“Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin: Part II”…a guest post by John Gilbert

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Articles, Fat Loss

timexerciseToday’s post comes from John Gilbert, a wellness coach at Human Wellness Solutions who teaches fat loss, nutrition and human performance in Spokane, Washington. As a follow-up to Podcast Episode #55, John is responding to John Cloud’s recent article in Time magazine, entitled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.”

“The author makes a few important points…

Particularly, I enjoy his perception of exercise transcending the gym. Exercise, or more specifically in the authors view, physical activity, can occur anywhere and often is singularly thought of inside a gym. Raising the awareness of this perspective is most definitely significant. The author also discusses how people will exercise to eat more food than they otherwise could without gaining weight. The awareness of this approach to exercise is also significant.

Though these points are important, the confusion the article is likely to create in the public is a much greater negative than the positive points in the article. The article seems to perpetuate an already confused public as to what exercise physiologically does for the body. For example, he mentions, “fat turning into muscle” and quite blatantly makes the enormous amount of research on exercising to improve a better quality of life quite insignificant.

However, it could also be argued that his article perpetuates people to think about exercise more in the realm of the health benefits since he is encouraging people to move more, more often, without the focus on just aesthetics and weight loss.

Yet a more likely conclusion that can be made is that his de-emphasis on the health benefits of exercise apts people for failure in the sustainability of such a healthy lifestyle since research demonstrates that those who exercise primarily for the health benefits as opposed to the aesthetic benefits will sustain an active lifestyle longer.

No matter how the article is argued to be interpreted, undeniably the main confusion of the article resides in the flawed (in common sense and scientific evidenced) premise of exercise preventing weight loss via stimulation of overeating. As stated in the message points (please click on the hyperlink) from the ACSM, if this were the case, “wouldn’t those who exercise the most be the fattest?”

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And of course this is not the case.

In attempts to provide a solution to the recommended 60-90min of exercise per day, the author proposes very few details about increasing overall physical activity throughout the day. Well to what extent? What studies support the energy balance tactics of this approach? Without objective recommendations, the extremes of interpretation could lead to people think they were doing what they needed to lose weight, but without success and leaving them even more confused.

If there is going to be a proposal of low intensity physical activity being more important for weight control than a specific exercise routine, explain the solution beyond a general idea.

As confusion is detrimental to the public’s accurate education on healthy living, so is the timing at which the article is released. This article comes at a time (no pun intended) when primary prevention efforts, such as exercise, need to be greater than ever with the rise of many chronic diseases that have a high prevalence of capable prevention. The article also undermines the momentum of a healthy lifestyle—including exercise—in public health that occurred in recent years. Implications of people taking this article as factual are the most dangerous.

Hopefully the inaccuracies in this article will spur an educated response from those in the mainstream health and fitness community, like it has in the professional and academic communities as demonstrated by the recent actions of the American College of Sports Medicine. As stated on ACSM’s website:

An Aug. 10 message to ACSM members alerted them to the issue and invited them to join the campaign. Tools provided included a list of message points and a draft Letter to the Editor for members to adapt and send to local media. Many have done so; others have chosen to blog on the issue, send out tweets on Twitter, add information to their Facebook pages, or otherwise communicate the importance of healthy lifestyles based on science and medicine.
To read a more succinct and well educated response than my own, please see the following analysis of the issue by Jim Whitehead, Executive Vice President of ACSM:

“The cover story of Time addresses critical and at times complex issues about physical activity, diet, and weight. Time brings needed focus to the importance of our behaviors and lifestyles — especially physical activity and diet — not only for weight but also for our overall health. The article would benefit even more from some helpful refinement, in that it includes occasional misunderstandings of the scientific and public health evidence about these matters, and at times draws more on personal experience and viewpoint. Last October, for example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. That historic report comprehensively documented the strong scientific evidence that has been building for decades in regard to the importance of physical activity to health. The Physical Activity Guidelines underscored the strong, compelling scientific and medical evidence on the important role of physical activity not only in the prevention of weight gain and of weight loss when combined with diet, but also powerfully demonstrated that physical activity lowers the risks of early death, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and much more. The bottom line is this: Very few people are able to maintain a healthy weight without regular physical activity and those who do are still at high risk of chronic disease due to being sedentary. We think the readers of Time, the overall American population, and our policy makers in Washington, DC and elsewhere would gain from knowing this or having it re-emphasized. This would be not only a public service but also something that could save lives and the health of countless millions, and also could help guide the future directions of health policy and healthcare reform in the United States.”

To simplify, healthy habits of physical activity and exercise will result in better weight control than other habits that do not include these actions to as great an extent. Therefore, our weight management and health is a culmination of the many decisions and habits we make—not our weight culminating the control of our many habits and decisions, as this article would lead you to believe. After all, the number on the scale does not and should not equate to self dignity.”

Thanks for the thorough response John! If you’re in the Spokane or Coeur D’ Alene area and interested in working with John Gilbert as your personal coach for fat loss, nutrition or human performance, you can e-mail him at [email protected] or click Ask a Podcast Question at the bottom of this page

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