Many of you will have noticed that my blog has shifted direction after the last couple years. This happened because I was diagnosed with prediabetes in January of 2019 which caused me to change the priorities in my life. In the past I have written about my climbing experiences and my journey into CrossFit. I have speculated about whether or not functional fitness can reverse chronic disease. The truth is that exercise alone cannot reverse type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, the major contributor to reversing chronic disease is the diet followed by exercise, mindfulness (stress reduction) and sleep. I want to emphasize that the diet is the major influence in the reversing of chronic disease.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the driver of the chronic disease state because of its high percentage of carbohydrates. The high concentration of carbohydrates stimulates the chronic expression of high insulin which drives systemic inflammation and consequently drives diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The question is: How do you reverse the chronic disease state?
The answer lies in lowering the carbohydrates in your diet. It wasn’t until I changed my diet to one that restricted carbohydrates that things changed for the better. When you think about it this, it makes total sense. Chronic disease is driven by the over expression of insulin and insulin is expressed in direct response to the amount of glucose in your circulatory system which is dependent on the amount of carbs that you have recently consumed. Restrict the carbs and your blood glucose will lower into the normal range over time depending on the degree of metabolic damage that you have sustained so far in your life.
Americans easily consume over 300 grams of carbs per day—literally 100-150 grams per meal. When you factor in the morning and afternoon snacks most people are way north of 300 grams per day—probably more like 400 or 500 grams everyday. This results in chronically high levels of insulin in the blood stream which drives the inflammatory disease state. Once I shifted my eating plan into the Keto lifestyle my blood glucose normalized and my A1C dropped from 5.9 to 4.9 and I reversed prediabetes in 52 days. So the question remains: If exercise can’t reverse chronic disease as a singular intervention, why do it at all?
Over 71% of the US population is overweight or obese and over 52% are prediabetic or diabetic. This means that over half of our population is entrenched in a chronic disease state driven by a high carb diet. The effect of exercise on the chronic disease in these individuals is difficult to quantitate and it isn’t until they fat-adapt on the ketogenic diet that the positive effects of the exercise can be seen in their glycemic condition. Moreover, these entrenched individuals spent decades eating the high carb diet to get to where they are now and undoing the damage doesn’t happen overnight—there is NO silver bullet or “pill” that reverses diabetes. Even insulin injections make the problem worse over time.
The level that you are fat-adapted and the extent of chronic disease reversal matters before you can see the effects on fasting glucose levels with exercise versus inactivity. It wasn’t until I weight stabilized about one-and-a-half years after starting the Keto diet that I could actually see the effect of non-exercise on my fasting glucose based on measured fasting glucose values. My fasting glucose rose into the mid-90’s from the mid-80’s when I stopped exercising for several days in a row.
The benefits of exercise and the types of exercise matter. First, exercise builds capillarity to the muscles and organ systems in our bodies improving circulation—this means more oxygen is delivered per unit time and there is more efficient removal of waste products produced by metabolism. The plasticity of our arteries increases to allow better function under pressure and improves the overall health of our heart. Additionally, the numbers of energy factories in our cells and organs, the mitochondria, are increased allowing for the more efficient processing of energy. Lastly, exercise stimulates the production and activation of receptors that transport glucose into cells that are insulin independent—this helps in blood glucose stabilization.
The effect of exercise grows in importance as our bodies revert from the chronic disease state because the body is moving towards its evolutionary normalized state. Humans were meant to move—we didn’t evolve in the back of a cave watching TV and waiting for a venison delivery. We were social animals that hunted together in groups and often migrated with the game animals that we depended on for food. We survived on a diet that was high in fat and protein and minimized carbohydrates.
So again, the high fat moderate protein diet comes first followed by a movement program. I want to be careful here to remind the reader that I am not advocating for the medical establishment and suggesting that your obesity is a question of just getting off the couch and exercising more. Diet comes first! There is a cliche that is often heard these days, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” It’s true, you can’t. So the diet has to change before anything else. Some say that the diet accounts for 80-90% of the change followed by exercise. I agree—drop the carbs first and then worry about the movement program!
So now we arrive back to the question of CrossFit—the question of what exactly should the reader be doing and whether or not CrossFit is the answer. At the very least, the “better than nothing” scenario is walking every day. A goal would be 1-2 miles at a pace which allows for a conversation between you and your walking partner. But for the best results your exercise program should include picking up heavy objects combined with high intensity activities that are done with and without weight. And this is why CrossFit should be a serious option for you.
The key philosophy of CrossFit is the adherence to movements that are constantly varied and functional utilizing a large number of joint and muscle groups in any given exercise. If I had to narrow down the movements into 2 that should immediately be adopted into any program I would advocate for the air squat and the burpee. Both of these movements are fundamental to human movement, involve a large range of motion, the utilization of core strength, and the integration of muscle and joint groups into a ballet of motion.
My typical week involves walking everyday, three days of tabata* or a triplet* or doublet*, and two days of strength* training. I propose that this program might be the optimum movement strategy for people who have been inactive for a long time and for older athletes. One of the key things is that the schedule should be intuitive—if I get up and my body is not “feeling it” then I just do the walking. Nothing is written in stone and the schedule is meant to be a target not an absolute. The main thing is to make movement an integral part of you personal culture.
So why the tabatas, doublets, and triplets? In order to get the increase in mitochondria, capillarity increases, and plasticity you need high intensity exercises. These are exercises that do not last more than approximately 20 minutes and are meant to peg your heart rate—this means that during the movement you are unable to have a conversation with your partner.
Taken together can you find this in a CrossFit gym? The answer is maybe. The issue is finding a CrossFit gym with flexible enough programming that will work for you. On any given week the best mix of movement is one that is intuitive, has enough rest built into it to recover, and has all three components: walking or low level movement, strength training, and high intensity doublets and triplets (sprinting could substitute for one high intensity sessions). This programming would vary each week based on how the participant feels.
So the crucial issue is shopping around and searching to see if you can find a box with flexible programming, the availability of a coach that can do the strength training, and a box that still rocks doublets and triplets in the programming along with frequent tabatas.
If you are interested in learning more then click: Ketonic Revolution or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also schedule a free consultation here: https://calendly.com/ketonicrevolution/let-s-zoom