Why You Should Stay Below Your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate

Cardio workouts are a vital part of any exercise program.

Cardiovascular fitness enhances the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles, and confers a multitude of other health benefits.

The mistake too many guys make in this modern environment is making their cardio workouts too lengthy, too stressful, and too frequent. 

If your goal is to run a 5k or a do a Tough Mudder, then that is your prerogative.

However, if your goal is to increase your health and vitality and optimize the metabolic machinery within you that burns fat, then frequent and prolonged cardio workouts are definitely something you want to avoid.

man running at marathon event


This type of “chronic cardio”, as it is referred to in the Ancestral Health community, leads to a host of health problems, including oxidative stress.

It can also cause heart rhythm abnormalities, and a “5-fold increase in the prevalence of serious heart problems – especially when the cardiac damage is repeated year-after-year as a habitual occurrence.”

In a study conducted by Swedish researchers, it was found that excessive endurance exercise during younger years could increase your risk of developing heart problems later in life. More than 44,400 men between the ages of 45 and 79 were surveyed about their exercise habits at age 15, 30, 50, and during the previous year:

“Those who exercised intensely for more than five hours a week were 19 percent more likely to have developed an irregular heartbeat, which is a key factor in stroke risk.”

Overdoing it when it comes to cardio can also flood your system with the stress hormone cortisol, weaken your immune system, and break down muscle tissue.

The most effective method for fat metabolism and improved cardiovascular function and overall health is to keep the majority of your cardio workouts under your maximum aerobic heart rate.

Notice I said a majority and not all of your workouts. There are many health benefits to brief, intense, cardio workouts, such as sprinting. But these workouts should be infrequent and allow time for rest and recovery.

Part of the reason for this is because it mimics the movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which included short bursts of high-intensity activities, but not long-distance running. – Dr. Joseph Mercola

topless man wearing grey and black shorts sprinting on concrete road

However, you want most of your cardio workouts to be done at a low-level aerobic pace. This generally means moving more throughout the day. Activities such as walking, hiking, stair climbing, rock climbing, etc would fall into this category. By a low-level aerobic pace, I mean below your maximum aerobic heart rate.

How do we calculate our maximum aerobic heart rate?

Although there has been much debate on this matter, the quickest and most effective calculation still used by fitness professionals today is the method developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone. The calculation is simply this:

180- Your Age = Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate

So using my age as an example (180-33) = 147

Ideally, if you were 33 like myself, you would aim to keep the majority of your cardio workouts under the 147 beats per minute threshold. Although I am not a big fan of wearable tech, I would suggest using a Fitbit or a heart rate monitor as you begin undertaking this new way of exercising. Don’t panic if your heart rate exceeds maximum rate, but do be mindful of your exertion levels and try not to fall into the trap of chronic cardio.

Exercising in this way promotes increased fat metabolism. No longer are you relying on glucose to fuel overly lengthy runs or marathons. Your body will adapt to burning stored body fat for energy, and this fat-burning metabolism will continue over a 24-hour cycle.

Low-level aerobic exercise also helps regulate blood sugar and control appetite.

You will also break free of constant sugar cravings since the body is no longer depleting its stores of glycogen during each and every workout.

So there you have it guys. The key to cardio is to move around more frequently at a low-level aerobic pace. Try to resist the idea that longer, more frequent endurance-type workouts are the key to health.

For more men’s health and fitness tips, news, t-bosting recipes and more be sure to follow me on Instagram @refuelvitality, Twitter @joeghealthcoach, and follow the Refuel Vitality blog by clicking on the toolbar to the right!

Be Vital!

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