Why exercise won’t make you thin (and other idiotic tales of mass media reporting)


This wasn’t the headline for Time magazine’s recent piece, but it might as well have been.

In an exploration of recent studies that show exercise alone (I’ll come back to this) is not as helpful for weight control as people assume, the usual reductionist conclusions were drawn. (Confidential to article writer: fat cannot become muscle, 800-calorie Starbucks fat/sugar bomb muffin nothwithstanding.)

I’ll leave it to Tom Venuto to dispense the beatdowns, but I wanted to address this obvious point:

“All this helps explain why our herculean exercise over the past 30 years — all the personal trainers, StairMasters and VersaClimbers; all the Pilates classes and yoga retreats and fat camps — hasn’t made us thinner.”

Let’s look at the data shall we? Depending on the age (younger people are more active), nearly half to the majority of people get less than the bare minimum of activity in the US. In the UK it’s worse — something like 30-40% of people manage to shuffle out for a little infrequent walk. In Scotland, 72% of people can’t even manage that. And remember, the “minimum recommended” is something like “walk around the block every 3 days”.

Herculean exercise, my ass. It’s not like we’re all at boot camp every morning. Unless “all our exercise” means “walking to the bathroom”.

Data about gym memberships mean that some people paid for gym memberships on January 2 and that was their entire commitment. How many people do you know that hit the gym regularly? How many people do the bare minimum of exercise every day? How many people use the human body as it was designed to be used — intensely, flexibly, with functional, full-body movements?

Also, quite obviously, exercise alone will not compensate for an obesegenic environment full of garbage food. You’re farting against thunder, folks. Don’t feel alone, though — I also think that the food industry is slapworthy, especially for creating so-called “healthy” or “fitness foods” that are just sugary crap (small cakes “healthy” muffins and jugs of blue Gatorade anyone?).

Finally, if you’re looking at exercise as a way to “burn calories” you’re barking up the wrong tree. Yes, activity does expend additional energy, no question. Ask anyone skiing to the North Pole or doing the Tour de France.

But the main point of exercise, which nobody ever seems to get, is this: exercise makes your body work better. Exercise makes your body deal with nutrients the way it should. It puts carbs to work and mobilizes fat; it directs protein to make more muscle and rebuild joints instead of being whizzed down the drain. Exercise hires a Big Boss for the shipping-receiving warehouse that is your body.

Thinking of exercise as just calorie burning is like thinking of sex as just a way to make a sperm poke its head into an egg casing. Technically true, but so misses about 90% of the point.

BTW I could bitch forever about concepts of “exercise” that all seem to require some financial investment and branding and self-punishment and a paradigm of denial, but I need to go cook up some protein that’ll find a good home thanks to my Big Boss directing it not to be a lazy bastid.