Freedom from the Heart Rate Harness

The world is suddenly full of pseudoscientific advice about heart rate monitors. Keep your heart rate below 136 or whatever magic number was calculated from your BMI. You’re not burning fat when your heart rate is higher than 60% maximum. It’s counterproductive to exercise beyond your aerobic threshold. Some novice athletes might find this heart rate advice discouraging. I trained for my first 5 marathons without a heart rate monitor and now that I have one; my training has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Knowing how high my heart rate is during short training runs has scared me so much that I can no longer run as fast as I had without feeling horribly exhausted. I feel much better and run faster when I don’t wear my heart rate monitor. If you have decided to add a bit of physical activity to your life, my advice would be to forget the heart rate monitor and instead find a way to make your new exercise program fun. Or, if you’re like me, find a way to make it minimally unpleasant and inconvenient. This is the only way you will reap any health benefits. Because this is the only way you will stick with it.

The whole heart rate monitoring craze is based on misleading information. The idea that you are only burning fat when you maintain your heart rate in a narrow range is ridiculous. Using glucose creates energy (ATP) and burns calories. Therefore any exercise is useful for losing weight. Our fuel burning metabolic processes aren’t directly tied to heart rate and respiratory rate. Calorie storing and calorie burning processes are primarily regulated by hormones such as insulin and glucagon. In general, your body burns glucose from your bloodstream first, then glycogen stored in liver and muscle. Once these become depleted, hormones that inspire fat burning will kick in. At higher heart rates, when you begin to feel out of breath, you may be using up oxygen so fast that you aren’t burning fuel quite as efficiently. However, your body is extremely well-designed. The anaerobic theory of “non-fat burning” heart rate ranges doesn’t make much sense. The possibility that your body will start to self digest protein and cellular components just because you finished your run with a short partially “anaerobic” sprint doesn’t make much sense. ATP production requires either carbohydrates or fats (protein is always the last choice for fuel) and essentially all fuel burning, energy producing metabolic processes require oxygen. When oxygen is in short supply, toxic metabolites build up (lactic acid) and the physical effort can no longer be sustained.

So yes, you won’t be able to maintain a high heart rate for a long period of time and yes, you may be sore the next day, but this is not counter-productive when your primary goal is to burn fat and improve your cardiovascular health. It may not be good to overdo it for multiple days in a row. But I would predict that you will know when you have over-done it, even without a heart rate monitor. The most difficult part of starting an exercise program is finding an activity that you don’t dislike. The second most difficult part is finding large blocks of time several times a week to get there, change, work-out, shower, change again and get home and still have time to eat dinner, say hi to the family and sleep. Once you have found an activity and the time, my advice would be to avoid the urge to buy a heart rate monitor.


The Apartment, the Granite Ceiling and Donald Trump

I saw the old film ‘The Apartment’ for the first time this weekend. Apparently I’m a late bloomer, most folks my age have already seen this film (1960). In reruns of course, I’m not that old. Everybody who’s anybody was in it, including an incredibly young Shirley McClain (aka ‘elevator girl’). It was a great movie, but I was horrified by what it implied about our society at that time. I’m sure much of it is exaggerated, but even so, the way women were treated was shocking for someone of my generation. I realize that even today men cheat on their wives and women cheat on their husbands (I’ve actually read that women are the worse offenders, just less likely to get caught). The surprising thing to me was the propensity to not only condone, but facilitate this bad behavior. I’d like to think that in today’s climate cheating is considered socially unacceptable. The Fred MacMurray (“My Three Sons” dad) character was completely immoral in the way he treated multiple female employees (slept with and moved on). He fired an assistant (or “secretary”—in those days) for telling his wife about his affair with the ‘elevator girl’ (Shirley MacClaine). Nowadays, she would march right out and get a good lawyer and she wouldn’t have left a dime for the personal call, that’s for sure! Fred (I can’t remember any of the character names) had a total disregard for women in general and the elevator girl in particular. I couldn’t believe when he decided to marry her, just so he wouldn’t have to take care of himself when his wife left him. I’d like to believe a modern day ‘elevator girl’ would have enough self esteem not to accept such abhorrent behavior in a man. And finally, the “good” guy (Jack Lemmon) who is in love with the elevator girl begins his relationship with her after having gone through her personnel file. He has apparently committed much of her personal information to memory. Nowadays, this type of stalker behavior would set off all kinds of red flags for the ‘elevator-girl’.

On a sort of unrelated (but somehow related in my mind) topic, CBS Sunday morning devoted the entire show to money-related topics. They interviewed Donald Trump (the celebrity on this planet whom I happen to hate more than any other), who proceeds to tell the reporter that there is no glass ceiling, that women have broken through years ago. The reporter didn’t really press him much on this, except to point out that he has no women at the top of his organization. Fortunately, they included a much better informed businessman who admitted that the glass ceiling is now “granite” for both women and minorities. In conclusion, I suppose the good news is that loaning out your apartment for extramarital affairs is considered bad behavior, you can’t fire a woman for telling your wife about your illicit affairs and most women won’t consider marrying a man who is openly misogynistic.