Health as Religion

Thomas Dougherty
BURSTOUT Contributor

Thomas Dougherty is a senior finishing up his second bachelor’s degree at Columbia University while interning for NYC’s Department of Design and Construction. He has ran cross country and swam competitively throughout college and is currently playing Division I Ultimate Frisbee. Preserving the environment is a chief concern of his, and one of his dream jobs is to own a firm that designs and builds sustainably.

Spending energy keeps me sane; my ADHD won’t allow otherwise. I’m currently drafting this at the “iron temple” (gym) in between sets of deadlifts, jump rope, and sets of plank – making sure, of course, not to let my heart rate drop as that’s not why we come here to worship 8 days a week. I’m constantly fidgeting and itching to be active. Breaking a sweat is undoubtedly the highlight of every day and unless I’m incredibly sore, my day feels incomplete without it. I would go as far as to say that I show signs of being addicted to the gym (which certainly isn’t the worst thing to be addicted to). It is part of my lifestyle, like how some have a glass of wine every evening, or sit down to watch TV after work every day. After my Christian vows, having a healthy lifestyle has been my only religion.

Save for when I’ve had to nurse injuries (year-round for as long as I can remember), I have either been competitively playing on sports teams, or on a strict exercise regimen, for years. As a result I can run a mile in 5 minutes, swim one in 20, do 100+ sit-ups and pushups (all the way up all the way down or they don’t count) 30 pull ups, 10 muscle ups, and many other awesome physical feats before reaching failure. Granted, there are many people that are on tiers above me and people on tiers above that tier (e.g. top marathon runners running 26.2 miles at an average 4.5 minute/mile pace), but I’m still working on it.

As with anything, the two variables of success are nature and nurture. Jamaicans being exquisite at sprinting is an intriguing phenomenon that displays the necessity of both nature and nurture. Sprinters are generally blessed with long limbs, narrow hips, and small upper bodies. For nurture, some children begin training when they can first walk and begin competing shortly after. Diet plays an important role too, as Usain Bolt’s training partner, Yohan Blake, is quoted saying that since his childhood he has been eating upwards of 30 bananas daily![3]

Fun fact:  Jamaica holds 46 of the top 69 best times in the men’s 100 meter Olympic sprint, despite a GDP and population over 1,000 and 100 times smaller than the US respectively and has even trained Canadian and British sprinters Donovan Bailey and Linford Christie, both of whom appear on that list.[1]

It’s a part of the Caribbean Island’s culture; it’s a way out of poverty, and there are a multitude of role models for Jamaicans to follow.

On Body Types
When I first got into the muscle building scene, the amount of different training programs, diets, supplements, and information was overwhelming. With all the different and conflicting diets and programs, I was at a loss of what to be doing. I’d always had a coach yelling at me to run faster or jump higher. Being on your own is a completely different beast. The result was half a year in the gym with little gains to show for it. It wasn’t until after reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding , also known as the bible of bodybuilding, that I really understood my physique and how to manipulate it.

Hitherto I was perplexed as to why I seemed so skinny in comparison to my peers. Turns out it is because I’m a classic ectomorph. As Arnold outlines, there are three chief body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Each body type influences how one responds to training and diet; understanding your type is pivotal in order to plan your health regimen.

ectomorph, skinny, man, male, fitness, body type
The ectomorph
typically has a light build and has difficulty gaining weight. They have a small frame, flat chest, lean, stringy muscles, and a fast metabolism. They’re able to burn calories quickly and in order to gain weight they need to consume a huge amount, cutting down on the cardio and increasing the weight training. While ectomorphs have the drawback of being a “hardgainer” they have the upside of being able to lose fat very easily. What’s going on? Ectomorphs have a smaller amount of myosatellite cells. In layman’s terms; there are less cells surrounding our muscles – cells that are known for facilitating growth and repair of muscles.
The upside of being an ectomorph is that we do not have to focus as much on what we are consuming. We may freely consume carbohydrates, fats, and calories, and maintain a healthy weight. Also the skin-and-bones type person will find that they make the most gains when focusing on compound exercises that involve big muscle groups like squats or deadlifts. A typical pitfall for the ectomorph is to work on isolation exercises like bicep curls.

endomorph, bulky, man, male, fitness, body type
The endomorph
is the opposite: they have a stocky build, slow metabolism, round physique, wide waist, and large bone structure. Endomorphs typically have an easy time gaining weight but a large portion of that weight is often fat. To minimize fat gain, endomorphs have to take special care to monitor their diet and tweak their workouts. Staples of an endomorph’s exercise regimen include cardio and other calisthenics (body weight exercises).
Evolutionarily speaking, the endomorph has been favored by natural selection as humans with fat-storing metabolisms often were able to procreate. In today’s society however, fat-storing metabolisms are becoming more of a nuisance than a benefit. A common pitfall for the endomorph is to spend hours on the treadmill; slow, steady cardiovascular workouts aren’t as successful at stripping the fat as interval-based cardio conditioning. Also, endomorphs can also get tunnel vision by doing endless crunches. Spot-reducing fat is not going to do the trick either. The endomorph needs to lose the fat from all over to see results around the waistline.

mesomorph, lean, man, male, fitness, body type
The mesomorph
experiences the best of both worlds. Being able to easily gain and lose fat and muscle, having naturally athletic builds. Mesomorphs have the ideal body for bodybuilding; they have the type of body that looks well built without ever having to set foot in a gym. The same research that highlights the unflattering fact that ectomorphs lack cells aiding in muscle growth indicates the opposite is true for mesomorphs. Because of the ease that mesomorphs have repairing and growing muscles, a common pitfall is for them to become jaded in the gym. Staples of their workouts should include a mixture of the endo and ectomorphs’. Their diet is also flexible, as it’s okay for them to consume a moderate amount of carbohydrates and calories.

On Exercise vs. Diet
Whether exercise or diet is more important for people’s health goals is a moot point. It all depends on what you’re looking for, your body type, and what you can fit into your lifestyle. We all need food to live and not every lifestyle allows time for exercise.

While it’s known that exercise has many health benefits beyond muscular strength, podiatrist Aaron Carroll points out in his New York Times article, “to lose weight, eating less is far more important than exercising more.” He states that in the past decade the percentage of people who were physically active as well as those who were obese increased. In an energy balance analysis study, Thomas et. al (2012), have found difficulty proving that physically people are less likely to be obese than a sedentary person. Their hypothesis is that people often underestimate how many calories they burn during exercise. This phenomenon coupled with the increased appetite that results from burning energy can often result in a higher caloric intake than if one hadn’t exercised and eaten less.

One can argue that there isn’t time in the day to get to the gym or the park, exercise, and clean up afterward – and then cook a healthy, home-cooked meal. That’s where I disagree; as long as the workout is focused and high-intensity, it doesn’t need to be long. Besides, we make sacrifices for the things we love. If longevity, aesthetic, and robustness are what you’re looking for, then it is imperative to be conscious of everything you’re consuming as well as making a bona fide effort to exercise a majority of the days of the week. Exercise has shown to be as effective as medicine with curing depression; any form of physical activity releases the “feel-good” neurotransmitters we know as endorphins.

It’s really all about what you’re looking for. If you want bulging muscles and an uplifting community then get a gym membership – and use it. Conversely, if you can’t find much time in the day, and not enough willpower to sacrifice sleep or some other hobby, it might be better to just focus your energies on eating less and eating right.

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