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A difficult question…

August 13, 2009

So, recently Time Magazine had a very provocative cover article, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.  Readers of You Are Not A Fit Person will  recognize that conclusion as one that I have already explored.  To Quote:

This is why we are going to start with exercise.  Exercise is very tightly connected to fitness, but it isn’t as connected to weight loss as I had originally hoped.  About a year ago, my brother and I took two different routes to weight loss (this was back when that was my goal).  I decided to focus on exercise and he chose diet.  A note about my brother here.  He is very devoted in the short term to whatever he puts his mind to.  As well, he has the metabolism of a hummingbird (at least compared to me).  Still, he is three years older than me, he does love his food, and he was a smoker up until recently and might have dropped dead from a heart attack-so exercise was a problem for him.  I figured my exercise route would win.  How wrong I was.  I got creamed.  I lost about 5 to 10 pounds.  I gained a fair amount of muscle though, so my fat loss was larger than the 5 to 10 pounds of overall weight.  I got much, much fitter.  Still, my brother ate very well, although a little calorie deficient, and the weight just melted off of him.  When the competition was over I had to grant, exercise isn’t the best way to lose weight (in the short run). -You Are Not A Fit Person

After reading the article I must admit that I was feeling even more down on exercise than I had in the first place.  The article makes exercise seem so bleak.  Was I wrong in thinking that exercise is key to long term weight loss?

I know it appears that I am running down exercise, but I am not.  I am just being honest.  I don’t know one fit person who doesn’t exercise.  To be fit, you will have to exercise.  As well, I pointed out that diet is more important in the short run, but exercise is much, much more important in the long run.  I had a hard time writing this chapter because I want you to know that nothing you do will be more important to your long term fitness than exercise, but I also want to keep you from getting disappointed when the exercise doesn’t immediately transform into weight loss.  It will be key to maintaining a lower weight, absolutely key though. -You Are Not A Fit Person

There are a couple of key things in this article that caught my eye .  The author, John Cloud weighs 163 pounds and has never been overweight.

I have exercised like this — obsessively, a bit grimly — for years, but recently I began to wonder: Why am I doing this? Except for a two-year period at the end of an unhappy relationship — a period when I self-medicated with lots of Italian desserts — I have never been overweight. One of the most widely accepted, commonly repeated assumptions in our culture is that if you exercise, you will lose weight. But I exercise all the time, and since I ended that relationship and cut most of those desserts, my weight has returned to the same 163 lb. it has been most of my adult life. I still have gut fat that hangs over my belt when I sit. Why isn’t all the exercise wiping it out?-Time Magazine

Am I the only one here who is noticing that the author exercises and isn’t overweight.  How in the world is that an argument that exercise won’t make you thin???!?! The most absurd point about this article is that we are only focusing on one item, exercise.  No one said, exercise alone will make you thin.  Nobody has ever said that.  All the article seems to be pointing out is that exercise plays a smaller role than diet in your calorie balance.  This is because even a vigorous 1 hour run only burns about 720 calories, which is less than half of our daily calorie intake.  You can’t run yourself thin.

It is this kind of article that confuses people.  The article acts like this is some sort of a dilemma, exercise or diet.  It is both and so much more.  When we attack one independent of the others we are just creating the false illusion that this isn’t the road to fitness, when in fact it is.

A recent report from the Archives of Internal Medicine titled: Healthy Living is the Best Revenge: Findings From the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam Study looks at how 4 lifestyle factors effect long term health.   There are a number of interesting things in this report that relate to what we are talking about.  First, the four factors are not smoking, exercising, low BMI and healthy eating (they describe how they define each of these in the study).  Healthy eating, exercising and low BMI (essentially being thin) are 3 seperate factors.  If exercising = being thin, then technically there would only be 3 factors, or if eating healthy = being thin, then again there would only be 3 factors.  What the study found out: ‘Each healthy lifestyle factor was associated with a reduction in risk of any chronic disease’.  More importantly, when you review table number 2 you discover that only 641 people who ate well and exercised had a high BMI, as opposed to 3760 people who exercised and ate well who had a low BMI.  I am not a statistician, but I would have to say that would indicate to me a roadmap to being thin, or at the very least a direction my journey would start out in.  The other thing to note is that no other single factor effects your health more than being thin.

Finally, what I find quite interesting totally aside from the findings in this study or the ideas put forward in the Time article, is the fact that only 9% of the people in Potsdam have all 4 characteristics of a fit person.  Don’t smoke, exercise, eat well and be thin.  That is pretty much the definition of a fit person.  The more interesting part is that a similar study in the USA entitled: Achieving a healthy lifestyle among United States adults: A long way to go, indicates that this number is only 6.8% in the US.  The truly interesting thing about this is that there must be other factors at work in keeping thin, because I assure you that more than 6.8% of the US population is thin…

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