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 of the ActiveAge Blueprint, 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?

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photo credit: mikebaird via photopin cc

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  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. []