Is Jogging Counterproductive
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back. Today, folks, is going to be a legendary show, and I pause and speak in staccato for a reason, because the other day I was cruising around on the internet and I found this article about doing steady-state cardio if your goal is fat loss. I printed — I’m not joking — I printed the article out and put it on my wall because it is so well written and it so gets at the core point that we talk about so much on this show, which is if our goal is fat loss and metabolic change, that is a very distinct goal from having fun or spending time with our friends, and if that is our goal, that metabolic change, that fat loss, there is literally no better article that I have ever found than an article written by today’s guest who goes by Kiefer, kind of like Cher or Aristotle, and just a man whom I have a lot of respect for because, like me, he’s not necessarily a doctor but is someone who has read just thousands and thousands and thousands of journal articles. He’s a physicist by trade, he comes at things with a unique perspective and I really think you’re going to enjoy his perspective on jogging, steady-state cardio for fat loss. Kiefer, welcome to the show.
Kiefer: Thanks, Jonathan. I appreciate you having me and I appreciate that introduction. It’s very good.
Jonathan: It was a little long winded, but it’s — there’s so much, and again, you say this in your article and it’s brilliant — there is so much misinformation out there, and when you find someone who can just quickly and easily using science dispel it, I think we need to celebrate that. So Kiefer, I don’t want to talk anymore, although it’s going to be hard for me not to. I want you to just take us through — if we have a friend or it’s even ourselves that our goal — let’s be very clear — our goal is long-term fat loss, and we do the standard prescription of often times wake up early, strap on some running shoes and go jog on pavement inhaling car exhaust for an hour. Is that going to help us? What do you think?
Kiefer: No. It’s extremely counterproductive for a lot of reasons and the laundry list — I only kind of touched on some what I consider basic stuff in the article. I think the number one misconception that causes this, and we can actually — just a little bit of history of running. It was back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, I believe it was Jim Fixx. He ran, like a lot of Americans, and he wrote this great book about running and how it had helped him with his health and weight loss, and he was a big advocate of long runs as much as you can — jogging — kind of started the jogging trend, over and over he was this advocate. If you run every day as long as you can, you’re going to live forever and blah, blah, blah. He had all this great information and just from a health perspective, it’s very interesting because Jim Fixx dropped dead of a heart attack at 52.
There was some disconnect there that didn’t really get carried over, which I find interesting, that usually the bastion of these movements don’t really pan out like their message and that kind of got the ball rolling. People were like, “Oh look, he lost weight with this,” and the calories in, calories out started to become very popular with the U.S. government and the messages that they try to give people, so it just kind of made sense. Running was a great way to expend a lot of “calories” and which should keep you healthy and thin. It just unfortunately doesn’t work that way and the laundry list — I mean, you’ve got my article in front of you.
It starts as soon as you try to think of running as a way to lose weight, because for most people, that automatically includes calorie deficit and that’s the idea. It’s like, “Don’t change what you’re eating or decrease the amount of food you’re eating, and also run because that will decrease your calorie deficit even more.” The problem with that is it starts shutting down your metabolism. Your body just doesn’t want to burn as much energy. It wants to be more efficient, and it’s very — the analogy I always use is whenever you go to look at new cars they’ve got two numbers on the window sticker for mileage. There’s the in-town mileage and there’s the highway mileage, and the in-town mileage usually is horrible. It’s much lower than the interstate mileage, and that’s because the car is more efficient when it’s on that interstate, so you get a lot more distance out of the energy.
Well, when you run, you’re telling your body to do the same thing. You’re telling it you need to get a lot more distance out of the food that you eat. Well, that translates into slowing your metabolism down. Instantly, the number one hormone — and this effects women more heavily than it does men for some reason — the number one hormone that keeps our metabolism going is thyroid hormone. I don’t want to get too technical, but that just starts plummeting and as that plummets, your body burns less energy. It just becomes more efficient.
Jonathan: Kiefer, when we talk about — that’s really — you hit the nail on the head there. When we talk about long-term fat loss, the goal is not one of deprivation or starvation or battling our body, right? It’s one of giving our body the ability to burn more fat, and what you get into in your article, and actually, let’s get a little technical here because we frequently do talk about thyroid problems. It seems especially in our female audience, and especially as we get more advanced in our years that thyroid, thyroid, thyroid is brought up. So is being more active, which is generally equated with jogging more, so let’s go there.
Kiefer: Okay. That’s actually just the start of the problem. So, your thyroid levels drop and it can become chronically suppressed. That’s a combination, and I can’t say why women are more heavily affected by that, but the effect seems to be amplified in women. Women who choose jogging as their source of exercise to try to lose weight, they experience a much larger problem than men do with metabolism dropping off, and then here’s where we get into a lot of the confusion.
You kind of nailed it in your phrasing. There’s this big push that we need to burn fat. Your body needs to be in a fat burning mode. You can find countless studies that show that when you jog at kind of a low pace your body is burning a lot of fat, and that’s absolutely true. If you’re walking, your body burns fat. If you’re sitting in a chair, your body is burning fat. That’s not something special; your body is doing that all the time. The key to lifelong weight management — to body fat management — is mobilizing the fat, and that’s getting the fat out of your fat cells.
There’s a huge difference, and not even necessarily a correlation, between how much fat you’re burning and how much fat is being released from your fat cells. Those two aren’t correlated, so you could be burning a lot of fat, but your fat cells might not be releasing any fat, and one of the interesting things that steady-state cardio does really well is it actually tunes your fat cells to hold onto fat even more. Not only have you lowered your metabolism, your main storage form of energy, you’ve just turned off your body’s ability to get at it. You just literally cannot make yourself thinner with just that kind of steady-state cardio. Causing that kind of energy imbalance is really setting your body up to a confused state.
Muscle tissue is lost primarily when people first start running long distances, and that’s because the body can’t get at anything else for energy. Its only choice is your muscle tissue, and in the article I talk about the amount of muscle tissue you have is an independent predictor of mortality. The more muscle you have, the less likely you are to die from chronic diseases and the more likely you are to survive a chronic disease. If you happen to get cancer, if you have more muscle mass you’re more likely to survive, so you can see why I hate steady-state cardio. We’re preventing the body from burning fat. We’re eating through muscle tissue, which increases our risk of mortality.
I don’t know how much it could get. You’ve dropped your thyroid hormone, which is responsible for all kinds of other processes going on in the body and part of your metabolism is healing the body, so your metabolism has slowed down in general. That’s one of the things that your thyroid hormone helps to regulate. I just don’t understand why people are so addicted to it.
Jonathan: Well Kiefer, I think there’s — you made a very interesting — you said a very interesting phrase in the excellent explanation you were just giving, and that is you can’t burn fat doing steady-state cardio. I can imagine some of the haters out there would just say, “That is patently false. I watch The Biggest Loser, which is obviously the bastion for scientifically valid weight loss information, and they do all kinds of steady-state cardio and they lose a dramatic amount of fat.” It’s the difference we’re getting — the difference between long-term, excuse me, short-term weight loss and long-term fat loss. Is that a meaningful distinction here?
Kiefer: Yes, that’s very meaningful. It turns out — so, The Biggest Loser has a big advantage when they bring those people on board, and that’s that there’s been some recent calculations that are really well done. They have some predictive power, and that’s body fat you have, the more you can create a large energy deficit through both calorie deprivation and exercise and continue to lose fat. You lose more fat than muscle in that regime, but you still are losing some muscle. As you get thinner, that doesn’t work.
Well, they’re picking some very large people to start that show which means they can abuse them in an amazing way with energy deficit and still appear to get results, but those are very short-term results and they’re setting that person up for extreme metabolic damage. I know last year, the beginning of 2012, they actually went out and did a follow-up with everybody who’d been on The Biggest Loser a year previous to, and they found that the success rate of all those people was zero.
Jonathan: Well Kiefer, I can personally attest to that. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jay and Jennifer Jacobs from, I think, season 11. Jay was a finalist, and that is the biggest thing that we’ve had to work on together which was that — and I think as a culture, I’m curious of your thoughts on this, it’s not actually the weight loss that’s a problem. I think everyone listening to us right now has lost weight. It’s the maintenance of a lean, healthy body that we seem to struggle with. So maybe — would you be willing to cede the point that if your goal is just to lose as much weight as possible right now with no respect for anything else, then starvation and chronic cardio is actually a good way to do that?
Kiefer: It would be highly effective. Yes.
Jonathan: The key point then is I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal except the producers of The Biggest Loser, right? That is their goal because they don’t care. They’re just trying to — that is their goal, but even for the participants that’s really not their goal, right?
Kiefer: Right, yeah. They’re looking to transform their lives and unfortunately, they’re just transforming their bodies for a short period of time.
Jonathan: The transforming their bodies, I love that you use that phrase because the actual transformation that your article digs into and that so much science shows the actual transformation, meaning the thing that is going to stick is a negative transformation. I don’t mean negative, like negative good calorie deficit, negative number on a scale going down. I mean negative like your body, as you said, is becoming better at storing fat long-term and worse at burning fat long-term. Is that accurate?
Kiefer: Yes, that is accurate.
Jonathan: It’s bad.
Kiefer: Yeah, that’s the whole point of the article, and I think that got lost in translation a lot. Some people commented with sprinting. I recommend that when I work with people, and when I talk to people I recommend sprinting.
Sprinting is great phenomenal exercise. It does a lot of things for you that are positive, and one of those is it can increase the mobilization of fat in the body. It can increase your ability to get rid of body fat, but the minute you start going for those long jogs, you’ve changed that. I think the time scale on a couple of those articles for those negative metabolic effects to take place is only five days. It doesn’t take long to start to experience that problem and unfortunately, it lasts for a long time. Like you said, it sticks. That’s the thing that sticks is all the negative stuff. Your fat loss doesn’t stick; your loss of muscle does. You lose your muscle mass, but it’s…
Jonathan: Kiefer, I want to really quickly — I want to come to your defense, because a lot of the things I saw posted about the article have been posted about my work as well. I want to do that because next I want to talk about how this might — I want to talk about women specifically, so I want to defend you first because I know even when we take it to the female level, sometimes people get even more worked up. But the first thing we’re saying here, and Kiefer, correct me if any of this is misrepresenting, we’re not saying if you jog you’re stupid. We’re also not saying if you jog you’re — or if you enjoy jogging that you should strip away that joy from your life. We’re simply saying that if your specific goal is not to run a marathon and is not to run a 5K, but rather is to maybe fit in a size 10 jean instead of a size 14 jean, one of the last things we would recommend you do is go jog on pavement for extended periods of time. Is that accurate?
Kiefer: That is accurate.
Jonathan: Okay, now that said, speaking in terms of what we would not recommend, why is this uniquely bad? Why is steady-state cardio such as jogging uniquely bad for women? I want to focus on that because two big reasons: one, women have dramatically more pressure on them in our culture to lose fat than men do and two, women have more pressure on them to “do cardio. As a man you go to the gym and you’re “supposed to” life weights, “suppose to” in quotations, and as a woman you’re “supposed to” do cardio. So, they have this double whammy against them. How can we use science to help free women from that trap?
Kiefer: I wish that was easy. I think you kind of hit on it. There’s that emotional aspect that seems to always constantly trump the science side of things. The argument I tried to present was as solid as I could, and it really centers around, in my mind, three things: one, it’s irrefutable. If you’re really attempting to use cardio for fat loss for body transformation in a positive way — everybody wants that shapely toned body. If you’re trying to use it for that you’re going to destroy your metabolism, your body’s just going to become very efficient at storing fat and it’s not going to be very efficient at burning calories at all.
Another thing with women particularly is bone mass. There are actually quite a few studies out there that show that running increases bone mass, but there are also studies out there that show that running decreases bone mass. The difference is what they usually do is take sedentary people who do nothing and they start them on a pretty light running program. Well, the secret is they’re moving again. They’re moving, so their bones start to re-calcify and get a little denser, but the density of bones is directly correlated to the strength of the muscle around them and almost nothing else. So the longer you run — if you’re totally sedentary, of course, you’re going to get stronger and your bone mass is going to go up, but if you have healthy bones, the more you run you actually decrease muscle strength and size which decreases bone density. You’re not being very protective and for women, that should be a very large concern.
Men have a very easy time maintaining bone density; women do not. Impact type of exercise, the impact does not help your bone density whatsoever and actually can cause quite a few injuries.
Then another big problem we see is a rise in cortisol. You don’t have to run very often to have a chronic increase in cortisol levels, which is obviously very unfortunate. Cortisol, it can be good, but most people are on a carbohydrate-based diet. When you eat carbs like starchy stuff, potatoes, even if they’re good carbs — potatoes, whole grains, if you consider those good or not — that kind of combination of insulin and cortisol is really, really devastating.
One way to see that is you’ve usually got two types of stressed people. You have those people that get unbelievably stressed for weeks on end and they lose a ton of weight, and they actually look pretty good at the end of it. They’ve lost a lot of body fat. Then you have on the flip side, you’ve got the stressed out eaters who when they get stressed they eat quite a bit for several weeks. Well, they usually get fatter than you would expect. They put on more body fat than you would expect in that amount of time. The difference is that one is eating carbohydrates — that insulin and cortisol can make you fatter than normal — and the other is not eating carbohydrates, and cortisol alone can actually help burn off fat, body fat. It can mobilize body fat really effectively.
What we have is women are being advised to eat low fat. They’re being advised to do all this running, and they are setting themselves up not only to make it very, very difficult to burn body fat to maintain their body weight period, they’re also creating a scenario where they can put on more body fat than normal with the diet that they’ve been advised to eat.
Jonathan: It really is this one-two punch and what I hear you saying, Kiefer, is not anything — if it’s a criticism, it’s a criticism of the institutions that have told us to do these things, right? If you were told smoking is good for you, as we were 100 years ago, and you smoke and you get lung cancer, it’s kind of not your fault. But if you’re told we’ve got to do cardio, you’re told you’ve got to eat low fat, this is not a critique of you. This is simply saying if you’ve been frustrated in the past, which you undoubtedly have, it’s actually a time to be hopeful, which I think is actually great.
Kiefer: Yes, exactly. It’s nobody’s fault, and even the people who are currently recommending that — I got a lot of flak from trainers and coaches are like, “Oh, I have people run all the time.” I’m not trying to attack them or blaming them. This comes from the very, very highest levels that this is the way you’re supposed to do stuff and this is how it should work, and it just doesn’t. If you’ve been running all this time and you really thought jogging was your path to this great bikini body that you would have for the rest of your life, it’s not your fault that you went down that route.
I believed that a long time ago. The more cardio, the thinner and leaner you would be and in my late teens and early 20s, I was cycling roughly 400 miles a week at a pace of 20 miles an hour or faster. I was just killing myself on the bike. I had great endurance, but I never once saw the body that I imagined I should get from doing all that activity, and I didn’t understand why. As a female, it would be even more frustrating because at least when I stopped cycling, my body was able to rebound pretty quickly and I could get back to my goal. For a woman, those effects can last quite a bit longer.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm. It seems, Kiefer, that there are so many other alternatives. The message here is definitely not go sit on your coach because anything you do –that’s also not the message. There are so many other profoundly metabolically beneficial ways to exercise and, I frankly think, especially more focusing on our female listeners, I think empowering because when I hear jog, when I hear cardio, to me that has a message of like, “Shrink yourself,” because you’re doing that why? To make yourself smaller.
I think that’s an oppressive approach because when you look at things more like resistance training. That’s about being strong and building yourself not so that you look like a bulldog, but it’s a difference between an approach to exercise that’s about building up your body and an approach to exercise that is truly about just beating up and shrinking your body. What do you think?
Kiefer: Right. Actually, I think you just pretty much nailed it. The path of resistance training really is about empowerment. In so many ways, it gives you this control over your body. You don’t have to dedicate several hours of your day to it. It makes you stronger and healthier, more capable, whereas running is going to do all the opposite. I actually hadn’t really put that spin on it in my mind yet, but you really nailed it. That’s a very kind of oppressive mindset, and it’s interesting because women are so heavily recruited for things like team and training or to run the marathon and raise money, and I really have nothing against the charities. They do amazing work, but it’s often the message that comes across that I have a problem with.
It’s like just be honest. Say, this is a goal you should set because you’re going to run a marathon, and not a lot of people run marathons. That’s great. Don’t throw on, “Oh, this is a good time to get healthy. This is a good time to have the body you want.” I hear all these mixed messages unfortunately, and it’s not universal; different coaches say different things. Women are heavily targeted for these kinds of activities, and I never really explored the social ramifications of that before, but I think you really nailed it. It’s kind of this passive, non-empowering type of exercise that they’re expected to just swallow and do.
Jonathan: Yeah, Kiefer. I don’t want to take it too far, but yeah, I firmly agree and again, I think some of this is maybe people just haven’t thought about it this way, but for example, it’s not — you could very easily have a charity event which is lift a million pounds and we’re going to — and that’s our goal is to lift a million pounds. In fact even the word lift, like, it’s not running. Just running is like –why are you running? There is no — like, running to where? Running on a hamster wheel? I don’t — what–lift yourself up, life the charity up and we can quantify that, right? Lift a million pounds versus run 26 miles. Why don’t we have weightlifting “marathons?” Or not a marathon, but you know what I mean, like, this Herculean-type task you could achieve. I don’t know, I’m just dreaming at this point.
Kiefer: No, that’s brilliant if you think about it. That is absolutely brilliant. I don’t know. That’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Even just — maybe it’s just completely cultural because as soon as you talk about lifting weights and everything, there’s this automatic mindset that, “Oh, it’s that musclehead in the gym kind of thing.” I think we’ve essentially culturally just set up this idea that these are the appropriate exercises for women to do if they’re trying to change their body, and this is the appropriate exercise for men to do if they’re trying to change their body, and now we have this dichotomy. I don’t really like CrossFit to be honest, but that is a very interesting thing they’ve brought together. It’s like, “Well, this exercise is for everybody.” It doesn’t matter if you want to be thin. It’s a very interesting paradigm in that way that’s kind of equaled that playing field, not that I’m supporting CrossFit by the way.
Jonathan: Absolutely. I think you’ll also notice there’s a correlation in CrossFit which I also have very mixed feelings about in terms of the age of the people it appeals to, especially the age of the females, I think. I’m hopeful, because I think with the younger generation, both male and female, these stereotypical, “This is what’s appropriate for women and this is what’s appropriate for men,” are starting to disintegrate. I think that is wonderful, and I think we’re starting — this, again, personal example, my mother — I kid you not, my mother, who is a brilliant woman, she’s a college professor — believed until I think she was 50 that if she started sweating while exercise that it was her body’s way of telling her that she was working too hard. That’s why she thought that it was — because women shouldn’t exert themselves and because that’s what she was taught. Not only was she taught that, Kiefer, but when she was at university, and this was not unique to her experience, when she was at university she was actually not allowed in the weight room. Women were not allowed in the weight room because that wasn’t a place for women.
To all the females out there who may hear that this is some way being critical, I think it’s the exact opposite. I think it’s a celebration of here is a way that you can spend in your effort to strengthen yourself rather than to perpetuate a cultural suppression in the form of cardio. I might be going too far on a limb, but I kind of think — that’s my two cents. Whatever, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Kiefer: No, actually I think you just brought up a really interesting point of departure for probably another article or another conversation because that’s really interesting. I think back, I went to the University of Florida for my graduate degree in physics. They had a women’s gym they had built back in the ’60s and ’70s. Men could not go in there because women could not go in the men’s gym, and the women’s gym just had basically indoor tennis courts, badminton courts, things like that. Nothing. There were no weights. There was nothing for them to do — any kind of strength training with, which is just really interesting and really sad all at the same time.
Jonathan: Just in cultures in years past, like, hard subjects in school like math and science, “Women can’t do those,” and of course, we look at that, we say, “That’s crazy,” but are we seeing the same in terms of exercise? Hard forms of exercise. “Women can’t do those.” Are you kidding me? It’s that disempowering so, if for no other reason, stop doing cardio. Forget about the fact that it will destroy your metabolism; stop doing it because it’s oppressive.
Kiefer: That’s a movement right there. That is the movement that people could get behind.
Jonathan: Well Kiefer, I love it. Well folks, if you want to see this article that we’ve been talking about here, the actual title of the article is, Women: Running into Trouble and if you just search for, “Running into Trouble and Kiefer” which is spelled K-i-e-f-e-r, you will find it. Also, we didn’t have a chance to talk about this today, but our wonderful guest Kiefer has also done a massive amount of research. Obviously, he’s covered both exercise and nutrition, and much of his nutrition learnings can be seen at his website carbnite.com. That’s C-a-r-b-n-i-t-e.com — lots of very interesting information there. Kiefer, what’s next for you? I’m actually very interested in your journey on the health and fitness, let’s call it, evangelism path.
Kiefer: It’s interesting. I’ve been trying to kind of get into the mainstream because a lot of my nutrition information and exercise information could, as far as I’m concerned, be miracle cures for a lot of what we see ailing the U.S. population right now and worldwide, and I just recently got hooked up with a group of doctors in Arizona. I’m going to be kind of branching out more into public health than I have been in the last few years, so I’m really excited about that. Just really try and turn this message of about low fat, expend a lot of energy, beat yourself into the ground, that’s the only way to be healthy, just turn that on its head and help people understand just enough about their body to make it easy. That’s really my goal.
Jonathan: Well sir, we may have to set up a follow-up call that will not be recorded because you and I share similar goals.
Kiefer: Oh, great.
Jonathan: I so appreciate you joining us today, Kiefer. Again folks, please do check out Kiefer’s work over at carbnite.com. Check out the article and if we’re lucky, Kiefer will be kind enough to join us again, because I would love to dig into some of your nutrition research if you wouldn’t mind.
Kiefer: Yeah, not at all. That’d be great. Thanks for having me on the show.
Jonathan: Thank you, Kiefer. Folks, I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did and remember this week and every week, after eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Talk with you soon.