Last Friday, an article appeared in Time magazine making statements that we believe run counter to fact and the public interest. The article claimed that exercise, contrary to the research with which we’re all familiar, is not an effective health tool, particularly as it pertains to weight loss.
While an ACSM member and expert was consulted for the story, he agrees that his research and opinions were selectively reported. Among its numerous claims, the story would have us believe that:
- Losing weight matters more than being aerobically fit in preventing heart disease
- One can’t lose weight from exercisse because exercise makes you hungrier – and willpower can’t conquer the hunger enough to make good food choices
- Exercising 60 to 90 minutes most days of the week in order to lose weight (a recommendation from an ACSM Position Stand) is unrealistic
- Leisure-time physical activity – just moving around more during the day – is more effective for weight loss than dedicated exercise
- Vigorous exercise depletes energy resources so much that it leads to overeating – i.e., weight gain
This article has raised an important health question: Is exercise really an effective means for weight loss?
As a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and a health and exercise professional, I can affirm that the answer is a resounding yes! A vast amount of research has definitively proven that exercise, when combined with a healthy diet, results in both weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight. ACSM just released an updated, evidence-based scientific position stand in early 2009 that proves these exact points.
Further, there is little evidence to the claim that exercising produces hunger so uncontrollable that it leads to weight gain. In fact, a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh proved just the opposite: overweight and obese women didn’t eat any more food after 40 minutes of exercise than they normally would when sedentary.
Exercise does require effort, and it does require self-control. But when these are combined to form a healthy lifestyle, the rewards are beyond substantial. Economically, expenditures are reduced (the recent Weight of the Nation conference reported that obesity accounts for some $147 billion in health care costs per year); and people lead more enjoyable, more energetic and happier lives.
Even for the non-overweight, exercise provides benefits that no single pill or prescription ever could. It treats and prevents numerous chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and even depression.
Exercise is a health tool we all need, regardless of our weight, and it is my sincere hope that the public takes its importance seriously. Further, advice about weight loss should come courtesy of a qualified health or fitness professional, instead of irresponsible articles that may not showcase the full realm of scientific facts surrounding the issue.
Here are some FACTS and ideas, backed by scientific evidence that we can count on.
Exercise and Weight Management
- There is strong evidence from the majority of the scientific literature that physical activity is an important component of an effective weight loss program.
- Physical activity is one of the most important behavioral factors in weight maintenance and improving long-term weight loss outcomes. In fact, participation in an exercise program has proven to be the very best predictor of maintaining weight that was lost.
- Effective weight loss and maintenance depend on a simple equation called energy balance: Calories expended through physical activity and normal lifestyle functions must exceed calories consumed.
- It is a myth that exercise can actually prevent weight loss by leading exercisers toovereat. Research and common sense disprove this notion. Look around the gym or thejogging trail. If this were the case, wouldn’t those who regularly exercise be the fattest?
Other Benefits of Exercise
- Exercise and physical activity have been proven to help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, obesity and diabetes.
- Studies show that when students are more active (through physical education, classroom activity, play, etc.) they improve test scores and attendance and experience fewer discipline problems and sick days.
Policy and economic implications
- Physical activity and exercise are key components of workplace wellness programs, which have been shown to return $2.90 to $5.96 in cost savings for every dollar invested by the employer.
- Participants in workplace wellness programs have reduced absenteeism, error rates and health care costs; they feel more alert, have better rapport with co-workers, and enjoy their work more.
- Physical activity and exercise must play a vital role in health system reform. Cost savings from healthy lifestyles can help fund broader coverage for the underserved.
- Stimulus funds designated for electronic medical records should include fields to record each patient’s physical activity level. Exercise IS medicine and should be measured as a vital sign like blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
- Reimbursement for services such as healthy lifestyle counseling or clinical exercise physiologists could go a long way toward improving health and reducing health care costs.
- Physical activity needn’t involve expensive equipment, gym memberships or team athletics. Simple activities like walking, accumulated in 10-minute bouts, can have significant benefits.
- Communities can do much to encourage physical activity by developing bike paths and walking trails, encouraging walkable neighborhoods, opening school facilities to afterschool activities, and enacting other exercise-friendly policies.
Source: ACSM, 2009
On behalf of all trainers from TeamFitnessGuru.com,