Ultimate Fitness

Menstuff® has compiled the following interview with Gina Kolata the science writer for The New York Times and the author of Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth About Exercise and Health to cut through the marketing hype and assess what is really healthy.

Q: What is the best way to exercise for maximum effect?

A: It depends on your goals. If you want to help your heart, you should, at minimum, walk briskly (one mile in 15 to 20 minutes) for about a half hour five or more days a week. If you want to lose weight, you need to do much more, working out for longer times or much more vigorously. To lose a pound from walking alone you'd have to walk briskly for an hour and fifteen minutes, seven days a week. If you want to sculpt your body, you have to build muscles and that means lifting weights that are heavy enough to require effort for you to lift them.

Q: What is the most effective way to train for endurance versus speed?

A: For endurance, you need what athletes used to call lsd, for long slow distance. It requires going farther and farther, working up to longer and longer sessions. For speed, you need interval training, which uses bursts of intense effort, like sprints, to train your body to move fast.

Q: Why is "maximum heart rate" calculated at 220 minus our age, and how did the formula come into being?

A: Maximum heart rate is a formula that originated decades ago when two researchers looked at data from a few studies of heart rates during exercise and extrapolated, drawing lines between points. Its originators had no intention of providing advice for most people who exercise and are taken aback at the way the formula, which can give wildly inaccurate estimates of an individual's maximum heart rate, has been viewed as sort of a law of science.

Q: Is there really a "fat-burning zone"?

A: No. That's an exercise myth that lures people with the false belief that they burn more fat, and lose more weight, if they do not put out much effort. The fact is that the more you exert yourself, the more calories you burn and the more weight you lose.

Q:  Does "spot reducing" work?

A: No. That's another exercise myth. You can spot-build muscles in a particular area, like your biceps, but you can't spot-reduce an area. Those endless repetitions of an exercise, like sit-ups in an attempt to lose a pot belly, are a waste of time.

Q: We feel great after physical exertion and think our endorphins are surging, right? How and why is this wrong?

A: The endorphin hypothesis is based on speculation, not science. It may be that there is a chemical change in the brain that makes some people feel great after they exercise, but if so, no one knows exactly what it is or what it takes to get it or, why some people get it and others don't.

Q: Why is it that some people won't become fit in spite of exercise?

A: There is an inherited ability to become fit. It's a bell curve with most people in the middle, able to get fit but never developing extreme fitness and an unfortunate ten percent at the bottom of the curve who, for genetic reasons, simply never get fit no matter how much they work out.

Q: Can exercise alone help reduce cholesterol?

A: Not enough to make a difference to your health. But exercise can help you lose weight and weight loss lowers your cholesterol level.

Q: Are there special foods or drinks that can help you exercise longer or harder? Do nutritional supplements build muscle?

A: If you are exercising strenuously and for long periods of time, you need fluids while you exercise to keep you from becoming dehydrated, which prevents you from continuing your effort. If you have a very long and strenuous session, you also may need sugar to help fuel your muscles. But if you work out for half an hour, say, and then grab a 300 calorie sports bar on your way out of the gym, all you'll accomplish is to replace most of the calories you just burned. Nutritional supplements do not build muscle.

Q: Who's your trainer and how much training did he/she really receive?

A: I don't have a trainer but the guy who taught me to lift weights was pretty much self-educated.

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The pond is fed from within. - William Lyon Phelps

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