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Fitness Isn’t an Overnight Sensation

Gina Kolata’s article, Fitness Isn’t an Overnight Sensation in the January 20 edition of the New York Times outlines what it really takes to lose weight and keep it off.

There are no quick fixes as promised by infomercials selling the latest gads and fads. What is necessary for success in weight-loss or any other health and fitness goal is commitment, consistency, patience and above all, lifestyle change. These three things are the hardest concepts to convey to clients who want unrealistic results. Unfortunately, the people with the highest expectations tend to be those that are less likely to reach their goals.

The article cites an interesting six week study that seems to demonstrate how people’s body image improves once they begin an exercise regimen. Subjects in the exercise group rated their overall appearance higher at the end of the six weeks study even though they showed no physical change. Improved body image serves to aid motivation and exercise adherence necessary for changes in physical appearance. It is also important to realize the physiological changes that lead to improvements in fitness do take place fairly quickly and lead to overall improved health despite physical appearance remaining the same.


No Truth to the Fountain of Youth – Scientific American


In light of the recent movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, scientists S. Jay Olshansky, Leonard Hayflick and Bruce A. Carnes debunk anti-aging products and myths by reposting their original June 2002 essay, No Truth to the Fountain of Youth. in the December 2008 issue of Scientific American. In their essay, they define aging and explain the biological processes behind aging. In their Position Statement on Human Aging, they state that “Scientists are unwittingly contributing to the proliferation of these pseudoscientific antiaging products by failing to participate in the public dialogue about the genuine science of aging research.” Expensive and ineffective “Anti-aging” products sell because charlatans know how to placate to the whims and fantasies of an age, aging and youth obsessed public.

There is no reliable evidence that suggests that a single anti-aging product on the market works. Yet people’s ignorance and lack of skepticism allow charlatans to continue to sell anti-aging products and make false claims about how they work. Not only do they not work, but may actually be harmful. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate products such as dietary supplements which means they do not undergo clinical testing like approved medications.

It is important to realize that quality of life is how we live instead of worrying about how long we live. Enjoy life and live well.

Starting Exercise Later in Life Still Helps Heart – Scientific American

Another article, Starting Exercise Later in Life Still Helps Heart from Scientific American cites more evidence showing that beginning an exercise regimen later in life can still help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier?

The article Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier? by Coco Ballantyne in Scientific American endorses my response to last week’s New York Times article, Does Exercise Really Make You Healthy? (See my previous blog.)

Although both articles have similar titles, they differ greatly on the benefits of exercise. The Scientific American article highlights the benefits of exercise on the cardiovascular, immune systems and bone health.

The only “disappointing” aspect of the article was what it had to say about weight-loss, “Contrary to popular belief, working out at the gym every day will not necessarily lead to weight loss.” Unfortunately, it is very true that it is difficult to lose weight and there is no quick fix. According to the American Council on Exercise personal training manual, 50% of people fall out of an exercise program within the first six months and only 9% of people engage in exercise at a high enough levels of duration and intensity for enhancing cardiovascular fitness. To burn one pound of fat in a week, you need a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day. This is not an easy task, since it involves a combination of diet and moderate to vigorous exercise of an hour or more per day. The upside is this, if weight loss is lost using a combination of diet and exercise over a long period of time, the weight is more likely to stay off.

The important thing is not to be discouraged when you do not see results right away. It takes time. It takes time to form the habit of exercising regularly and the cardiovascular endurance necessary for maintaining the exercise and intensities necessary for weight-loss. Most people when starting an exercise program report feeling better generally and having more energy. The bottom line is that exercise is about life-style change and the evidence to support the benefits of exercise is overwhelming.

Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?


Fortunately, for the most part, Gina Kolatas’ article, “Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?” in the Health Section of The New York Times agrees with the associated health benefits of exercise. However, I am going to focus on specific areas where the article casts a shadow of doubt upon some of the benefits of exercise.

“While exercise can boost mood, its health benefits have been oversold.”

Two thirds of the US population is overweight or obese. Half of these are obese. The World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Overweight and Obesity cites a sedentary lifestyle as a major contributor to excess weight. Since these conditions lead to an increase risk of coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, it makes sense that physical activity helps decrease these risks.

Though the evidence is mixed, exercise may also provide benefits for people with osteoporosis.

The evidence showing positive effects for weight bearing exercise on maintaining bone health is overwhelming. Studies show that strength training shows significant gains in bone density, especially in older male and female adults. Where the evidence “is mixed,” is exactly what volume, intensity, and exercise are most effective at helping to prevent osteoporosis. The American College of Sports Medicine’s Position Stand on Osteoporosis and Exercise supports the benefits of strength training on bone health.

For better health, simply walk for 20 or 30 minutes a day, boosters say…

Any increase in activity helps with a calorie deficit and this recommendation may be a good starting point for people with weight issues who do not have the cardiovascular capacity to exercise for longer periods. The point is to start out in manageable steps and build endurance and intensity as you get stronger. This type of regimen also helps with exercise adherence which is necessary for the consistency necessary for results.

Despite trying hard, those who dieted and worked out lost very little weight.

The recommended amount of weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week. There are no details of the Federal study so we do not know the length of the program, the precondition of the subjects, duration or exercise intensity of the diet and exercise group who “lost very little weight.” With respect to the weight loss, we do not know whether the loss is relative or in absolute terms.

Lifting weights builds muscles but will not make you burn more calories.

Building muscle will help burn more calories at rest. Muscle mass is related to BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate.) Muscle tissue has a high energy requirement. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle) is a reason for weight gain as we age. Our BMR decreases because we do not have the same energy requirements as when we were younger with more muscle mass. According to the American Council on Exercise personal training manual, muscle loss in non-training adults leads to a 5% reduction in BMR for every decade of life. We also lose a half pound of muscle every year after the age of 25 if we remain sedentary. Studies have shown that regular resistance training can stem weight gain associated with sarcopenia and even reversed the process. The bottom line is the old adage, if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

Jack Wilmore, an exercise physiologist at Texas A & M University, calculated that the average amount of muscle that men gained after a serious 12-week weight-lifting program was 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds. That added muscle would increase the metabolic rate by only 24 calories a day.

Increasing your BMR by 24 calories per day is equal to approximately 672 calories per month. That is the equivalent of running for approximately an hour. Twelve weeks of training is a relatively short period since the first six weeks of a beginning strength program tends to be low in volume (Low weight and high number of repetitions of between 12-20 repetitions) and focuses on muscular endurance. It is mostly neuromuscular learning and not hypertrophy that accounts for strength gains during this phase. There are no details of the subjects such as experience and exercise prescription.

…it is impossible to know with confidence whether exercise prevents heart disease or whether people who are less likely to get heart disease are also more likely to be exercising.

Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that challenges the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This type of exercise helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Cardiac muscle responds in the same way as skeletal muscle to exercise by getting stronger. One of the many chronic adaptations to cardiovascular exercise is an increase in stroke volume because the heart chambers can increase in size by 40%. Studies show that cross-sectional area of coronary arteries increases in proportion to ventricular size increases. Stroke volume is the amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle in one heartbeat. Since the heart is pumping more blood in a minute (cardiac output), than the heart has to beat less times in a minute at rest. A lower resting heart rate is a good measure of level of fitness as well as how quickly the heart recovers from exercise. Resting heart rate refers to the number of heart beats per minute (bpm.) Just like skeletal muscle, if cardiac muscle is stretched regularly, it will have greater contractibility. Cardiovascular exercise also increases HDL (good cholesterol) levels in the blood. HDL helps remove LDL “bad”cholesterol from the blood and also helps reduce body fat which would otherwise coat artery walls and eventually form plaque. The American College of Sports Medicine considers low levels of HDL in the blood a coronary artery disease (CAD) risk factor.

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