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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is Exercise Just a Waste of Time?

There's been quite a buzz in the fitness community about a story in the latest Time Magazine, entitled, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin." Perhaps you've read the story already. Many people who have read the article (and even those who have just heard about it) have had very strong reactions. From the fitness gurus, I've heard the article is misleading and will lead people to abandon exercise. From others, I've heard that the article substantiates their feeling that they are wasting time in the gym. So who's right? Is exercise just a waste of time?

Yes. And no. The real answer is somewhere in the middle. I never hesitate to tell someone that abs are made in the kitchen, or that diet is 80-90% of weight loss success. And frankly, some of the things I've seen in the gym should barely count as exercise, even though people spend hours doing it. So yes, exercise CAN be a waste of time. And, if you can get 80% of the way there on diet alone, should you even bother spending time working out?

This time, I'm giving an unqualified YES. While exercise is no substitute for a healthy diet (nor is it an excuse to eat an unhealthy diet), time spent exercising has significant benefits. On the physical appearance front, strength training helps build and maintain muscle. If you lose body fat and maintain your muscle mass, your body fat percentage declines, your measurements decrease, and you look smaller and lighter -- even if the scale never moves! And intense aerobic training, particularly HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), can boost your metabolism for hours after you exercise, making your total calorie burn greater than you might expect.

Notice that, in the article, the author primarily relies on steady-state cardio for his exercise. While steady-state cardio has its place, for sure, questioning its role in fat loss isn't a new topic of conversation. In fact, it has been questioned long before this Time Magazine article was written. For instance, Craig Ballantyne of Turbulence Training has often criticized steady-state cardio as making people exhausted and hungry, but not providing the weight loss they want. Sound familiar?

So, if you respond to your workout by, say, drinking a 700 calorie protein shake, a box of oreo cookies, a fast food lunch, or even a 32 ounce Coke slushee (like I used to do), then you've undone all of your hard work. No, you do not EARN treats with your workouts. Any "cheat" or "reward" meal should always fit into your plan for your weekly caloric intake.

That's right - the key is to HAVE A PLAN. Don't watch TV with a death grip on the stairmaster for an hour, and then let your exhaustion lead you to McDonalds after your workout. Do short, efficient workouts, and plan for your post-workout meal in advance, making sure it fits into your daily calorie allotment.

As for the article, although it seems to cite a number of credentialed professionals and official studies, there's been much backlash from those cited. For instance, Dr. Timothy Church, an expert quoted in the Time article, cried foul, saying his professional opinions were misrepresented, according a statement from the American College of Sports Medicine. Church noted that virtually all people who lose weight and keep it off are exercising to maintain weight.
Frankly, while I think the basic premise of the article was true (that premise being that exercise does not grant someone a license to eat whatever they want), I felt the article was extremely irresponsible journalism. It's likely to cause people to stop exercising, since they've just been told that there exercise makes them fat. Meanwhile, the article doesn't give people any help in understanding how to improve their nutrition. That's two strikes. Maybe now is the time to cut a little fat from your budget and cancel your subscription to Time in protest of this slanted and misleading article.

Want to read some of the other outraged responses to the article? (Feel free to respond with more if you have found them.)
And from my friends in the blogging community:

1 comment:

  1. I would disagree that exercise is a waste of time (or just like you said, if not done the right way..). I have reaped the great benefits of exercise - I haven't had flu since February of this year, which is the time I started training.

    Increasing the exercise intensity will increase the heart rate, making our heart pump out more blood has health benefits. I say watching TV is more of a waste of time than doing exercise!!