Moderate or Intense for Health?

Two of the quotes I use in the coming book “A Row a Day for a Year” refer to the usefulness of moderate exercise:

“Exercise does not have to involve working up a drenching sweat. Moderate exercise, preferably every day, provides significant health benefits. The key is doing moderately active things regularly.”

            Merck, at 806

“My parents always wanted me to be above average, but this [exercise] is one area where average is fine.”

            Michael Lauer, MD

The point that moderate exercise is sufficient – and that strenuous exercise may not be as effective at promoting health – was made in a NYTimes article by Gretchen Reynolds last Tuesday.

But what level of effort works best for you?

There may be several factors that affect what level of exercise, what degree of effort, feels right.

  • Feeling: "If I do not row harder, I do not feel I have done any good." Pay attention to your feelings, but also learn to distinguish between the satisfying sense of ‘clearing the pipes’ with some good hard strokes and what promotes health.  Most importantly, do not stop rowing just because you are rowing less strenuously than you used to. You may be slower, but you are still promoting your health.

  • Weight: "Row slow to burn fat," some say. But we all know that you burn fewer calories if you do not push as hard. Where do you draw the line? We all will tend to find it harder to keep the weight off as we age. But consider whether that comes with increasing weakness rather than being an inevitable challenge. Use your time wisely; row longer and vary your work with intervals. We can learn at any age, even how to eat better. Do not let the tail wag the dog; eat for what you need rather than letting what you eat control you.

  • Weakness: If we weaken as we age, one reaction is to try to row harder to make up for that. A different reaction is to allow our pace to slacken. We may need to get smarter as we age, and one way to row smarter is to row more consistently. A long hard row on the weekend instead of regular rows all week will likely be less effective, in part because you will find you have lost muscle mass and strength during the week. Get in control of the process by rowing daily.

  • Sweat and the Lungs: You may not feel satisfied without breaking a sweat and filling the lungs deeply. But that does not mean you have to row at your limit the full 30 minutes (or hour) you are on the machine. Do some mini-pieces from time to time, in effect rowing with what used to be called the “fahrtlech” method (from the German ‘traveling’). Let your body push as hard as you want when it feels right, but let it ease off, too, when that feels comfortable.