Last week's Time Magazine article Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin generated a lot of discussion around water coolers, fitness centers, and health blogs. People were surprised, outraged, smug, and/or relieved.
I was none of the above. For ten years I’ve been teaching doctors and other health care professionals to separate discussions with their patients about exercise from discussions about weight management.
- When you tie them together, exercise becomes punishment for eating. Punishment doesn’t feel good so it leads people yo-yo exercise the way they yo-yo diet.
- Some people exercise to earn the right to eat or pay penance when they ate something they define as “bad.” (For the record, I don’t believe in good and bad food.) That feeds into their negative thoughts about exercise, and about themselves.
- When they compare the number of calories they ate to the amount of time they'd have to spend on the treadmill to burn it off, they may decide exercise is futile.
- Besides, no one can accurately compute everything they eat and every calorie they burn. It would require too much precious time, energy, and attention.
- General physical activity has a significant effect on our daily energy needs so focusing only on exercise when discussing “calories in vs. calories out” ignores a significant opportunity for those who are unable or unwilling to excercise.
- When people equate exercise with weight loss and don’t see results, they quit exercising. Exercise is good for everybody—whether they are thin or obese, and whether they are trying to lose weight or not.
One of my girlfriends felt that John Cloud, the author of the Time article, clearly didn't get the concept of a healthy lifestyle. Who can blame him when there are so many confusing messages out there. My advice? It's simple really:
- Look for opportunities to increase your general activity level each day
- Start with small doses of exercise that are comfortable and gradually increase as your fitness level improves
- Try different activities to discover what you love to do
- Ignore articles or advice that tie exercise and weight management together (positively or negatively).
It is indisputable that exercise is good for you and will make you feel better. That's all that matters.