 20 miles per week, speeds of 6 to 7 miles per hour, and frequencies of 2 to 5 days per week were associated with lower all-cause mortality, whereas higher mileage, faster paces, and more frequent runs were not associated with better survival.”

The authors suggest that 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, of moderate intensity, steady state endurance training has documented health benefits but as you go past that level, your risk of actually damaging your heart goes up.

You Need More Chaos

It’s not the “cardio” per se that seems to be the problem but the lack of chaos.

Chaos, not in the sense you’re probably thinking where everything seems to be out of control, is a key factor in heart health and, for that matter, general physical conditioning.

Chaos is actually made up of something called fractals. Fractals are everywhere in nature. A fractal is just a reduced-size copy of the whole. In nature that’s stuff like clouds, snow flakes, crystals, lightning, ocean waves, and even your heartbeat. In fact the heart functions best under fractal conditions – varying demands but with a repeatable pattern.1

The problem with using running as your only form of conditioning or running too much, too fast, too long, is that your heart beats too consistently; too predictably. In fact, patients with heart disease will have heartbeats that are very predictable and non-variable. Non-fractal.

So, what should my trumpet teacher do?

He needs to add another form of physical training to his routine. His three days per week of 30 minutes of running is okay. He’s in the range where he’ll reap health benefits but his body needs conditioning for the core muscles, upper/lower body strengthening, balance and flexibility, speed, and even power. If he can add this type of training to his calendar, he’ll add the necessary chaos, protect his heart and lungs and blow the end off his trumpet. Like me 🙂

For those of you who are ActiveAge Blueprint members, your programming and Elements already deliver what you need. You’re in good shape. For those of you who are not members, look closely at what you’re doing and if you need some help, we’re here.

So, how do you inject some chaos into your training?

  1. Ching, E. S. and Y. K. Tsang (2007). “Multifractality and scale invariance in human heartbeat dynamics.” Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys 76(4 Pt 1): 041910. []
Mike Taylor's dad. says

Correction to below – we were told to DO crunches. Oh, and now you can eat butter but avoid margarine (that’s good news). Avoid sugar (I guess we always knew that). By the way, I’m trying the plank stuff but it hurts my back. HIIT seems to be doing some good.

    DD Kelsey says

    Thanks for reading and for your comments.

    I understand your points…and agree that the best we can do is just use the knowledge and information we have at the time. It changes almost daily it seems.
    But sometimes, current information is ignored. For example, the US Army still uses sit-ups as a key component of their fitness assessment even though the science clearly shows sit-ups to be risky to spine health.
    As for the plank, usually if your back hurts, you need to lower the force by either performing the plank on the knees or using a performance band looped around the waist and attached at high point up and behind you to reduce the effective load. Those options will bring the load and capacity into alignment eliminating pain.

Mike Taylor's dad. says

I’m about to turn 59, and I have tried to stay reasonably fit, including running regularly, morning exercises, eating “right.” Weight and body fat is under control, heart is in good shape, pulse rate is low, etc. This despite the fact that it seems many of the things we have been told over the years to stay “fit” have been reversed or changed signficantly. Some examples I can think of quickly: don’t eat eggs, don’t eat fat, don’t do crunches – oh, and now, don’t run too much or too fast. My son Mike is trying to keep me up to date on all the reversals, but I have put in a lot of years doing things the “wrong” way at this point. Oh, well, you can only act on what you know at the time.

Thanks for your informative articles, I enjoy them. I can always count on a unique perspective from you.

Omar says

Running is a pretty specific form of exercise. If you have the capacity to run…and you train your running…then you can become a better runner! But is that what you really want? Because if the goal is to have optimal fitness to play a trumpet or play with your kids/dogs or just get through the weekend chores without hurting yourself…or maybe even belaying someone out of a crevasse in a glacier, I can’t see how running is the right thing to do. I feel that I get so much more accomplished with Fusion. And it might even be helping me to become a better Pedal Steel player. How, you ask? Improved ankle mobility!!! Yup, Fusion even covers that. And it’s not because you do an “ankle mobility day”. Nope….but many drills in several elements will work that for you while they work a whole lot more.

Thanks for raising the discussion of fractal training. I had heard for a while about the risks associated with marathon training. This article puts it in a new light. I like the notion of one’s training being a microcosm of one’s life: with all of the chaos theory applied. Fusion basically trains you for life. Thanks DK!

    DD Kelsey says

    Thanks Omar – you clearly “get it” and thanks for the comments. You’re describing what we’re trying to do here very well – help people build a healthy, globally fit body that can do a lot of stuff and accomplish that in a minimum of time with low risk of injury.

      Jimtigerpt says

      Simply put, do Fusion and don’t look back. Everything all inclusive. Try to avoid “analysis by paralysis”.The benefits from the drills you will feel and hit you in a way you never can expect. One day during you your daily activities in life, you realize something like……wait a minute, did I just do that? or…. I would have died last year doing that…..or ….. oh my, my (insert body part) didn’t hurt…..maybe there is something to this…. Get the point?

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