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Ken Kifer on Fitness

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The discussions raised under "15 mph" and "fat cyclist" in newsgroup discussion caused me to check the web for additional information. I found a huge quantity of low quality information. Even after I restricted the results with four key words, the search engine still reported 1.6 million pages of information.

In particular, I couldn't find much specific about Kenneth Cooper, who started the aerobics movement -- jogging, it turns out, was started by someone else. There were numerous mentions of him -- especially by wellness groups who claim a connection, one short interview in German, and one article by him on the subject of antioxidants. Remembering his books, I can report that he once argued that the more frequent the exercise, the better the health, and the greater the success in life; for instance, he included studies that showed that children who exercised the most made the best grades in school. Then after Jim Fixx died, he began back-pedaling, suggesting that exercise should be limited to a few times a week for periods of only thirty minutes. Now that the good doctor is past his prime, he is peddling vitamins C and E plus beta carotene. As I have stated, although I think he has been a positive influence, he never understood cycling. The problem with running for an exercise is that the older the runner gets the greater the damage and the more the runner has to cut back.

In one article, formerly accessible on the web, Dr. Joseph Levy, Coordinator of the Wellness Centre at York University, Toronto, says that the whole fitness movement has been a failure. Rather than condemning the exercise itself, he says that the failure has been that most Canadians have failed to follow through. He denies that the "no pain, no gain" approach has any real value, and he states that it discourages people from exercising. He particularly dislikes the target heart rate requirements and suggests a pleasant walk can do just as much good. He says he is not opposed to exercise, that he walks 10 kilometers (6 miles) every day. He also makes no mention of cycling.

An even stronger attack on the idea of aerobics comes from a group of doctors who claim that Cooper and one of his leading researchers have admitted that they were wrong when they said that aerobics works. They believe that the ideal exercise is to slowly raise and lower a heavy weight. They say that the weight should be great enough to exhaust the power of the muscles within two minutes. They claim that statements about aerobic and anaerobic exercise are meaningless since both are taking place in all exercise. They say that it is silly and even dangerous to try to exercise the heart; if the muscles receive enough exercise (through weight lifting), the heart will be strong. Endurance is a genetic trait that cannot be altered. The best way to reduce fat is to grow muscle.

I still see Dr. Morehouse's book for sale at the grocery store. Morehouse claims that 30 minutes a week is all the exercise that anyone needs, and most of his exercise program has little aerobic benefit. He also sees no long-term benefit to exercise, saying that a person will lose 100% of any benefit acquired after 30 days confinement in bed.

So here is what my experience has taught me about staying in shape:

1 »

Children are healthy because they never stop; they run and play all day long. Adults have health and fitness problems because they spend most of their time sitting around, not because they are older. Health problems can start at a very early age for those who are sedentary; active people can stay extremely fit into their seventies.

2 »

Exercise makes one healthy and slim; however, not all exercise is equally valuable. Most of the things promoted on TV as exercise have little value. Normal work and even hard, physical work and slow walking and sidewalk cycling also provide little or no benefit. In fact, the results of working long, hard hours created the belief that exercise is bad for you (however, long, hard hours can help you lose weight). Caving is excellent for exercising every muscle in the body, but it does not help endurance. However, walking several miles at four mph or riding ten miles or more at 12-16 mph will lead to rapid improvement. In other words, for cycling and walking to have any benefit, it's necessary to put some energy into them, but it's not necessary to race. I often sing while I'm cycling at my normal pace, but I might have to stop singing when climbing a hill. When I'm riding with others, we can carry on a good conversation except the person in back has a little more trouble hearing.

3 »

High-speed riding has no value, at least not for people my age or for younger people who want to tour. My top speed for a set distance never gone up or down, no matter how I trained. Much better is to train at one's natural speed, or even a little bit slower. Enjoy the ride rather than forcing it.

4 »

Long distance riding has great value: the more I ride, the better shape I am in, and the harder it is for me to get tired. If I want to be strong enough to go on a tour, I need to ride at least thirty miles a day for a few weeks. Three to five 500-mile weeks makes me very strong. However, shorter regular rides can keep me feeling good, although missing a few days has no effect.

5 »

Some aspects of "fitness" acquired over one summer will last to the next; once you get in shape, it's hard to loose that conditioning even when riding very little, and it's much easier to build back up.

6 »

On the other hand, a person who has been out of shape for some years will take more than a year to get into shape. Children adapt much more quickly; however, they also start from a higher level anyway.

7 »

Eating a diet with less fat makes weight control possible. I always used to think it was my exercise alone, but I have always eaten rice, potatoes, spaghetti, pasta, fruits, vegetables, along with only a little chicken or other foods containing fat.

8 »

A belief of mine is that I will live longer and have fewer problems in old age due to exercise. I would like to leave like my rockhounding friend did. I went to see him a few weeks before he died at 90, and he met me at the door.

To put what I've said in a nutshell:
Ken Kifer's Rx for good health:
Take two bicycle wheels daily.