Why I Quit Cardio (And How You Can Too!)
I used to run every day. And I don’t mean just a quick 15-minute sprint. I would run for an hour or more.
I’d get home and be exhausted, unable to do anything else for the rest of the day. I was also overly moody for no good reason.
Cardio ruled my life. I was signing up for races each year. It kept me motivated. If it rained, I ran inside on the treadmill. But it was too much - too much time to be running and too much for my body to handle.
Why Was I Over-Exercising All the Time?
In the summer of 2015, I lost weight. I had put on that freshman 15 and then some. I was never overweight. But I wasn’t used to having excess weight. And I was scared of putting it back on (hey, maybe you can relate!).
I lost the weight by running a ton, so I continued to run a ton.
But realistically, unless you want to run a marathon (at the time, I did - more so for motivation than anything else), you shouldn’t be running that far or for that long.
This excess cardio completely wrecks your metabolism, hence the terrible mood swings. It sucks away your time (I was constantly running around ‘doing’ and rarely took time to just relax). And the kicker: my knees were starting to hurt.
So, what’s the deal with cardio? Should you be doing it? Is there something you should be doing instead? Let’s take a look!
Is Cardio Good for You?
Cardio has its perks. But it doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself with hours of it each day or week. Nor do you have to go “hard” each time.
The benefits of cardio include:
- Improved heart health.
- Increased lung capacity.
- Decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
- Reduced stress.
- Increase confidence.
It’s one of the best ways to work out your heart and improve your lung health.
But here’s the thing…
Too much of it leaves your body in that fight-or-flight mode, and if your body stays in this state, you’ll definitely start to notice some changes and you probably won’t be too happy.
The fight-or-flight mode kicks in when your body perceives a threat. While this was great for our ancestors who faced various real life-threatening entities, for us, it often means we are just super stressed out about, well, life. Or it means we’ve stressed our bodies out through other external means, like over-exercising or eating low nutrient and unhealthy foods.
When you’re stressed and burning way too much energy (like I was), you lose weight but you also sacrifice your mood and other functions. Your body adapts. It saves energy for essential functions. This means you might experience serious hormonal fluctuations impacting your sleep, appetite, mood, and more.
It’s no surprise that I was a moody mess. I was cranky. I was exhausted. I wasn’t having the best time.
Related article: How to Stay Healthy When You Don’t Like Exercising
So.. How Much Cardio is Too Much Cardio?
Most experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. This adds up to about a 22 minutes brisk walk per day. It’s not much. And it definitely doesn’t mean you need to spend hours on a piece of cardio equipment or outside pounding the pavement.
Ideally, you can get this cardio through walking, biking, or another more low-intensity activity. Again, you don’t need to go “hard” all the time. In fact, going “hard” may only wreck your joints, like your hips, knees, and back.
Then, there’s weight training. This is where I quit cardio for good. I only do light walks or jogs every now and again when the feeling strikes me, and now I weight train three times a week.
Is Weight Training Good for You?
Weight training can help maintain a healthy weight and a healthy metabolism. The best part? You don’t need to do it every day. Rest days are necessary to build muscle. On these rest days, a bit of movement - like a 20-minute walk - is really all you need.
If I had known this years ago, I would have saved countless hours of time and countless moments of frustration.
If you’re looking to feel good and maintain or lose weight, hours of cardio isn’t the right way (although, a little bit now and again isn’t a bad idea for general movement and heart health!).
Now… you’re probably wondering, ‘Does cardio burn muscle then? How can it not be just as good as weight training?’
Cardio doesn’t load the muscles like weight training does. It doesn’t build them like resistance does. In fact, sometimes, cardio causes you to lose muscle.
If you don’t eat enough then go for a run, you aren’t going to gain tone or muscle. Your body may actually use that muscle tissue as energy to keep you going. This is kind of where I was about 6 or so months ago.
So, What Should You Be Doing Instead of Cardio?
From someone with a human kinetics and scientific background, weight training with light movement on your rest days seems to win every time. Although, everyone is different. I know I stuck with cardio for a long time because of the stress relief I felt after doing it.
As always, before you start any new exercise routine, consult with your doctor. Ensure it is the right fit for you.
And don’t do that cardio if you don’t want to! Learn to weight train. Spend less time in the gym or doing cardio. Surprisingly, you don’t have to do that to tone up and stay in shape!
What about other self-care and wellness strategies? Sleep is just as important as eating right and exercising regularly.
Check out this article to learn more.