What No One Ever Told You About Exercise . . .
And Why You Need to Know

By Tim Ryan

Statistics tell us that despite the so called "fitness craze", approximately 80 percent of American adults do NOT exercise. Statistics also show that Americans as a group, are fatter than they were a decade ago. Furthermore, our society suffers from numerous diseases, illnesses, and physical debilities, many of which can be prevented, cured, reversed, and the incidence of, reduced, by exercise. Yet still, only 20 percent of us take responsibility for the health and physical condition of our bodies and exercise consistently and regularly.

The reasons for this widespread ambivalence and refusal to exercise on the part of many adults are many and varied. Medical, health, and exercise experts have for years attempted to determine these reasons and consequently, develop a solution to the problem. The current consensus in the mainstream health/fitness field is that, a) most people donít enjoy exercise, they find it unpleasant to perform, and therefore avoid it, despite knowing that they desperately need it. And, b) many of those who are willing to exercise, feel they lack the time to fit it into their busy schedule.

The perceived solution espoused by many national health agencies and organizations such as the Office of the Surgeon General, the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the American College of Sports Medicine, is to promote a kinder, gentler exercise Ė "exercise lite", which takes the emphasis off of structured and planned exercise and emphasizes generic activities that occur during oneís normal daily life. In an attempt to gain exercise compliance by most Americans, these organizations have effectively lowered the standards of exercise to such a low level that now virtually every activity under the sun that involves "movement" of the body now qualifies as exercise. So, according to these organizations, if you walk the dog Ė thatís exercise. If you clean your house Ė thatís exercise. If you take the stairs instead of the elevator Ė thatís exercise. If you take your kids to the park Ė thatís exercise. If you mow the lawn Ė thatís exercise. And, on and on it goes ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

In order to produce the physical adaptations that result in improved health and function, the human body requires a very direct and significant stimulus, namely, demanding muscular work, which triggers the bodyís adaptive machinery into action. The frighteningly obvious mistake these "experts" have made is that these new sugar coated replacements for "real" exercise do not, will not, and cannot provide the required stimulation and thus, the essential benefits and desirable physical adaptations produced in response to proper, structured exercise.

Regardless of intentions, non-demanding, frivolous recreational activities, and normal activities of daily living, cannot supplant real exercise any more than swishing water in your mouth supplants brushing and flossing your teeth. The implications are obvious: anyone who follows exercise lite instead of formal, structured exercise of sufficient intensity, duration and frequency, will suffer the same consequences as those who simply "swish" for oral hygiene Ė this being, decay, rot, and disease.

Ironically, and unbeknown to both, most of the general public and health/medical professionals alike, proper exercise requires much less time commitment than any of the bogus exercise replacements. Furthermore, participation in proper exercise provides every known health and fitness benefit that is possible from any physical activity. Exercise therefore, renders all other activity unnecessary and non-essential to health. If one exercises properly, the remainder of their lives need only consist of activities they enjoy and willingly choose to do. If oneís choice is nothing, other than the basic chores and responsibilities of life, so be it Ė nothing is lacking as long as that person performs a relatively small amount of "proper" exercise each week.

The fact is, even if an individual partakes in a very active lifestyle and incorporates numerous physical activities, sports, and recreation into their lives, they still must exercise in addition to all this activity. Exercise is NOT optional. All the general physical activity in the world cannot produce the benefits and physical improvements that structured exercise offers. Proper exercise however, makes all other physical activity purely optional.

As for the demanding nature of exercise, and the unpleasant physiological symptoms (muscle burn, elevated heart rate, increased respiration, sweating, etc.), that occur during its performance, these things are simply unavoidable. If youíre going to stimulate worthwhile changes to your body, this hard work is necessary, and the discomfort is part of the package. These uncomfortable feelings are normal, natural, and unavoidable -- they cause no harm. If you reduce exercise intensity and effort in order to avoid the discomfort, the health/fitness results you seek will not be forthcoming.

What Exercise CAN and CANNOT Do

In addition to understanding the preceding information, it is critical that you also understand and keep in perspective what exercise CAN and CANNOT do. In general, exercise CAN effect changes in the following six areas of physical condition:

Exercise Can:

Muscular Improvements (strength, endurance, tone, shape)
Increased Bone Strength and Density
Improved Cardiovascular Efficiency
Enhanced Flexibility
Contribution to Body Leanness
Increased Resistance to Injury

There are many additional specific benefits and bodily adaptations that occur in response to exercise. However, they all in some way relate to the above six factors. For example, exercise can improve your physical appearance, but this improvement is a result of the increased muscle shape and tone brought about by increases in muscle strength, and by the contribution to body leanness brought about by an increased metabolism demanded by larger, stronger muscles. Also, self esteem and self-confidence may improve as a result of the physical changes one experiences from exercise and successful attainment of goals.

Though proper exercise offers a multitude of benefits and desirable physical changes, exercise is sometimes promoted as doing things that it simply CANNOT do. The general public is harmed when it is mislead and confused by erroneous information and advice given by misinformed exercise/health care professionals, and sometimes even defrauded by unscrupulous charlatans seeking financial gain for themselves.

Itís impossible to address all the misinformation, misconceptions, and erroneous claims put forth in regard to exercise. A few of the more prevalent false beliefs are listed and briefly discussed below:

Exercise CANNOT:

           By Itself - Cause Body Fat Loss

Fat loss occurs only when total daily calorie intake is less than total daily calorie expenditure (i.e. as a result of a calorie deficit). The extra calories expended during exercise are insufficient on their own. Dietary calorie intake must be restricted to insure a calorie deficit.

Burn a Significant Amount of Calories

Calorie expenditure during exercise is very small relative to the amount of calories easily consumed through food. The calories contained in just 2 Oreo cookies would require approximately 20 minutes of continuous jogging to burn off Ė and this will just get you back to square one. It will not contribute to a calorie deficit.

Burn a Significant Amount of Fat

As noted above, calorie expenditure during exercise is slight. Of the calories expended during exercise, most are derived from carbohydrate. Depending on the exercise intensity, fat contributes no more than about 40 percent of the energy. Therefore, if total calorie expenditure is small, how can a small fraction of this small amount (fat contribution), be significant?

Atone for Overeating/Nutritional Infractions

For the reasons discussed in the previous two myths, exercise certainly canít make up for excessive calorie intake consumed as a result of poor eating habits and food choices.

By Itself - Significantly Alter Body Appearance

Improving physical appearance requires reducing body fat, and strengthening, toning, and shaping muscles. Exercise primarily causes the muscular changes. The body fat reduction requires dietary modification and control.

Body fat is soft and smooth. Since body fat lies on top of and covers the view of the muscles, body fat will hide improvements in muscle tone and shape that occur from exercise. It is quite possible for an individual to be strong, fit, and firm, but look weak, unfit and soft due to excess body fat. Therefore, without dietary control to cause fat loss, exercise is limited in its ability to change body appearance.

Prevent Heart Disease

Medical science has NEVER proven exercise can prevent heart disease. Medical science has NEVER proven that exercise can reduce the incidence of heart disease. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise. People who exercise regularly and achieve and maintain high fitness levels, still get heart disease and still suffer heart attacks. Heart disease continues to be the number one health problem in this country. Any decline in the death rate from heart disease is a result of advancements in treatment, not prevention due to exercise.

Improve the Health/Condition of Your Heart

Medical science has NEVER proven, and thereís NO EVIDENCE that an already healthy heart can be made healthier through exercise. Neither can a diseased heart be cured through exercise. Cardiologists confirm this.

Aerobics Unnecessary

If exercise cannot prevent or cure heart disease, and cannot improve the health of your heart, what does this say about the need for aerobic activity? After all, the primary purpose of aerobics touted by health/fitness experts is for cardiovascular health. If in fact the health of the heart cannot be changed through aerobic exercise, why perform aerobics? Especially since aerobic activities are extremely ineffective and inefficient at strengthening and conditioning the muscles, toning and shaping the body, and burning calories or fat. Additionally, by their very nature (high force, repetitive overuse), aerobics lead to an array of orthopedic injuries and debilities, including, but not limited to: osteoarthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, cartilage damage, ligament damage, stress fractures of bones, and muscle atrophy. Thirty or so years ago, before the popularity of aerobics, particularly running, orthopedic surgeons were one of the lowest paid, and most undesirable medical specialties. Today they are one of the highest paid and most desirable specialties. Orthopedic surgeons have the aerobics craze, and the injuries it created, to thank for their good fortune.

Quite simply, unless you are training for a specific athletic event that requires the performance of a specific aerobic activity such as running (i.e. training for a marathon or 10K), aerobics offer nothing of value that cannot be accomplished more safely, effectively and efficiently with properly applied strength training. And, remember, the aerobic activity you perform in preparation for an athletic event may be necessary for optimal athletic performance, but it is NOT making your heart stronger or healthier, nor is it helping to prevent heart disease. I have read many articles where doctors are quoted as saying that training and competing in marathons and triathalons and the like, is actually BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH!

Why You Need to Know this Information

Millions of people have been misinformed and led astray by the erroneous information, beliefs, concepts, and recommended practices put forth by health care/exercise professionals who simply do not understand exercise. As a result of these misconceptions and the incorrect practices and techniques they spawn, most people never obtain significant benefit from their exercise program and often wind up injured.

Having been led to believe that exercise should be fun and pleasurable, and that walking the dog and playing with the kids is exercise, people often avoid real exercise, or if they do exercise, are disinclined to work hard and exert themselves when performing it, thus preventing its effect. The utilization of unproductive, inefficient activities, combined with an unwillingness to work hard, literally prevents an individual from achieving the physical improvements they seek.

If you ever hope to truly reap the benefits that exercise has to offer, it is vital that you understand the information contained in this article. You must then earnestly apply the principles and techniques of "real" exercise and learn to accept and deal with the corresponding discomforts during exercise. ń

Copyright 1999 by Precision Fitness, Inc.  All Rights Reserved