Exercise Cycles

When his close friend Jack Kelly, a former Olympic rower,
collapsed and died of heart failure immediately after a regular
workout (a couple hours of rowing followed by a five-mile run), a
distraught Irving Dardik needed to know why. Kelly was a
world-class athlete in prime physical condition, after all. That
his most sharply defined muscle would give out during the prime of
his life defied reason.

When Dardik, a physician, went looking for answers, he found
that his friend was not alone. What’s more, when he started looking
at cases in which well-trained athletes died of heart failure
associated with exercise, he found that more often than not the
collapse came after, not during, an activity. ‘I began to think
that it must be something in the way people exercise that causes
heart failure,’ he says in Roger Lewin’s book Making Waves:
Irving Dardik and His Superwave Theory
(Rodale, 2005).

Most people who exercise, including top-notch athletes, do so at
a constant heart-pounding level for long stretches of time. In part
this is because trainers and other sports professionals have long
been vested in this approach. In part it’s because the media
continue to condition folks to believe that without pain (or at
least a little discomfort) there can be no gain. According to
Dardik, though, it’s not only unnatural to endure extreme tension
for lengthy periods — it’s unhealthy.

Everything in nature, he says, moves in continuous wavelike
cycles — from the rhythms of sunrise and sunset to our daily
fluctuations in temperature and blood pressure to the way animals
move in short bursts of activity then stop to rest. Dardik believes
we should exercise with those same life cycles — that same ebb and
flow — in mind. (His decades-long research revealed that Olympic
sprinters tend to be healthier than marathon runners.)

Each aerobic workout should include cycles of exertion and rest.
Exercise for a while, then stop and rest. Exercise for a while,
then stop and rest again. And again. Not only will this method
prove to be a bit easier than literally running yourself ragged, it
might just save your life.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.