Let’s face it. There comes a time in every man’s life when the goal of a workout transitions from looking better to living a longer life.
If you’re over fifty, you’re likely in the latter of the two fitness options. Not only is it harder to stay ripped and athletic, but how you look in a Tinder profile becomes increasingly less important if it ever was in the first place.
Maybe you should concentrate your efforts on Zone 2 training instead of killing yourself in the gym. Stress is good for your body and mind, but extreme repetitive stress loses its effectiveness at a certain point.
Zone 2 training
Are you familiar with the saying, “Train slow to run fast?” Zone 2 is a form of low heart rate training that’s highly effective for achieving metabolic health and longevity. Training in Zone 2 will boost your performance and may save your life.
The simplest explanation of Zone 2 training is that it’s cardio at a level where you’re still able to maintain a conversation. Whether cycling, rowing, running or whatever your cardio of choice, can you still have the breath to speak to the person next to you?
We know what you’re thinking, “It’s hardly considered a workout if I’m not on the verge of puking and gasping for air.” Really, where’s the challenge in a leisurely jog or spin around the neighborhood? Shouldn’t we push ourselves to the limit and track our stats on a Peloton leaderboard?
“What are mitochondria?” you ask. If you remember from high school biology class, mitochondria are specialized structures found in cells with many functions. The most valuable role of mitochondria is extracting energy from nutrients and using it to power cellular activity.
The form of energy generated by mitochondria is called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This process, known as cellular respiration, is responsible for roughly 90% of the ATP produced in our bodies.
A key marker of aging is mitochondrial dysfunction, where the cellular process gets disrupted, and our cells no longer run efficiently. Mitochondrial dysfunction is common in people with chronic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The healthier your mitochondria, the healthier you.
Zone 2 benefits
Training at a lower intensity for a more extended period, Zone 2, is often called “base training” by elite athletes. We often think that top-tier athletes train hard all the time, but the reality is that they spend 75-80% of their activity in Zone 2.
Here’s what we get from Zone 2 training:
- More mitochondria
- Better mitochondrial efficiency
- Improved mitochondrial flexibility
- Lower resting heart rate
- Improved insulin resistance
Obviously, more and better functioning mitochondria are essential, but flexibility is possibly the most valuable benefit of Zone 2 training.
Metabolic flexibility is the ability of your cells to utilize fat and glucose as energy sources. At low heart rates, our primary energy source should be fat and not glucose. Metabolic inflexibility is a cell that’s unable to utilize fat versus glucose.
Put plainly, Zone 2 trains your body to burn fat instead of sugar. Having mitochondria that burn fat is vital if you want to live a long and healthy life. Many diseases that affect our lifespan are considered to be due to metabolic dysfunction. Mitochondrial dysfunction is relevant to cancer growth, immune system function, dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and much more.
How do I know when I’m in Zone 2?
Basing your Zone 2 training on your ability to maintain a conversation while working out is about as basic as it gets. The problem with this method is that you may not reach Zone 2. It’s a conversational level, not hanging out with your buddies watching the ballgame fitness routine.
So, how can you know when you’re in the zone?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
You can find your HRV by investing in a fitness wearable or heart rate monitor that straps around your chest during a workout.
The HRV for each individual differs, so consider it to be a barometer of your parasympathetic nervous system, and it changes as you exert yourself. Your HRV also varies daily based on your sleep, as well as internal or external stressors.
When you’re in Zone 2, your heart rate should be somewhere between 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. Begin by monitoring your heart rate during intense exercise and while resting to gauge your specific HRV window.
If you would prefer a much more in-depth, scientific explanation of HRV, check out this article by Marco Altini.
How long should you be in Zone 2?
Ideally, you should spend 90-minutes in Zone 2 training for the maximum benefit. Aim for two 90-minute Zone 2 workouts per week. If that seems like a long time for a workout, remember that you’ll be moving at a slow and steady pace.
Overtraining can shorten your life
Keep in mind that your heart is a muscle that only has so many beats in a lifetime. People with lower heart rates live longer.
Like anything in life, too much of a good thing is often harmful. Getting the proper dose of exercise is critical to living a long and healthy life.
So, take it easy and get in the zone.
Take care, even down there.
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