The Myth of Aerobics (Cardio)
The true fitness field of dreams beyond the shadow of a doubt involves the mania of aerobics or commonly known as today’s cardio (Cardiovascular Exercise). Cardio (a simple word form that refers to the heart) has been the generic and convenient expression of the ever cherished heart pounding fitness wave. The problem exists that this simple word form has no intrinsic meaning and therefore has been accepted at face value from the very beginning. We are simply stuck with an anointed pinnacle of physical fitness that guarantees you many promises it can never keep and has a storied history filled with skeletons in the closet to boot. The trouble is that cardio (now defined as cardiovascular fitness) becomes commonly and conveniently confused with cardiovascular health. At best this a complete uncertainty that therefore opens the door for an overabundance of ridiculous claims. One popular notion is the concept of weight loss that becomes mistaken for fat loss. The so called target heart rates suggest there magical zone, once reached, and the fat becomes propelled from the body. This misconception is a “no brainer,” avoids critical thought, and then becomes ingrained in the minds of many. The actual fact is that the highest percentage of fat that is mobilized from the body, actually occurs during the deepest state of one’s sleep. Unfortunately you can’t have it both ways when your so called cardiovascular activity sits on the other side of the bell curve of “fat burning.” The crusaders of “cardio” fitness are not aware of this fact and sadly the consumer continues to be attacked from every angle.
There always is this promise of a myriad of results in an impossible hurry. The media has joined in on the “hustle” and has literally taken the ball and “run” with this, no pun intended. Daily doses of the aerobics/cardio genre appear in magazines from fashion to muscle and television shows. So with the help of broadcast journalism, media hype, clever role models, and an added dash of pseudoscience, it has been totally deep rooted in mainstream fitness. The claims “run” from this universally accepted way to combat moderate to extensive obesity, to the outlandish claim of a given requirement for a supreme healthy life. But alas, it is Simply Junk Science at Best.
Conveniently, aerobics from the beginning was tailor made at a time that was ripe for the taking. The name itself at the moment of its inception had certain magnetism. The story is that the original title and concept for the book was outright changed to a made up word - Aerobics, (taken from the word Aerobic meaning in the presence of oxygen) by the suggestion of the original company that published the book. This was a time and era in the late 1960s when this country was in the scientific space age, and the name (aerobics) sounded so technical it stuck. Therefore the name Aerobics, the pseudo-scientific dogmatic approach to exercise was christened. This country had not seen anything yet, and its originator, one Kenneth Cooper* knew it, and it was his time to save us.
Nevertheless there are millions and millions of dollars that have been spent in the direction of the promotion of this outright clever vogue and billions are made as a result. The media is clever in portraying glamorous advertising schemes that promise its victims notions based on purely redundant and phony belief systems. There are always the promises of these fat burning zones, healthy hearts, and perpetual youth. These are amongst a whole slew of the myths associated with our famed “cardio.” But unfortunately much of this hype has been pushed, published, and exposed to individuals who are willing to spend huge sums of money for products, programs, and worthless devices. The consumer is left with a “Bill of Goods” with nothing but clever marketing and promotion behind them. This Advertising is brilliantly portrayed like a love fantasy in a Romantic Novel, unfortunately when you are finished with it; the reality within you again sets in.
This plight has led millions of Americans to follow the ritual of “Cardio” or heart rate pounding activities that have more or less become a guilt ridden dependency, it is truly habit forming. It becomes a means to no end, and there are potential possibilities of taking it a bit too far. This behavior can eventually become a habitual addiction to bodily exertions. Over twenty years ago the Washington Post had a questionnaire; “Do you know if you are an exercise addict?” The following questions were asked, 1) Do you feel anxious or guilty if you miss one day of exercise…..even if you have a good reason? 2) Does your exercise routine often make you late for work or meetings? 3) Does exercise take precedence over relationships with people? 4) Do you continue your exercise routine when you are injured or sick? 5) Do you ignore family member’s criticisms about the effect your exercise routine has on them? 6) Do you feel as if your body is falling apart if you miss one day’s exercise? If you answered yes, you can be considered a borderline exercise (aerobics) addict. Your dreams can really become a delusional nightmare.
The Classic Scenario
The general physical adaptations of your body have been developed through physical education, sports participation, daily preoccupation, and natural maturation from years gone by. Having raised a family or followed a career to new heights, you are now looking to fill that “Fitness” void. You hear that the only solution is for you to join a gym. The scenario is as described: You immediately seek the group that is made up of your peers. Then you enter into the trap in any of today’s “modern” health clubs, as you are likely pointed in the direction of and are told to join an activity class of dance or some type of aerobics. To the dismay of reality and unknowingly, you are doomed to make the same mistake as others before you. The activity classes that you will involve yourself with, will not allow for potential changes that your instructor enamored you with trying to accomplish. Your chosen activities are likely to involve movements that are extremely fast and too repetitive to allow for any potential benefits. They lack any of the calculated and individualized progression that the body requires. Then you try as you might, you start to compete with others and even yourself. You will become caught on a “treadmill” and will be “spinning” your wheels as there is but a slight minuscule change to your body if any. To be honest, you may be no better than you were when you started, and likely worse for the wear. Your contest becomes a mirage so to speak. The results are like a finish line to a race but once you seem to approach the tape, it is gone. The bottom line is that you should not be subjecting yourself to a mindless endurance contest. On the contrary, the truth is that these activities simply do not stimulate any of the valuable changes that potentially exist in exercise. Most people involved with these pursuits will never understand that, and will simply refuse to believe it. The “bodies of evidence” say otherwise. There were recently one thousand women interviewed by an author on exercise and they were asked whether their bodies improved in the process of their aerobic/cardio endeavors and the resounding answer was always no! So the promises are always there, but the results are extremely elusive.
Everyone will say of course that the main center focus of it all is to have fun, as your entertaining “cardio” choices are plentiful and as well as alluring. Fun will not get the job done, unless it is in its proper perspective which is the end result, the enjoyment of obtaining undeniable and positive physical changes to your body. This exercise should be called “exertainment” as a former colleague once said to me. Fun and personal enjoyment should be understood as a personal right and choice, where there are plainly hundreds of many other activities outside the realm of cardiovascular recreation you can choose to do. But the fitness crusaders continue to cause a stir and lure you to the latest in fashionable exercise, or attempt to persuade you to be associated with the “in” crowd. The peer pressure prevails and it therefore your “exercise” becomes a social spectacle and you will become lost amongst the many. What you have done in the past for the pure enjoyment of sports, dance, and recreation becomes the latest fad exercise. There are so many “canned” activities to choose from, it will make your head spin. There always seems to be certainly something that will match your inner desires and put a tingle your toes.
There are choices of Latin Dance, Boxing Aerobics, Treadmills designed for water as well as land, Stationary bikes that have one in pretense of being in the Tour de France, Cardio Strip Tease (use your imagination), and any type of endurance folly that you could slap a fancy name to. Just when you think that the madness has finally slowed, there is another new trendy cardio craze to replace these “old” and “outmoded” ones. TV infomercials, fashion magazines, and muscle journals are again quick to expand on this nonsense. It does not stop with the human element. It has gotten so bad that it was once reported in California that an athletic center with treadmills, swimming pools, and personal trainers was open strictly for the canine population. That’s right; you don’t have to take your dog out for a walk anymore, just put him on a treadmill. At least the dog may revolt against such nonsense, whereas most people will not. Yes the aerobics/cardio cult becomes rather far reaching. It promises that return to glory, but they never have quite enough evidence to back it up.
Aerobic and “cardio” crusaders look at the statistical and empirical evidence of the ever increasing deplorable obesity in our society. They are quick to jump in and promise to help turn the tide. Their claims of fat burning and sweating away the pounds sound rather reasonable. All you have to do is join in and just “do it.” Unfortunately it is a physiological impossibility to sweat away the fat, and the only possibility of burning fat is if you were to literally set your body on fire. Regardless, the unknowing consumer is still conned into this meaningless ploy. This Panacea in today’s fitness craze, has hardly anyone brave (or rich) enough to confront it. Here again you will find a long list of more featured touts, claims, and cons that are perpetrated by individuals that are guilty of nothing less than foolish fraud. It’s all about the bucks in an industry whose true objective should be health and well being. Health and well being is a great objective, however the association of physical activity and health is rather fleeting.
The aerobics or “cardio” cultists premise proclaims that an elevated heart rate extended over a particular length of time is healthy and desirable. Their gospel is belief that heart pounding activity is somehow related to health. In essence, they proudly pontificate, ( tapping their chests) in proclaiming that the heart is a muscle and deserves equal rights. The simple fact is that it performs a miraculous job at keeping you alive period. So they contend that stressing that natural work load quite a bit more will do the trick. Not a good idea! Of course these “aerobic” activities have to involve the legs and lower body structures in order for the satisfaction of their pet exertions. But does the heart really know the source of its work? No, the heart is a slave to the skeletal muscles, but still they will cling to their cart before the horse mentality. For their own convenience they have conjured up scientific jargon to justify their position and cover up their mistakes. However there is plenty of “science” in their ivory tower text books to point to. But their science is no better than the new religion and sadly their heart rate theory has been greatly questioned. The original research they have laid their framework on was skewed from the beginning. The story is that the original data was hastily cobbled together to meet the demands of the times. The original research was twisted and based on poor controls with unreliable data. Surprisingly many modern day exercise physiologists are aware of this, but more or less, refuse to rock the boat. Therefore, performance related health is rather fleeting based on the fact that many will confuse that healthy people are attracted to and are healthy in spite of their activity choice. It literally becomes a born, not made rationale. In spite of this, these belief systems will be passed on to new generations which will be there to be taken. No, they are not merely poor concepts, but clever provocations. There are disingenuous and negligent people with superannuated ideas of whom are only out for the all mighty dollar. This is a bad science at best. With the commercialism added it offers nothing more than clever technological trickery which has a complete niche of its own. This provides an ocean of ever evolving schemes, scams, and frauds. Nothing fails like this assumed success and we will follow the journey to see how it has all evolved.
Concerned physical educators were captivated by testing procedures, and they performed research on the masses from early on. Starting from the First World War, very complex cardiovascular formulas for the Military and off shoots of Military Fitness Systems were the rage. The tests were in the offering as there was immediate and serious need for this testing of the physical culture phenomena, Military Gymnastics. Initial assessments were determined based on cardio respiratory function pertaining to oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide determination, blood comp, and non lab based testing such as simple pulse rate and blood pressure. Those that were included at the time of or after World War I, were the Schneider Cardiovascular test, the pulse ratio test, the McCurdy-Larson Organic Efficiency test, and the Kelley Integrated Post Exercise Pulse Product as a Measure of Fitness. Blood pressure tests were performed between 15-60 minutes before and after a variety of activities ranging from stair climbing to actual marathons and were supervised clinically (no music, mirrors, noise and/or excitement). There was a thorough understanding of systolic/ diastolic blood pressure, but pulse pressure, capillary pressure, and venous pressure, along with test scores, sheets, charts, and tables that had to be gauged and tracked accurately. For reliability and confidence of all testing procedures, cardio vascular protocols were numbered meticulously. This was a serious investigation from early on to see whether these tests proved to be inherently better, healthier and more enduring. There was no arbitrary measuring of pulse rates before and after exercise activities, i.e., medical professionals monitored the body’s reactions with a variety of analysis. Deviations from the norm of this testing was determined to be pathological as there was a genuine concern for serious measurements of health and fitness from early on. Unfortunately determining what seems to be onset from birth (microscopic injuries to arterial walls) and what has been determined in active soldier (autopsies in subsequent wars) muddles the best laid plans of even the most genuine researchers from fitness past and present.
Today with the ever advancement of blatant commercial interests, there is far less interest in the reliability or concern with heart rate protocol accuracy, albeit a specious measure. There has been a divorce, so to speak, and the clinicians know next to nothing concerning fitness measures or lack thereof. There now stands alone only one heart rate protocol (Karvonen) and the demands of recent times (fitness craze) forced a need for a “measurement.” Starting in the 1970s, with the early raging interest of aerobics (Ken Cooper’s Heart Rate Point System), and the success of 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, there needed to be a perimeter of testing for cardiovascular function. Without knowledge of history, this testing was needed immediately, and based on those needs the exercise physiology community tested anyone “off the street” and rushed in with the Karvonen Heart Rate Protocol.
Wall Street Journal reported in 2002 that this Maximum Heart Rate Formula had left many questions in doubt and, ironically Karvonen himself had nothing in the way involved with any data associated with the protocol. The physiologists involved have more recently admitted that their Cardiovascular Fitness Testing is fraught with many errors, and now there is no known acceptable method to measure heart rate, although it being a total exercise in futility onto itself.
Pathology and physical performance are truly mutually independent of each other, and history indicated as such. Early exercise culturalists understood the role of the clinician. The physical educator observed the charted data and allowed that information to be sent forward to the MD or physician. Today the roles respectively are reversed. The physician depends on the (mis) information set forth by the jock mentality of the modern day physiologist or simply reads the mainstream literature available from their so called “peer reviewed journals.” Instead of following a logical pattern set forth by their predecessors, there is no partnership so to speak on the issues of sports/exercise cardiology and physical activity. Meanwhile the available information on the subject is fleeting and much of the textbooks found in schools and universities are filled with the exercise physiology mentality, which has refused to keep up with the classical sciences. Now, in today’s fitness market, there is so much money on the line that the possibility of understanding reliable conclusions will be confused with the money-making schemes that appeal to the unknowing public. So the reliability of the so called modernization of exercise science tests may be politically correct, but far from being anything but inconclusive and specious.
Nonetheless, a history lesson that must be told and remember "those who do not know this History are doomed to repeat it.”
The First Lady of Aerobics
The very early his"The New Nuts Among all the Berries" has also been evident in the trendy recreations that have captivated like audiences for a period of nearly two hundred years. Dance intermixed with passive exercise was a natural from very early on in American culture. Extremely deep rooted in our history was the elocution of grace, beauty, and physicality. The main difference was that many of the early parties were made up of individuals whose intentions were sincere in their hopeful, but false precepts.tory in America of the cardio/aerobics mania can be traced all the way back to one Catharine Beecher. Miss Beecher was an early woman’s rights activist, who showed her concerns early on about the deplorable physical condition of the American lady. (As we can see, women were the chosen center of attention of this influence from early on.) There were reports that group classes in gymnastics were the rage in Russia and with daughters of Russian nobility exhibiting unequaled grace, beauty, and strength. In order to combat these domestic problems she sought to design a system and raise the bar. As a result Aerobics, Beecher style got its start in the late 1820s. Undaunted in spirit, Beecher instituted organized her system of recreation in the form of calisthenics in as early as 1828. Calisthenics is formed by the two Greek words kalos, signifying beauty and sthenos, meaning strength. She saw as the adequate solution and etiquette to the problem. Her idea was to design a system of exercise that mirrored the popular Swedish System that had been successfully used throughout Europe. This Swedish System of Physical Training was originated by the famous physical culturist Dio Lewis. This system was indeed the “crème de la crème” of the European fitness movement. The time was now she thought to even the playing field for her women.
Catharine Beecher’s new method of physical training, along with her ideal moral education, was first instituted at the Hartford Female Seminary in 1828. Located in Connecticut, she had originally founded the school earlier in 1823. A true innovator, Catharine studied motivational behavior and came to the conclusion that calisthenics combined with dance and music would indeed be popular. Exercise she thought, accompanied with music would allow for twice the benefits for she saw the fervor as a result in more participation. Without a doubt, she had the early line on Aerobics.
Miss Beecher’s System was conducted in a large class like setting. Her true adherance to teaching she thought would allow for her students to learn this system and take it outside in what was called the gymnastic hall. The gymnastic hall could be an ordinary school room or a church assembly ballroom. The hall was designed with an outside walkway which covered the perimeter of the room. This designated walkway was used for preparatory walking and marching which could be understood as the early roots of the “warm up.” The oak wood floors were calculated to absorb the shock of the movements and there was five feet spacing between each participant, to allow for full bodily movements without interfering with your neighbor. The protocol demanded strict adherence to this procedure as well as an understanding of proper etiquette towards others. Partners were appointed in pairs; female with female and even co-ed partners. Miss Beecher believed her system would be sufficiently progressive for both male and female. The chosen leaders of the calisthenics drills were of medical and scientific background, and were not diploma mill certified.
Consultation of a physician for participation was not just a written formality. With Beecher’s plan of exercise, physicians held health orientations and were the superintended leaders as well. A “Fall in” commenced the exercises as the leaders set the pace while fronting the students in each division. The initial exercises consisted of anatomical actions which included a variety of deep knee bends, hip twists, alternate toe touching, and arm whirling.
Movements were gainfully executed with exact unison and precision in comparable capacity to military drills, thus were labeled military positions. Hand held wooden dumbbells were used weighing anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds. At the termination of the day’s program, proper etiquette was shown in the hall by the participants replacing all apparatus used to their appropriate places. Systems of exercise were taken rather seriously as teamwork and etiquette was understood and strict protocol was very adhered to.
Unlike the vast array of egocentric aerobics/cardio programs today, calisthenics Catharine Beecher style was the only legitimate choice. She offered these distinctive advantageous principles of her program:
- This system can be practiced in schools of every description, in the family, in nurseries, in hospitals, and in health establishments, without apparatus and with a room set aside for the purpose.
- It excludes all those severe exercises that involve danger, either from excess or from accidents. It is maintained that many athletic exercises suited to the stronger sex are not suited to the female constitution. This is a system that contains all that either sex needs for the perfect development of the body. Any more severe exercises are useful only for men whose professions require some unusual physical strength or endurance. This method is adapted to mixed schools, so that both sexes can perform them together.
- This system is arranged on scientific principles, with the design of exercising all the muscles and of exercising them equally and harmoniously. It embraces most of what is to be found in the French and English works that exhibit the system of Ling, the celebrated Swedish Professor, whose method has been widely adapted in European Schools and Universities. It also contains, in addition, many valuable exercises that have been employed in health establishments for the cure of disease and deformities.
Early systematic exercise contained discriminating thought and scientific procedure. It was the interest of physical educators to truly maintain exercise as a legitimate science.
Beecher’s onslaught of women’s opportunistic direction and physical education continued through the early 1830s. Her system of exercise was adopted by a few schools nationally and then interest faded.
Throughout the 1840s, the enthusiasm of physical education seemed to wane. Lacking the fitness evangelical approach, the evidence of her system abruptly diminished. She then directed her energies towards her national organization for women’s higher education. When there was a sudden revival of interest in physical fitness in the 1850s, the opportunity was there to write a landmine book called, “Physiology and Calisthenics,” which can be still seen in archival university libraries to this very day.
Catharine Beecher blazed the trail for concerned exercise efforts in the early to mid 19th century. Her ideas and efforts were well documented 140 years before the cardio and aerobics persuasions of today. Unlike today, her approach was in careful tune with total education. Her direction was different because it was an honest effort to secure bodily health and not an effort to exploit people with fitness marketing scams. Like the Greek ideal, Catharine was truly interested in all to have a healthy mind and a healthy body, and it was not all about the hard driven fitness lifestyle as it is portrayed today.
“Aerobics has to be the least appealing activity. I don’t even know how this word came into being: ‘Aerobics,’ I guess gym instructors got together and said, ‘If we’re going to charge money, we can’t call it jumping up and down.’” Ellen De Generes
In Conclusion, we can easily see that there is Nothing New Under the Sun. What has been deemed as Scientific and New, is not what it is played out to be. To be taken seriously, foundations of history and accurate definitions must be understood and investigated with an unbiased search for the truth. But beware, because once something is ingrained as the Holy Grail in a specific field of endeavor, it is almost impossible to remove. Unfortunately “when money speaks, the truth remains silent,” and nothing is more evident in the exercise industry. At face value, Cardiovascular Health and Fitness are like oil and water as they just don’t mix. The bottom line in the “exercise arena” or any field for that matter is for you to seek out the popular experts. Carefully write down what these specialists suggest, then do exactly opposite and you will be closer to the truth!
© 2010 David Landau