Science Summary: Getting Started ( Cardio or Weights Part 2)

This post is a continuation on my series through Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? All of the following questions are taken from this book and the answers are paraphrased from the authors words with my interpretations and thoughts added in.

— Scott

Will exercising in cold air freeze my lungs?

Short Answer: No

Longer Answer:  Many people claim cold weather causes asthma like symptoms while training.  These symptoms are actually caused by dryness in the air as back by research done by Kenneth Rundell at Marywood University.  Rundell found the cold dry air irritation could be triggered by warm dry air as well.  To prevent this, some asthma medications can reduce symptoms and masks can help maintain air humidity at the cost of restricted breathing.

When is it too hot to exercise?

Short answer: Heat exhaustion is a real concern.  Your body needs to acclimate to warmer temps so be cautious in unusually warm environments.

Longer answer: Your body will automatically compensate for hotter temperatures by reducing physical exertion.  Heat exhaustion can be avoided by keeping hydrated and working out in the coolest environment available.  Risk can be further reduced through heat acclimation.  Being prepared for the temperature plays a larger role in determining risk than actual temperature does.

Should I avoid exercising outside when air pollution is high?

Short answer:  Health benefits from exercise are greater than health damage caused by pollution.  Simple steps such as staying away from high traffic areas can further reduce pollution exposure.

Longer answer:  The University of Utrecht did a study on bike commuters and found that pollution exposure reduced total lifespan between 0.8 and 40 days but the health benefits from increased exercise increased total lifespan by 3 to 14 months.  This study was conducted in a heavy pollution environment, on a busy street with cars.  A study in the 2006 issue of Inhalation Toxicology found that being 200 yards removed from a major roadway reduced air pollutants by 75 percent.

Will exercise affect my immune system?

Short answer: Yes.  Exercise improves immune system function up until an extreme point where it harms recovery.

Long answer:  A study on rats done by the University of Illinois in 2005 found that rats who were accustomed to moderate exercise fared twice as well as sedentary rats when exposed to illness.  Rats in a third group accustomed to very high exercise had fared more poorly than both the sedentary and moderately active groups.  Another study using triathlon runners estimated the human equivalent of heavy exercise was 60 miles of cardio weekly. Another study done by Iowa State University in 2009 found that rats who exercised only before virus exposure experienced quicker recovery rates than their sedentary counterparts. These studies suggest that exercise greatly benefits the immune system.  While the greatest benefits are seen in groups who consistently exercise, even sporadic activity helps improve immune system function.

Is motivation to exercise genetic?

Short answer: Technically yes, but there are so many genes determining this it is irrelevant.

Long answer: There was a period up until the mid 90’s where studies suggested fitness was genetic but modern research has discounted many of those findings.  Research currently dictates there are hundreds of genes responsible for fitness and most individuals have some of them.  A study of 1.2 million Swedish men in 2009 looked at military veterans with twins and assessed their physical and mental capabilities.  The researchers found that more than 80% of variation in differences between subjects was a result of environmental factors such as the military service while less than 15% of difference was from genetic predisposition.

How long does it take to get unfit?

Short answer: As little as two weeks.

Long answer: It takes less work to maintain fitness than to build it, but reduced activity does have effects.  A study conducted by Paul Williams in 2008 found that returning to activity after a period without activity requires a more intense exercise program to return to previous levels of health.  Research by the University of Tokyo found that following a three month strength training program, participants gained muscle size in one month and acquired CNS activation a few months later.