Exercise Doesn't Have to be Weight Loss's Silver Bullet

Well, Time has certainly had a successful article published. John Cloud's "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" has jolted the fitness world and created a great debate about exercise and its validity when it comes to weight loss.

Last week one of my friends, a personal trainer, asked me, "What are you going to do when your clients ask you about that article? First the recession, and now this. How will I retain clients?"

If my friend's clients have no other motivation to exercise besides weight loss, this article may well provide them with the nudge they need to cut themselves loose from the gym. After all, reverting to spending an evening at home relaxing as opposed to working up a sweat in the name of weight loss does sound appealing.

But there seems to be a central piece of the exercise, diet, and weight loss puzzle that has gotten, shall we say, "cloudy." Cloud writes that exercise is futile because it "causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight loss benefits we just accrued."

I am quite sure no one ever said if you exercise, yet then you eat more, you will lose weight. The basics behind weight loss are very simple: you must expend more calories than you take in. Given that our lifestyles have become extremely sedentary and it has become easy to eat junk, it is not surprising that doctors have recommended exercise to aid in the battle of the bulge.

Let's look at our current situation:

We are so busy working that we barely move all day. We get in our cars, walk to our office buildings, take an elevator to our offices. We sit at our desks. Then, we take an elevator back to our cars and drive home to eat. We are exhausted, so we grab a bunch of junk that we would probably never eat if we had to take the time to make it ourselves. (Would you eat near as many chocolate chip cookies if you consistently had to bake them for yourself? My guess is no. You'd just grab an apple, because it is quicker and easier.)

So what is the answer? If we know we need to expend calories in order to lose weight, it only makes sense to encourage exercise. The problem Cloud brought to light is that many people don't realize that exercise is not a quick and easy fix to compensate for eating junk. To lose one pound, you have to burn 3,500 calories. Many people who get on the treadmill for a 30-minute, moderate run only burn around 250 calories. If that is followed by a 400 calorie doughnut, well, you get the picture.

Cloud has begun a good conversation here. Exercise has many health benefits, and in many circumstances it helps keep weight in check. But people would benefit from a better understanding of caloric intake and expenditure so they don't unwittingly sabotage their own efforts.

In addition, it would behoove us to think outside the box a bit. Let's face it: some people hate going to the gym. Is there an alternative for them? How can they be encouraged to move? Gardening, walking, cleaning, biking with the kids, and other every day activities that don't necessarily seem like exercise can add up, and may give those who hate the gym an alternative to strive for.

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