Sedentary Behavior and the Gym

Well, we’re reaching that time of the year again where many people will overindulge (according to the popular theory) on holiday sweets and put on some pounds. Invariably, they will feel bad about themselves and begin to reflect on the coming year and the fact that they would like to be healthy in the new year since they weren’t quite able to find good health in 2009. So they will search the internet for the secret to weight loss and good health and they will be confronted with articles such as this one, which says that a person’s ass is their body’s biggest enemy.

Those who have examined my running schedule will argue that I run quite a bit and that this is the thing that keeps me fit and lean. One problem with this theory is that I have not run since November 15th at the San Antonio Half Marathon, and I have actually lost weight since then. I am an extremely sedentary person. I have been trying to master 2KSports NBA 2K10 on X-Box 360 and anyone who loves this game will tell you that it requires several hours to master. I was a king on 2K8, but the new game has changes in it that make defense much harder to play so I’ve been wearing out my thumbs trying to master the game. I guess in that sense, I have been providing exercise for my hands!

So this article tells us that: “Even if you think you have an energetic lifestyle, sitting is how most of us spend a good part of our day. And it’s killing us — literally — by way of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. All this downtime is so unhealthy that it’s given birth to a new area of medical study called inactivity physiology, which explores the effects of our increasingly butt-bound, tech-driven lives, as well as a deadly new epidemic researchers have dubbed “sitting disease.”

This is complete and utter nonsense. What’s worse is that this has been known by doctors as early as 1932. In 1932, Russell Wilder noted that his patients tended to lose more weight with bed rest than they did with strenuous physical activity. He said, “The patient reasons quite correctly that the more exercise he takes the more fat should be burned and that the loss should be in proportion and he is discouraged to find that the scales reveal no progress.”

We’ve known since at least 1940 that a significant increase in energy expenditure also leads to an increase in appetite. Northwestern University endocrinologist Hugo Rony stated in 1940 that “vigorous muscle exercise usually results in immediate demand for a large meal.” Statistics support the fact that lumberjacks eat more than 5,000 calories while sailors eat only about 2,500. Most of us have seen the training tables of professional football players and boxers who eat tremendous amounts of food.

There is every reason to believe that if a sailor became a lumberjack, he would soon develop the appetite of his fellow lumberjacks.

By at least 1960, it had been amply demonstrated that exercise is an ineffective method of increasing energy output and that physical exertion eventually evokes a desire for food such that the subsequent intake of calories may exceed that lost during exercise. In the 1960s, the “experts” continued to point out that moderate exercise would only lead to insignificant increases in energy expenditure and these could easily be matched by slight and comparatively effortless changes in diet.

So basically, the “sedentariness leads to obesity” theory is an old wives tale that refuses to die. It makes sense and it doesn’t require much thought. You figure that if you do more, you should lose weight, but most of us find that this is just not the case. It would be very convenient if this were true.

As recently as the 1960s, doctors routinely advised against rigorous exercise, particularly for older adults who could injure themselves. Today doctors encourage even their oldest patients to exercise, which is sound advice for many reasons: People who regularly exercise are at significantly lower risk for all manner of diseases – those of the heart in particular. They less often develop cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses. But the past few years of obesity research show that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated.

However, this could just as easily be called an association and not a cause. Perhaps healthy people tend to exercise more than non-healthy people. Perhaps people exercise BECAUSE they are healthy. That seems to fit better than the alternative. Exercising seems to do very little to get one healthy who is not already fairly healthy to begin with.

Our article continues the trend of wildly overstating the benefits of exercise and it can’t be more revealing than this little tidbit:

“In his groundbreaking study on NEAT, the Mayo Clinic’s Levine used motion-sensing underwear (hot, huh?) to track every single step and fidget of 20 people who weren’t regular exercisers (half of them were obese; half were not). After 10 days, he found that the lean participants moved an average of 150 minutes more per day than the overweight people did — enough to burn 350 calories, or about one cheeseburger.”

Three hundred and fifty calories? That’s it? Seriously? For a simple cheeseburger, you would have to shop the mall walking very briskly carrying heavy packages for two hours just to burn that many calories according to the conventional wisdom. How ignorant is that?

Earlier this year, the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE – PLoS is the nonprofit Public Library of Science – published a remarkable study supervised by a colleague of Ravussin’s, Dr. Timothy Church, who holds the rather grand title of chair in health wisdom at LSU. Church’s team randomly assigned into four groups 464 overweight women who didn’t regularly exercise. Women in three of the groups were asked to work out with a personal trainer for 72 min., 136 min., and 194 min. per week, respectively, for six months. Women in the fourth cluster, the control group, were told to maintain their usual physical-activity routines. All the women were asked not to change their dietary habits and to fill out monthly medical-symptom questionnaires.

The findings were surprising. On average, the women in all the groups, even the control group, lost weight, but the women who exercised – sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months – did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. (The control-group women may have lost weight because they were filling out those regular health forms, which may have prompted them to consume fewer doughnuts.) Some of the women in each of the four groups actually gained weight, some more than 10 lb. each.

Some research has found that the obese already “exercise” more than most of the rest of us. In May, Dr. Arn Eliasson of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center reported the results of a small study that found that overweight people actually expend significantly more calories every day than people of normal weight – 3,064 vs. 2,080. He isn’t the first researcher to reach this conclusion. As science writer Gary Taubes noted in his 2007 book Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, “The obese tend to expend more energy than lean people of comparable height, sex, and bone structure, which means their metabolism is typically burning off more calories rather than less.”

In short, it’s what you eat, not how hard you try to work it off, that matters more in losing weight. You should exercise to improve your health, but be warned: fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain. “I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber – and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual postexercise reward.” (This is from the article.) Charles does not eat carbohydrates of any sort.

Now that’s some of the best dietary advice I’ve seen in a long time. The bottom line is that carbohydrates cause weight gain. Good carbs cause cravings for more refined carbohydrates. They are like a gateway drug to bingeing on sweets. Get rid of all carbohydrates and you will control both hunger and cravings. Any diet that does not control hunger and cravings is an improper diet. Exercise if you want to and because you enjoy it. Don’t rely on it to look like me.

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Posted on December 11, 2009 at 9:34 am by Charles · Permalink
In: Diet, Exercise

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