6

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Is commuting by bicycle chronic cardio?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created December 31, 2010 at 7:47 PM

Just wondering- I've done LOTS of commuting by bicycle, and I am beginning to think it's the same as chronic cardio, as least as far as my body is concerned. After going paleo, I really embraced stochastic exercise, but it seems like an everyday slog on a bicycle is reverting to modern, chronic exercise. Does anyone commute regularly by bicycle, and if so, have you adjusted your bicycling perspective/commute after going paleo, which I think includes a paleo way to think about exercise, too?

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 23, 2012
at 01:38 PM

@Stephen-Aegis's point is pretty spot on. I've read Mark Sisson's book, and I think that he spells out what he considers chronic cardio pretty explicitly, so @Bryan, I don't think your point is valid: I don't think that camp is unread, I think they may have only read 1 book, and have been failing at interpreting it. For e.g., "walk everywhere" is explicitly recommended, not instructed to be avoided.

99a6e964584f20f3f69ad3a70a335353

(1334)

on September 09, 2011
at 11:47 AM

Long efforts of 55-75% maximum HR are beneficial rather than detrimental, according to Sisson. It's when you get above that range that "chronic cardio" starts. See his advice about "moving around a lot at a slow pace (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-primal-blueprint/). Your mileage may vary as to whether you consider that good advice.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 09:17 PM

Interesting point about variation not being intrinsically good. I think I agree with you. As for intensity, I'm not sure whether high-intensity chronic cardio is worse than low-intensity. I'm inclined to say that it may depend on volume/frequency -- but then again, "chronic" means too frequent. Empirically, I think the masses are more inclined to do the low-intensity kind. (Slogging away miserably on an elliptical for an hour, trying to burn off those calories.) That's why I was surprised at your characterization.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 09:14 PM

Interesting points, especially on variation not being intrinsically good. I agree with you on that. Getting back to maximal vs. sub-maximal: I agree that low-intensity chronic cardio is worse than high-intensity. I know a lot of people who consider themselves runners. None of them run as hard as they can for 30 minutes, ever. Most of them slog away miserably on the elliptical for 60 minutes thinking that it's good for them. That's why I was surprised at your characterization. Maybe you have friends who are fitter. =)

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 03, 2011
at 05:57 PM

... starting, will be better off than one going at stealing. The main reason why varying pace might be good, seems to me, that it allows you to do genuinely intense work while not doing more work overall, but for all the fashionability of random variations, I can't see why they'd be beneficial in themselves. I certainly think that doing more intense, close to maximal effort work for shorter periods is more effective. I don't think the problem with chronic cardio is lack of activity though: nothing wrong with hiking a lot, so long as one can also do weights/sprints for one's intense exercise.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 03, 2011
at 05:50 PM

Doubtless some people have the problem of not putting in enough effort (c.f. endless joggers) but plenty of people doing chronic cardio do push themselves to go as hard as they can for ~30mins, (c.f. runners constantly trying to shave a small amount of time off their run). For people running 30+ mins at sub-max effort, running 30+ mins at maximal effort would not be less chronic cardio, but more so. I also don't think that monotony is an evil per se, or variation an intrinsic good...Of two people commuting to work with very little effort, there's no reason to think the person stopping and...

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 04:49 PM

*"Chronic cardio" by contrast [is] something that you would have to artificially force yourself to because typically, you're aiming to force yourself to go as hard as you can for 30 minutes or so.* I think this is incorrect. My idea of "chronic cardio" is going at a steady pace at a **sub-maximal effort** for 20+ minutes. The thing that I find objectionable about chronic cardio is not the effort involved but rather the lack of it, coupled with a steady, monotonous pace. Biking to work will inherently involve stops and starts and varying paces, which I think is fine.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 03, 2011
at 03:21 PM

Chronic cardio is more for those marathoners pushing past their limits constantly. Or the 45min a day extended high heartrate treadmillers. Sisson absolutely recommends tons of low impact walking/exercise, just that the rough stuff be high intensity an intermittent.

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14 Answers

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9
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 01, 2011
at 12:31 PM

Presumably, the important thing is whether your particular commute entails any of the downsides of chronic cardio, not merely whether it technically falls into the category of 'chronic cardio' set up by some paleo luminaries. So the questions we want answered are: does your commute "raise cortisol levels, increase oxidative damage, systemic inflammation, depress the immune system and decrease fat metabolism." I would be surprised if your commute to work- a normal daily activity- is doing any of these. The whole rejection of "chronic cardio" is premised on the idea that there's little advantage to sustained periods of (relatively) high intensity work and what you want is long periods of low intensity activity and very short bursts of genuinely high intensity work. Within the category of low intensity activity, should fall any of the sorts of normal physical activities that you might undertake in daily life or for general recreation, e.g. walking, playing frisbee etc. "Chronic cardio" by contrast something that you would have to artificially force yourself to because typically, you're aiming to force yourself to go as hard as you can for 30 minutes or so. Presumably, on your commute, you don't force yourself to cycle as hard as you can and as others have noticed, probably aren't exceeding 75-80% of your max heart rate, so you should be fine. If you find yourself aching and tired every night from your commute, with constantly sore muscles, then you might well think that the commute is too hard for you and causing you to sustain some physical damage, otherwise you're probably fine.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 03, 2011
at 05:50 PM

Doubtless some people have the problem of not putting in enough effort (c.f. endless joggers) but plenty of people doing chronic cardio do push themselves to go as hard as they can for ~30mins, (c.f. runners constantly trying to shave a small amount of time off their run). For people running 30+ mins at sub-max effort, running 30+ mins at maximal effort would not be less chronic cardio, but more so. I also don't think that monotony is an evil per se, or variation an intrinsic good...Of two people commuting to work with very little effort, there's no reason to think the person stopping and...

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 09:14 PM

Interesting points, especially on variation not being intrinsically good. I agree with you on that. Getting back to maximal vs. sub-maximal: I agree that low-intensity chronic cardio is worse than high-intensity. I know a lot of people who consider themselves runners. None of them run as hard as they can for 30 minutes, ever. Most of them slog away miserably on the elliptical for 60 minutes thinking that it's good for them. That's why I was surprised at your characterization. Maybe you have friends who are fitter. =)

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 04:49 PM

*"Chronic cardio" by contrast [is] something that you would have to artificially force yourself to because typically, you're aiming to force yourself to go as hard as you can for 30 minutes or so.* I think this is incorrect. My idea of "chronic cardio" is going at a steady pace at a **sub-maximal effort** for 20+ minutes. The thing that I find objectionable about chronic cardio is not the effort involved but rather the lack of it, coupled with a steady, monotonous pace. Biking to work will inherently involve stops and starts and varying paces, which I think is fine.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 03, 2011
at 05:57 PM

... starting, will be better off than one going at stealing. The main reason why varying pace might be good, seems to me, that it allows you to do genuinely intense work while not doing more work overall, but for all the fashionability of random variations, I can't see why they'd be beneficial in themselves. I certainly think that doing more intense, close to maximal effort work for shorter periods is more effective. I don't think the problem with chronic cardio is lack of activity though: nothing wrong with hiking a lot, so long as one can also do weights/sprints for one's intense exercise.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on January 03, 2011
at 09:17 PM

Interesting point about variation not being intrinsically good. I think I agree with you. As for intensity, I'm not sure whether high-intensity chronic cardio is worse than low-intensity. I'm inclined to say that it may depend on volume/frequency -- but then again, "chronic" means too frequent. Empirically, I think the masses are more inclined to do the low-intensity kind. (Slogging away miserably on an elliptical for an hour, trying to burn off those calories.) That's why I was surprised at your characterization.

99a6e964584f20f3f69ad3a70a335353

(1334)

on September 09, 2011
at 11:47 AM

Long efforts of 55-75% maximum HR are beneficial rather than detrimental, according to Sisson. It's when you get above that range that "chronic cardio" starts. See his advice about "moving around a lot at a slow pace (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-primal-blueprint/). Your mileage may vary as to whether you consider that good advice.

6
Cab7e4ef73c5d7d7a77e1c3d7f5773a1

(7304)

on December 31, 2010
at 08:15 PM

I think as long as your heart rate is under 75 percent it should be fine. And anyways, it's healthier than riding in a car.

5
7d0c3ea9bf8be00b93e6433d8f125ac3

(7540)

on September 08, 2011
at 11:59 PM

In a society where most people use their cars to get EVERYWHERE, it seems weird that we're worried about the health effects of commuting by bike. I think sitting in a car for an hour+ each day is bound to be much worse for us. I don't know why the paleo community worries so much about cardio. Yeah you don't need to run 15 km a day to be healthy, but we are meant to move around. It's like people read Sisson's posts about "chronic cardio" and make the leap from "Don't kill yourself training for marathons" to "anything besides sprinting and weights is bad for you".

5
40e925ddc9657e211c9a2ee83c2cc579

(364)

on December 31, 2010
at 08:10 PM

I ride to work but I don't consider it "chronic cardio". Cycling in the city is stop start anyway so that breaks things up. I tend to go hard on the hills and treat them as interval training, but cruise on the flats. I keep my heart rate pretty low most of the time. Of course, it also depends how far you are commuting. Mine is 10km and it's only 30min of cycling.

4
3a966a805e09d88b0f223f2985392e4f

(836)

on January 03, 2011
at 09:19 AM

Modern hunter gatherer societies generally expend a lot more calories per day than the average Westerner because of the exercise they get while working.

They also walked everywhere, and carried wood or their babies, and hunted.

So please alert modern hunter gatherer societies that they are not being Paleo and are committing "chronic cardio." (This must be something from the largely unread Mark Sisson camp).

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 03, 2011
at 03:21 PM

Chronic cardio is more for those marathoners pushing past their limits constantly. Or the 45min a day extended high heartrate treadmillers. Sisson absolutely recommends tons of low impact walking/exercise, just that the rough stuff be high intensity an intermittent.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 23, 2012
at 01:38 PM

@Stephen-Aegis's point is pretty spot on. I've read Mark Sisson's book, and I think that he spells out what he considers chronic cardio pretty explicitly, so @Bryan, I don't think your point is valid: I don't think that camp is unread, I think they may have only read 1 book, and have been failing at interpreting it. For e.g., "walk everywhere" is explicitly recommended, not instructed to be avoided.

3
40449b985898b088a64660b40f329f0f

(951)

on September 08, 2011
at 11:51 PM

I have struggled to understand the concept of chronic cardio, and Mark Sisson recently elaborated on it in one of his "Dear Mark" posts:

Mark,

Thank you so much for this website. It???s such a tremendous resource of information and inspiration!

I???m sorry, but I???m currently unable to place jogging in a correct context in the Primal Blueprint. Initially, I thought for sure it fell into the Chronic Cardio camp. But then, in The Primal Blueprint, you suggest it for low-intensity aerobic movement (if one is really fit). Does it come down to the heart rate and time spent?

Thanks a lot,

Sean

You can boil it down to heart rate and time spent, if you like objective measurements. Certain types of people dig the number porn (particularly the type of person that gravitates toward endurance running, in my extensive experience) and want objective feedback. That???s cool and it totally works, especially when you???re just starting. Ultimately, however, it???ll come down to enjoyment and aptitude. Do you love jogging (or whatever activity it is that you???re questioning)? If yes, then do it (but stop when it becomes a huge drag). Are you really good at it? If you are, then you can probably go harder than most without it becoming Chronic Cardio.

If I were you and I wanted to jog without it getting excessive, I would measure my heart rate and running duration for the first couple times until I began to understand what my targets felt like. So, hit your desired rate, note it, observe yourself, and ask questions. How???s the stamina level? Is this fun? How are your joints feeling? Is this a stressful experience? Am I enjoying myself? How is my overall health? Does my immune system seem to be functioning well? Eventually, you???ll be able to ditch the measurements and go on feeling alone.

I???ve got tons more questions in the pipeline, but I???m always looking for more. Send yours along and I???ll do my best to address them. In the meantime, hit up the comment section. Offer advice of your own, and thanks for reading!

2
F850d793ff83a8deac524a459e520bf3

on September 09, 2011
at 10:27 AM

what? chronic cardio is running marathons and going on 100km bike rides. Riding your bike to work is not.... unless you are really unfit and struggle horrendously or you are a compulsive racer and just cant go slow. I sometimes ride 5km in a suit - by taking my time, just cruising, not "going for the doctor" I could gun it and pour sweat but why? 20kph is not hard at all to maintain and not get sweaty. 30kph and your are sweating 40kph and yeah, that's nutty for a commute. Slog? commuting to work by bike should not be a slog unless you want it to be. Get an e-bike/ power bike/ electrically assisted bike if it that big of deal. Dont be too Cardiophobic!

2
3dffcfd7d629d2b7284542065b7947d3

on December 31, 2010
at 08:27 PM

I think the key is your heart rate on this one. I can still move and really not be all that intense on it. My body works harder on a run, even a slow run than cycling.

2
D5db204527668aa712504995c0f8f96f

(551)

on December 31, 2010
at 08:14 PM

No it is not. And really, even if it was, it does not matter if that's what you like to do.

1
18e802556e3ddcc19b449676f0e4eab5

on September 08, 2011
at 11:44 PM

I've noticed in the Paleo community there is a lot of negativity towards long distance jogging or "chronic cardio". I have read many reads about persistence hunting and the evidence that we have been doing this for a good portion of our history up until agriculture. My point being, would persistence hinting be considered chronic cardio? Chasing down an animal over a long distance for ??? 3 hours seems like it would be considered that.

I stumbled on this post because I want to start biking to work (20 miles each way) and was curious myself.

What are your thoughts?

1
034c678bff434ab3781e3f1771018af9

(279)

on January 07, 2011
at 09:11 PM

If you read Body By Science, you'll see it argued that cardio is not necessarily damaging (though it can be), but that it's unnecessary for the health benefits we desire. HIT weight work is what's prescribed.

1
8ce2e69af79dcb1488f776efc1c54052

on January 01, 2011
at 01:09 PM

No. I would put it in with walking which everyone should do lot's of. I think that you're fine here.

1
D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on January 01, 2011
at 03:45 AM

Unless you're living in N.Y.C., Chicago, D.C., or L.A. and biking 15-30 miles from the 'burbs to work, my guess is that you're OK. As long as you keep your heart rate and intensity moderate and I see no reason why this shouldn't be a beneficial practice.

0
01adafcb4dd4147c6af543f61eee60a8

on March 23, 2012
at 04:50 AM

Im about to go for a 60min jog

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