Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a Physical Therapist and Board Certified Nutritionist as part of a series of talks that my company sponsors and offers to employees. The gist of the talk was mostly on myths of diet, exercise, nutrition and weight loss.
I seem to be doing a lot of research on this based on my interest in the practicality of knowing a little more about nutrition to help stay properly fueled during longer endurance races. I also feel like my personal weight loss has sort of plateaued and I am trying to diagnose why and where I can improve. I won't delve too deeply into this, but one thing struck me last night when I was trying to decide what to have for dinner: We are flooded with all types of food in the United States, yet we are starving ourselves. Not starving in the traditional sense, but starving for basic, unprocessed foods. Not even to the degree of adopting a raw diet, but looking at the labels of most of the stuff I had at my fingertips, I was hard pressed to find anything that didn't have some form of hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, which, even before I started to become a student of nutrition, knew were bad news. Surprisingly, Breakfast cereals - as simple as they seem - are really quite horrible. Even touted 'heart smart' Cheerios don't really get a pass - maybe compared to Lucky Charms - but I digress.
The other rather synchronistic element is that I have been working on a project the last couple of months reviewing major companies and it is no surprise that Kraft Foods is among one of the largest companies in the U.S. Sure, they employ a lot of people, but they are also one of the major offenders of the processed food push, and let face it, they are not going to give up billions in revenue because they are making people fat and unhealthy.
The bottom line is that I realize that the best diet is no diet, and simplicity is key. Fruits, veggies, good kinds of fats - these are all that are really necessary to live well. Forget major the fads, just making good choices is the key, at least from a very basic level, way before personal choices or beliefs.
The second element in this seminar that made me think was the promotion and supporting research for resistance and interval training. The speaker would not come out and totally dismiss the benefits of running - because it does provide a valuable form of exercise - but from a basic 'results' perspective, it appears resistance and interval training are superior to running.
Where I saw the logic, I also saw a major flaw in the perspective. First, yes, from a weight loss perspective one must be careful with walking and running. If one is carrying too much of a load when they walk or run the body will not respond well. Additionally, if one has bad running form, on top of carrying more of a load, they will break down far quicker. When I was a runner in college I had some biomechanical issues for sure, but I was also 150 pounds and didn't have nearly as many injuries because I wasn't carrying the weight I carry now. I can't find a formula online to calculate the added pressure/force extra weight adds to joints, but if you think about carrying 25 pounds of bricks on your back, versus carrying 5 pounds, you get the idea.
Resistance and Interval training might get me to a better place as a runner, but these cannot replace some of the added benefits of running, especially endurance running.
First, I really enjoy running. When I am healthy and fit, I find it so liberating to be cruising down a trail in relative silence and peace, save my soft footsteps, the whirl and crack of the wind through tree branches, and the ambient noise of the local wildlife. You can not find this in gym where people are grunting and the soundtrack is always some cheesy, pseudo-hard band like Drowning Pool or Stained blasting through cheap speakers.
I also believe the challenge of running 20 miles or completing a run on a technical trail really provides a more tangible accomplishment. Of course, like any exercise or workout, the accomplishment really only has intrinsic meaning or value to the community that abides by the standard (try explaining to a co-worker how you ran the Presidential Traverse over the weekend, and see what kind of reaction you get).
I also feel like the interpersonal and spiritual connection that can be made on the run is unique to the sport, especially in trail running. I have found that some of the best friendships are forged on those countless miles on trail training runs. Typically there is no arrogance or judgement when it comes to a group run. Additionally, no matter what faith or believe system one might have there seems to be a shared sense of heightened connection. All of my experiences in the gym seem to run contrary to these.
Above all, I totally believe that camaraderie and accomplishment are community based and both can be found in just about any element of our individual lives - exercise, career or otherwise. I know that the speaker's comments about running are based on scientific research, but it also made me consider why I run in the first place. If it is just to stay healthy, then there are obviously other routes that take far less time and are probably more beneficial to my body. Of course, the path of wellness and accomplishment I am on right now seem to provide the benefit of mountain tops, beautiful forests, and seashores, among so many other landscapes and vistas.
So running probably isn't the most efficient workout program out there, but it is certainly one that seems to work for me, and I guess that is all that matters!
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