The marathon (and the Ironman triathlon) have developed a reputation as the true test of athletic fortitude: manhood in 26.2 miles. Buy into this myth too completely, however, and you may end up hurting yourself.
My suggestion? Embrace the 5K.
Why do I love the five-kilometer (3.1-mile) distance so much? Let me count the ways:
#1. Anyone Can Do It
A very unfit person can still walk 5K—or at least work up to walking 5K in a matter of a few weeks. It won’t wreck that unfit person the way a marathon will. And it won’t require an investment of time that’s unavailable to 99 percent of the population (the way an Ironman or a marathon will). The entry point, in other words, is accessible.
#2. It Offers a Challenge to Everyone
An unfit desk-jockey guy with three months of training to his name will be ecstatic to simply finish a 5K. But even the fittest guy you know can keep working on his 5K time, forever. It doesn’t matter who you are—running three miles as fast as you can is exhausting. It’s plenty of workout for one day. If I were a betting man, I’d stake my whole year’s salary that the average guy running a sub-19:30 5K is healthier than the average guy running a sub-four-hour marathon. Get faster at the 5K, and it’s a pretty good bet you’ve gotten healthier all around. Get faster at a marathon and you may well have gotten unhealthier.
#3. You Can Still Have a Life
Even if you make 5K training the center of your exercise life (by running, say, a half-dozen races a year—not a bad way of organizing these things, if you ask me), you don’t have to obsess. You don’t have to put in three hours of junk miles before work. You can make great progress on your 5K time by running just two or three times a week for less than an hour. You’re training for a race that will take under a half hour, after all.
#4. You Can Race Whenever You Want To
Although marathons are getting more and more common (there were over 1,400 marathons in the United States in 2015), you still have to wait around—and possibly travel—to get to one. And unless you’re pathological, you wouldn’t want to do more than a handful in the span of a single year anyway. 5Ks, however, are far more ubiquitous. There are 5Ks to support charities, fun-run 5Ks that families can do together, 5Ks to raise awareness for . . . well . . . just about anything. They happen almost every weekend. And since they won’t break your body down in the same way that a marathon will, you don’t have to wait weeks between races if you don’t want to. You could conservatively race three times in a single month and expect to approach your best times in each one.
There’s a good chance you’ve been with your general practitioner for a few years. You go in a couple of times a year (hopefully no more often than that), you chat about your respective families and the state of your career, he (or she) listens, pokes, prods, palpates, and possibly prescribes. And you listen and do your best to follow instructions. Your GP is a health care professional, and there’s a degree hanging on the wall decreeing as much. So he or she must know what it takes to be healthy.
In an ideal world, the answer would be yes. But this world isn’t ideal—especially when it comes to health care.
Doctors need to prescribe behavior not pills
Most doctors aren’t in the health care business. They don’t prescribe behaviors to make us healthy. They prescribe pills and surgeries and treatments to make us un-sick. Most doctors I know only rarely mention diet or exercise or stress-relief techniques to their patients, in part because they don’t believe that their patients are willing or able to follow through with such a program. Rightly or wrongly, health care consumers have come to expect quick-fix solutions from our doctors that require little to no action on our part—except maybe to take a pill or show up for a procedure. The implied agreement between you and your doctor is that you will show up sick and he or she will give you something to make you well.
In some circles, this is changing. Doctors are literally prescribing exercise—writing “Aerobic exercise 3x/week 20 minutes/day” on their prescription pads and handing it to their patients, knowing that, to a completely sedentary person, almost no single behavior can be as beneficial to a person’s health as exercise is. Bravo to them.
Many doctors aren’t in a position to give health advice
Too many others, however, are too embarrassed or resigned to bring it up, and instead they offer a few vaguely reassuring words, and maybe prescribe a pill to treat the patient’s depression, or blood thinners to treat his cardiovascular disease. Indeed, they’ve bought in to the medical myth of the patient as a passive recipient of treatment. These doctors are sometimes seriously overweight and deeply unhealthy themselves, and they often do little to combat unhealthy habits in the people around them. In fact, studies have shown that the standard of care given by doctors is in direct relation to their own health and fitness. Obese and overweight doctors, for example, are less likely to talk to their patients about health, exercise, and nutrition.
It’s generally accepted that the best way to lose weight and improve or maintain fitness is to exercise regularly and cut calories. A growing number of adults are attempting to follow this advice as they find themselves fighting creeping additional pounds and obesity as they get older. However, this formula for success also has a downside, one that is especially on the minds of athletes and active adults: the risk of losing lean muscle and, as a consequence, a decline in physical performance.
One exercise method that promotes significant improvement in muscle strength and tone, cardiovascular health, and metabolic enhancement among both elite and recreational athletes is resistance weight training. This form of exercise also is associated with an increase in muscle endurance and lean muscle mass as well as a decrease in body fat, all benefits that can improve overall quality of life and fight against age-related disease and disability.
There are problems however associated with combining resistance training and a low-calorie, low-carb diet. Basically, you can lose lean muscle mass, experience poorer athletic performance, and be at greater risk of experiencing illness or exercise-related injury. At the same time, men who engage in resistance exercise during a “cut diet” require higher intake of protein so they can avoid experiencing muscle damage and loss of athletic ability. Read More
It’s no secret that obesity is a major health challenge today and one that has grown steadily over the past years. But why are we fatter today than we were three decades ago? At one time, experts thought the cause of overweight/obesity was simple: too many calories consumed plus a sedentary lifestyle equaled excess weight.
However, the reasons behind being overweight or obese are more involved than that. Of course, food intake and exercise play critical roles. But according to the Professor Jennifer Kuk, lead author of a recent study from York University in Toronto, excessive weight is “actually much more complex than just ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out.’ She explained that lifestyle and environmental factors may also be key in why “ultimately, maintaining a healthy body weight is now more challenging than ever.”