Rediscover Your Native Fitness (PACE), by Al Sears, M.D.
ÆGIS is a strong proponent of being as healthy as possible. This includes doing appropriate exercise. The problem is that the state of the art in exercise keeps changing. This, combined with time constraints, keep a lot of people from exercising.
We, however, do exercise. Two of the editors own a BowFlex (see the December 2005 issue of ÆGIS), and this editor additionally has a Nordic Track and an inversion table in his office. (Our third editor lies down whenever he feels a desire to exercise, and waits until the feeling passes.) We can fit exercise into spare moments during the work day, which is good. But what exercises should we be doing?
Strength exercises allow several approaches, with some suggesting many repetitions at light weight, and others suggesting fewer repetitions at heavier weight. At the moment, this editor is going for the second option, following the belief of power lifters that if you can do more than three reps, the weight is too light. As it works out, this rather conveniently reduces the amount of time involved in doing these exercises.
Exercise of the circulatory and respiratory systems has been trickier. While we have faithfully used the Nordic Track since its arrival, cardiovascular endurance training has always seemed somewhat problematic. One friend, who habitually ran ten miles a day, five days a week, noted that while he could do ten miles with ease, running to catch a bus left him winded. Plus, running has left a trail of corpses over the years, starting with the mythic run of Phidippides from Marathon to Athens.
Our approach was recently transformed when we were given a copy of Rediscover Your Native fitness (PACE), by Al Sears, M.D. In this book Dr. Sears postulates that your body adapts to long-duration exercises (like running and other forms of aerobic or cardio exercises) by gradually rebuilding your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles to be as small as possible, while leaving you with just enough “horsepower” to go the distance in the most efficient manner.
Sears states that this robs your heart of reserve capacity, and notes that “Heart attacks don’t occur because of a lack of endurance. They occur when there is a sudden increase in cardiac demand that exceeds your heart’s capacity. Giving up your heart’s reserve capacity to adapt to unnatural bouts of continuous prolonged duration only increases your risk of sudden cardiac death.” As if this were not enough, he cites studies indicating that other bad things happen with endurance running.
The alternative he suggests is exercising in shorter bursts at higher pulse rates to increase potential cardiac output and lung capacity. In addition to helping your heart, he cites studies that show other benefits, including more rapid weight loss.
We found his argument sufficiently compelling that we have switched from our habitual hour of Nordic Track (monitoring our effort with a pulse meter) to the PACE program. We would STRONGLY urge you to speak with your physician, get a pulse monitor, and start with the basic program.
While we chose to start the program at the intermediate level, the book recommends starting with a simple pre-program that consists of five sets of one minute of exertion followed by one minute of recovery. How much should you be exerting? Well, you should be trying to get in the range of sixty to eighty percent of your maximum heart rate, which is calculated as 220 less your age. Thus, if you are sixty, it would be a pulse rate range of between 96 and 128. It is our impression that if you haven’t exercised in a while, you may have trouble making it into this range at first. As you go through the program, your resting heart rate should decrease, and the time it takes for your heart rate to go back down after you have been exercising should also decrease. Since this recovery time is a good predictor of likely death, this is good.
Part of the goal of this program is to have you avoid repetitive exercise patterns, to which your body adapts. As you progress, you exercise for a shorter length of time, but with greater effort. The book’s first set of progressive exercise takes a month, and starts with a three minute warm up followed by six minutes of exertion followed by three minutes of recovery. By the fourth week you are doing a three minute warm up followed by three sets of one minute of exertion followed by two minutes recovery.
In addition to the discussion of exercise for the circulatory and respiratory systems, there is another section on strength training using calisthenics. We have not yet ourselves evaluated this, though a friend swears by them. We have four caveat for anyone planning to try Dr. Sears approach. The first is to check with your doctor to make sure exercise is ok, particularly if you haven’t been exercising regularly. The second is to actually read the book – or at least the first five chapters, which cover the cardiovascular portion of the book – and not assume you know what to do by reading this discussion. The third is to begin with the four week beginning program, then go on to the eight week intermediate program. Then move on from there. Finally, do NOT do the program without a heart monitor.
Also, be aware that the book is extremely badly written, and very confusing. Because of this you will have to discard your initial instinct to simply throw away the baby with the bathwater. We hope that at some point the author will hire a more-literate editor to make the book more accessible.
If you are interested in your health and want to minimize exercise time, we strongly urge you to go to http://www.alsearsmd.com/pace/, and purchase a copy. You can download the Acrobat version of the book for $27.95. It is a bargain at the price. If you want the print version – many people don’t want to read 150ish pages online or print out 152 pages – it will cost $37.95. We consider PACE sufficiently important to justify inclusion in our must-read list.