The Cardio Myth

ShutterstockShutterstockYou may not believe what I'm about to tell you. If you want to lose weight and keep it off for good, my advice: Spend LESS time doing cardiovascular exercises and MORE time doing strength training.

That's right. I'm telling you to stop killing yourself in spin-class or pounding your legs on the treadmill. We've been wrongly bred to believe "The Cardio Myth" - that sweat pouring out of our pores during a long run will melt the fat off.

However, as a founder of Exhale Spa with 30 years of experience as a physical fitness teacher, I can tell you that cardiovascular activity is not the holy grail of shedding pounds. In actuality, you need to build muscle density or you won't achieve the desired results from "running or spinning 'til you drop." Fact is … the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn.

To further bust "The Cardio Myth" we need to STOP focusing on the number of calories that you burn during that one-hour of spin class, and START focusing on the round-the-clock caloric expenditure. Exerciser fanatics always want to know how many calories they are burning the other 23 hours a day (yes, even at rest) not just for the one hour that they are moving. When you have muscles, you're body burns calories longer. A recent study highlighted in this MSNBC article found that a pound of muscle burns up to 10 calories a day … just by doing nothing.

Related: Is Cardio the Answer to Losing Weight? (VIDEO)

Here are exercise rules to live by that aren't myths:

- To lose weight you do not need to run or do a one-hour spin class to burn calories. While both cases could hold truth, neither will produce lasting changes to your body or your life style.
-Incorporate strength training for muscle density and flexibility training for muscle shaping.
- See a nutrition counselor for a closer look at your dietary habits otherwise your exercise efforts could be futile.
- Weight training does not have to mean lifting heavy weights. In Core Fusion classes, for example, we use our own body weight in safe positions that challenges strength and flexibility. The result is an increase of lean muscle mass - which does one thing well - burn calories.
- As a former distance runner in college, I know the euphoria of the "runner's high." I ran for almost 15 years, 30-plus miles a week until my hip hurt so much I had to stop. I did not, however, gain weight when I stopped running because I took up weight training.
- Three years ago with Allure magazine, we helped a marathon runner lose weight. She was 70 pounds overweight - and yes! she was a marathon runner. She started by substituting jogging with power walking three times a week - plus four to five Core Fusion classes. In three months, she dropped 30 pounds and 2 dress sizes. In one year, she dropped 70 pounds and 4 dress sizes!
- This leads me to my next point: Excess running for a number of years can take a toll not only on your joint health - but appearance. The repetitive pounding that you do when you jog can lead to the elastin and facial muscles to collapse … Do you want to speed up the aging process on your face?

So are you brave enough to change your focus and cut back on the cardio? Try my tips for one month. Reduce or eliminate the cardio but do power strength and flexibility challenges at least 4 to 5 days a week. These exercises include Core Fusion classes or Core Fusion DVDs, yoga, Pilates, any other courses that mix weights with stretching. Add power walking if you are skeptical. Now stay on it and good luck. Let's talk in 30 days.

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About the author: Fred DeVito is a founder of Exhale Spa, an urban spa oasis merging mind and body, and co-creator of the Core Fusion class at exhale. Fred began teaching fitness in 1978, as a physical education instructor in the public school system. That's when he first noticed that not all exercises produced results. We used to do jumping jacks, wind mills, toe touches and run the track, but the skinny kids would stay skinny and the fat kids would stay fat. Before opening Exhale Spa, for 20 years, with his wife and partner, Elisabeth Halfpapp, he taught classes at the acclaimed, Lotte Berk Method Studio, on the upper east side of New York City.