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The Duplicity of Exercise

Posted Sep 28 2009 10:30pm

By Lynn Haraldson-Bering

I’d like to continue the discussion about exercise that Barbara started in her last entry (“ The Baby. The Bathwater.”), mostly because when I first read the Time magazine article Barbara referred to (“ The Myth About Exercise.”)I wasn’t sure how to think about it.

If exercise alone OR in addition to lowering calorie intake doesn’t (the experts believe) help us lose weight, then if I take that theory one step further, I could surmise it does nothing to help maintain weight loss, either.

Both arguments make me the odd man out – an aberration – because exercise definitely played a roll in my weight loss, and exercise keeps me at my maintaining weight.

I didn’t begin a formal exercise program (or even walking further than I absolutely had to) until I weighed about 187 pounds (down from 300). So yes, I was able to lose 110 pounds without exercise. But at 187 I had small, weak calves, a flabby stomach (underneath the fat that still covered the surface) and a lower back prone to aches and pains even when working under the least amount of stress. The arthritis pain in my knees was just as bad, if not worse, than it was when I weighed 300 pounds.

I began walking for exercise in April 2006 and my measurements were 44-38-49. In September, five months later and just before joining the gym, they were 41-36.5-45.5 and I weighed 164. Two months later, after adding strength training to my routine and upping my cardio routine by implementing the elliptical and bike, and by walking at higher inclines on the treadmill, my measurements were 39-33.5-42.5 and I weighed 152.7. Eight inches in five months and an additional 7.5 in two months. I was NOT seeing those kinds of results just by restricting my food intake. Not to mention my overall well being – physically and mentally – was much more positive.

But here’s the kicker. What makes me (at least according to the experts) “different” from the average loser is this: exercise doesn’t make me hungry AND it doesn’t make me feel entitled to eat a donut or french fries after a workout. I eat the same amount of food every day, regardless if I work out or not. Only if my body says it’s hungry after a particularly strenuous workout/hike/bike ride/what-have-you do I eat more than I normally would, and then what I eat is healthy. No donuts or french fries, bagels or chocolate cake. Just fruit or Wasa or egg whites or a salad.

This is why what Barbara wrote in her last blog makes so much sense to me: “The fact that exercise alone does not cause weight loss says absolutely nothing about the value of exercise to dieters and maintainers. In my experience, exercise is absolutely vital to successfully flipping the lifestyle switch.”

So how do we get the rest of the weigh-losing public to balance exercise with caloric responsibility?

I have no clue. I only know what worked for me: Death. Or at least potential early death.

Do I “love” to exercise? Most days, no. There are times (more than I care to admit) when I’d rather write/play WordTwist/vacuum/just about anything other than exercise. I’m not fond of sweat. It itches. Makes me look awful. But damn if it doesn’t clear out demons, make the back ache go away, the flab around my middle tighten up, the knees move more fluidly. That’s more important than any donut.

Reader Dee knows what I mean. In a comment to Barbara’s last blog she wrote: “…I find I can't live without exercise for other reasons, a main one is that I am prone to "moodiness", and without fail, exercising at least every other day keeps the moodies away. Your explanation helps me realize I don't have to be confused, just keep exercising and keep paying attention to what I eat.”

The equation is so simple, yet implementing it is hard. There’s no doubt about that.

So let’s talk about this. What was your switch? How does exercise impact you in maintenance?

I fear that as more research emerges negating the effects of exercise on weight loss, fewer people will exercise. They will lose out on all its non-weight-loss benefits: feeling better, being more toned, and if arthritis is the issues, feeling less pain.

This is something our obese nation can’t afford.

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