How Exercise Doesn’t Work…the Way You Thought it Did — Part 1
Exercise myths: whether true or not, there is one thing we can count on. We all torture ourselves with exercise.
You just ate a donut and now you think, “It’s Ok. I will run this off with 10 minutes on the treadmill.”
Or “If I eat these Skittles, it’s just fine. I will just do 20 more crunches.”
Well these Faustus-like pacts we make with the devil may not be what we thought they were. Unlike Dennis Green’s infamous line: no they aren’t who we thought they were. Exercising doesn’t work this way, at least not for most people.
So what can we expect from exercising? Here are some exercise myths and facts.
Exercise Does a Great Job Burning Calories Right?
Absolutely not. Well not what most people expect when trying to compare it to the calories they put in their body. The only exception may be swimming and that is because of what cold water can do to your body.
It would take you 20 minutes of exercise to burn a cookie. I am talking about those medium sized cookies, not the large cookie that is the size of a human head.
Professor Louis Newburgh of the University of Michigan calculated for a 250 pound man, “He will have to climb 20 flights of stairs to rid himself of the energy contained in one slice of bread!”
And if you are going to be taking on the Boston Marathon, you will only burn 1 pound of fat during the whole experience. That is 4-8 hours of a lot of physical effort to just get a pound of fat.
Gary Taubes mentions in Why We Get Fat that Paul Williams, a statistics expert at Berkeley, and Peter Wood, a Stanford University researcher, did a study where they collected detailed info on 13,000 habitual runners that were subscribers to Runner’s World Magazine.
As they collected data, Williams and Wood noticed that no matter the size of the runner or how far they ran, such as 40 miles a week, on average each runner put on more weight with each passing year. They suggested in order to maintain a current weight a runner would have to increase their running by a few miles a week each year.
If a man in his 20’s is running 20 miles a week, then he would have to double that in his 30’s (8 miles a day) and triple it in his 40’s (12 miles a day) to maintain the same weight. Think of what that means for 50’s and 60’s? Is anyone going to be running a marathon daily in their 70’s? Probably not.
Taubes goes on to mention that there was even a 1989 Danish study where they took people that sat on their butt all day long, trained them how to run a marathon (26 miles by the way) over 18 months.
The male patients lost on average 5 pounds of fat, while the 9 women they trained didn’t lose any fat. That would be pretty depressing huh?
So if it is so hard to burn calories working out, why should we do it? Why is it recommended?
Weight Training Helps Burn A Lot of Calories While Resting Right?
One of the common thoughts is that muscle is more metabolically active than fat. So as you build more lean mass it will naturally help to burn off your calories whether you are watching your favorite TV show, reading this Know My Body blog post, or sleeping.
But let’s say we drop 5 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle. We will only increase our calorie expenditure by two dozen calories a day. That is the caloric equivalent eating ¼ of a piece of bread.
So yeah your body will burn calories as you rest, but maybe not hundreds and hundreds of calories daily as you may have expected.
What About Those Millions of Gym Memberships?
To give you an idea, health club membership revenue grew from $200 million in 1972 to $16 billion in 2005. That is a 17 fold increase when adjusted for inflation. Yet we are still getting more obese.
We went from 1 in 9 being obese in the 1950’s to 1 in 3 being obese today and 2 out of 3 being overweight. We are spending more money on gym passes and we are still getting fatter.
This could mean a lot of people not using gym passes, but we know with that type of increase there has to be at least a few million more people working out compared to the 70’s. Working out didn’t become generally accepted until the 70’s anyway. So there are definitely more people working out, but we are still getting more fat.
Exercise Will Make Me Less Hungry Right?
Well no. The opposite happens.
What makes it worse is that it is shown that as we exercise more or exert that energy, our body begs us to eat more in order to compensate for that lack of energy.
So we are actually eating more by working out more? Yes! That sounds like a vicious cycle and makes working out seem like a crappy decision huh?
What About Injury?
Yes as you exercise more and give a higher level of impact on your body or perform in contact sports, there is a higher chance you are going to get injured. Look at professional sports. There has been a lot of drama going on about concussions for example in the NFL, NHL, and even MLB (baseball).
Gosh…working out sounds horrible. Now I have an excuse to never workout again. Thanks cade!
Not so fast. Working out is valuable. It is not only valuable, but a necessity. It just might not be valuable in the ways you expected it to be.
So Maybe I Shouldn’t Work Out?
No silly. While there are a lot of reasons people get confused about exercise and the exact value it provides, it is one of the healthiest things we can do.
In part 2: exercise myths debunked. We will discuss the often mistaken benefits of exercise and why you should make it a part of the fabric of your life.