Many moons ago, long before the existence of the Internet, no one thought much about cardio.
We were too busy fetching water down by the stream, hunting down our next meal, and worrying about whether the pony express would deliver the Sears catalogue in time for the holiday rush.
(I realize I mixed several different timelines in that sentence but bear with me for the sake of argument.)
In short, we didn’t give much thought to cardio because we were too busy running around doing cardio as part of our daily lives.
Today, every one of those things can be done in the comfort of our homes by simply shouting to Alexa, sending out a drone, or going online.
Problem is, all of the latter activities burn a total of maybe two calories.
When you get your heart rate up running from a wild boar, cardio becomes a do or die proposition. You either stepped up or got left behind to perish with the rest of the lazy hunter-gatherers.
My Take on Cardio
My theory is, if evolution runs its course in this current direction, eventually we’ll have no use for our legs and will simply bob around like buoys in an ocean, waiting for the next wave to bring us a fish, an iPhone2087, or the latest political disaster.
So, before we evolve beyond the need for legs, it’s a good idea to use them while we still can. They come in handy for pumping blood through our systems and keeping our heart healthy.
And yes, you burn calories.
This, my friend, nicely segues into my topic du jour: cardio myths. By definition, cardio or aerobic exercise includes any exercise that raises your heart rate and sustains it for a length of time, such as walking, running, biking, swimming, rowing, elliptical training, circuit training, etc.
As with so many other fitness topics, fake news abounds.
Here are the top cardio myths and the real deal truth behind them.
Myth #1: You Should Work Out in the Fat-Burning Zone for Greatest Weight Loss
Some myths never seem to go away, and this is one of them. Apparently, many believe a magical “fat-burning zone” exists, like the Land of Oz, where thighs get thinner, tummies flatten out, and everything becomes smaller and firmer.
Truth is, this zone refers to a low level of heart rate activity that burns a higher percentage of fat, not a greater number of calories. When you’re striving to lose weight, you want to burn more calories, and the fat burning follows.
It’s simple math: In order to burn off 1 lb. of fat, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. So, you can eat 500 fewer calories a day for a week, burn off that same number of calories – or both cut back on calories and increase your activity.
The percentage of fat you burn is less important than the total number of calories.
Myth #2: Walking – Running, If You Can Do It – Is the Best Cardio for Burning Calories
The best exercise is the one you will actually DO. Walking and running burn calories, sure, but if you’d rather wrestle a great white shark on Facebook Live than run a single step, you’re likely not going to stick with it.
Pick an activity where you enjoy at least something about it, even if it’s meeting up with friends at a coffee shop afterward.
And whatever you choose, be sure to vary your routine.
Mix it up by alternating longer (30+ minutes) endurance workouts with shorter interval workouts where you alternate bouts of higher intensity effort with lower intensity. This prevents boredom and also helps you keep seeing results by regularly upping the ante.
Myth #3: Cardio on an Empty Stomach Burns More Calories
In total transparency, I often break this rule and work out on an empty stomach mainly because I get up at 4 a.m. The idea of food at this hour of the morning is less than appealing.
I have a cup of coffee (which has been shown to help workout performance) and hit the gym. But research shows this approach does not enable me to burn more calories than someone who eats a small snack before they exercise.
In fact, if you’re low on fuel, it could compromise your ability to make it through your workout. More than once, I’ve seen people faint at the gym due to low blood sugar.
Trust me, nothing does more to squash motivation than seeing someone carted off on a stretcher in the middle of your workout.
Bottom line: Know thyself. If you can stomach a little food (toast with peanut butter, half a yogurt, or protein and carb drink) about an hour before your workout, try it and see how you feel. You’ll likely be able to keep going longer.
Either way, be sure to refuel afterward with a carb-protein snack.
What’s your favorite cardio workout and why? What other cardio myths have you heard? Do any of them stop you from going at it? Let’s chat!