This question may be as old as the barbell or treadmill, themselves. The debate has gone on for years, bringing more division than the American political system. It’s time we found an answer.
Imagine meeting up for a drink with an old friend and when they arrive, they look incredible. They’ve shed anywhere from 30-50 pounds and a subtle envy starts to emerge from deep within. How did he do it? He must’ve tied himself to the treadmill until his pants didn’t fit. He must’ve gone cycling until he couldn’t feel his butt anymore. There’s no way he got that skinny without spending hours on an elliptical, stair stepper, or just jogging around his neighborhood.
With all of this swirling around in your mind, the envy you once felt over your friends’ transformation subsides. You’d rather keep that extra 5 pounds you’ve been carrying around then have to slave away on the pavement or the rubbery road of the treadmill.
But here’s the thing. There’s a very real chance that your friend lost all of his weight without doing a minute of cardio. There’s an even better chance that, if you only have 5 pounds to lose, you can accomplish that without lacing up your running shoes at all.
CALORIES, CARDIO, AND WEIGHT LOSS
The internet, the big and beautiful place that it is, can overwhelm you if you’re trying to shed some fat and fit into your favorite suit again. There are numerous gurus and experts selling their secrets to weight loss, most of them through some complicated formula that involves more research and more headaches. At the end of the day, weight loss comes down to the following, very simple, the equation:
CALORIES IN – CALORIES BURNED = WEIGHT LOSS
If the number that you get as a result of this equation is negative, congrats! You’re well on your way to shedding that weight that won’t budge. Apply this formula consistently, and the scale will continue to tell you that you’re getting lighter. Your friend, whether they knew it or not, applied this formula with precision and ended up losing 30-50 pounds that they’ll hopefully never find again.
If you’re still hung up on how this works, let’s get into the finer details. When you put your body in a caloric deficit (you’re burning more calories than you consume), your body will begin to burn up excess fat and calories that you’ve had stored on your body. That beer gut that’s been sitting just above your belt will become your body’s new fuel source since your metabolism needs something to burn if it’s not getting its usual allotment of calories.
Now, why do people swear by cardio as a means to lose weight, then? Well, if you think of it in the context of the equation above, it makes a lot of sense. When you perform an exercise that falls into the category of “cardio” (running, biking, swimming, sprints, hiking, etc.), you are going to burn a good amount of calories. For example, a 180-pound person running at 5 miles per hour will burn about 150 calories with every mile covered. With such a variety of cardio workouts available to you, you’re bound to find something that will help beef up the “calories burned” side of this little equation.
BUT IS ANY OF IT NECESSARY?
Again, no, not at all. What many people don’t realize is that your body is going to burn a certain amount of calories during the day without you lifting a finger. I’m not being dramatic, here. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body will rip through even if you laid still for 24 hours. This number varies by age, weight, and height, but it’s still a useful number to understand.
Let’s say that your BMR is 1800 calories. This means that if you ate 1800 calories worth of food, you wouldn’t gain any weight because you’re essentially canceling out what you brought in. However, if you ate one less cupcake or candy bar, you could tip the caloric scales in your favor. By skipping out on those treats, you probably saved yourself about 300 calories for the day. By keeping your caloric intake under your BMR number, your body will be in the caloric deficit that we talked about above.
Let’s do a quick comparison to make this concept clear. A 180-pound man running 2 miles at 5 miles per hour will burn about 300 calories (150 calories with every mile ran). That same man could save himself the 20 minutes or so of running and just avoid eating the cupcake that’s setting him back 300 calories. In either case, the numbers will work out the same. He’s either burning off 300 calories by running for a while, or he’s avoiding those 300 calories by saying no to a cupcake.
SO, IS CARDIO NECESSARY AT ALL?
For weight loss? No. For overall health? Absolutely. Running, biking, swimming, and all of the traditional cardiovascular exercises may not be a necessity to your battle with the scale, but they can improve your overall quality of life significantly. These aerobic exercises can improve muscle endurance, heart health, and even your sex life. Don’t toss those running shoes away for good, just understand that you don’t need them to achieve the body that you desire.
A NOTE ABOUT LIFTING WEIGHTS
By now, we hope that it’s clear that cardio isn’t necessary to make your gut disappear. Your diet reigns king in the world of weight loss, and cardio isn’t even the heir to the throne. Strength training, however, is a valuable asset to your weight loss journey. When you lift weights, you are assisting the simple equation for weight loss in two ways;
• You are burning calories. Even though you’re not running or biking, you can still burn plenty of calories just by picking things up and putting them down.
• You are building muscles. As muscles grow, they also promote fat loss because they keep your metabolism running well after your workout is done.
So, the next time you see your friend, hopefully, you can take this information, run with it, and come back a leaner, more fit version of you. Don’t believe the hype. You do NOT need cardio in your life to shed some pounds. Eat less food, lift more weights, and create a calorie deficit. It’s as easy as that. Good luck!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.