Exercise? Why Bother? (a rant)

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I acknowledge that journalists need to make a living as much as anyone else. I just wish they could do it without messing with people's heads.

Case in point, an article, by Jacqueline Stenson, on MSNBC.1



The article can be summed up thusly:

- Exercising doesn’t increase your metabolic rate after you stop exercising

- Exercising doesn’t help you lose weight or keep it off

- Just give up and order an extra large pizza tonight2


Seriously, this is one depressing article.

I acknowledge that the author needed to make what she wrote seem interesting and “different.” Knocking exercise certainly qualifies as different. I realize that she wanted to be controversial, and that for most journalists, and a lot of other people, it’s better to be provocative than intelligent. (It doesn’t matter what you say, so long as it gets people to listen to you.) Even so, this article pisses me off.

It's not balanced. The general impression is bad.

The article states flatly that:

- Scientists can't prove exercise increases the metabolism (the inference being that therefore there's not much point to it)

- The calorie-burning difference between fat and muscle is negligible, so don't expect much from lifting weights.

Oh, as a grudging end note, she mentions one woman who says exercising makes her feel better -- as if that wasn't about the best damn form of motivation that there is.

It's as bad as the column that Gina Kolata wrote in the New York Times.3 [You might need to register to read this.]

Kolata agrees that exercise isn't going to do a thing to help you lose weight. You're doomed because the more you exercise, the more you eat.

Then, if you're still reading by this point, presuming you haven't decided to give up on even reading about exercise since after all there's no point to it, she adds that the scientists have not been able to prove that exercise isn't helpful either. (Because people who exercise tend to do other healthy things like not smoking cigarettes or running with scissors.)

Argh!

Never mind all the studies that show and show and show that exercise whups diabetes' flabby ass, kicks fatty liver out the door, and oh yeah, can put you in a better mood. Stenson wants to focus on the thought that exercise doesn't burn as much fat as scientists had thought, and Kolata wants you to focus on the fact it probably won't help you lose weight. If these articles had been written by a doctor or other health care professional, they would've conscientiously added "but do it anyway; it helps in other ways." Not these women.

I grant you that exercise won't burn fat, unless it's strenuous exercise. To quote the illustrious Dr. Merkin, "A study from Oslo, Norway shows that you have to exercise at almost 50 percent of your maximum capacity to increase your metabolism." But who the Frapp4 cares? Even if you're giving less than 50% of your maximum capacity, even if you're not losing weight, you're still getting fit, keeping healthy and whupping the ass of nasty diseases. Beats the hell out of sitting on the couch chowing down on a 'za and waiting for the end of the world.

Okay. I'm done now. It's safe to come out.

Seems only fair to ask if there are any studies (or, ahem, blogs) that really make you want to rant.

Note: The illustrious Charlotte of The Great Fitness Experiment has a more favorable opinion of Gina Kolata's viewpoint, which is shown in her review of Gina Kolata's book Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss -- and the Myths and Realities of Dieting.

1From May -- yes, I do read slowly sometimes.
2Okay, that was the inference that I drew from reading this article. Your mileage may vary.
3Way back in January '08. Sometimes I read realllllly slowly.
4Personally, I think the word frappuccino makes an excellent swear word.

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