Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Does Exercise Make You Fat?

This is a nice video by Abel James from Fat-Burning Man showing the different results he got when training for a marathon versus doing sprints a few times a week:

While we need to be careful about taking what is suggested in this anecdote to an extreme and denouncing all endurance exercise as worthless or harmful, I think it's important to get the message out that weight loss and fitness do not require heroic levels of exercise. It's one of most frustrating myths perpetuated by shows like The Biggest Loser which is itself a reflection of the conventional wisdom.

There's a false notion that it takes hours upon hours of grueling exercise to change your body. That you need to do endless stretches of cardio to burn off fat. That you need to do extraordinary amounts of weight lifting to build muscles. That "No Pain, No Gain" is a self-evident truth.

It isn't true. Any kind of exercise is better than none and while I would never discourage anyone from doing endurance exercise if that's what they truly enjoy, I would encourage anyone who isn't active to take up some form of resistance training. At the end of last year I started doing Olympic weight lifting once or twice a week at East Valley Crossfit. It has been so much fun and I've felt so energized that a few weeks ago I picked up a set of dumbbells to get in a couple more workouts at home.

While I don't quite have the physique that Abel has, this has definitely yielded me measurable gains. Here are graphs of my weight and body fat percentage over the last 3 months:

What isn't obvious from just glancing at the graphs is that while I lost 8.8 lbs. of weight, I lost 9.3 lbs. of fat. Who said you couldn't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? That's doing a few hours of low intensity weight lifting 1-2 times a week with plenty of rest between sets and never getting winded. Besides those lifting sessions, I rarely do anything more strenuous than leisurely walking the dog.

Perhaps I could make faster gains with higher intensity training or more aggressive calorie restriction. I'm sure some young buck with great genetics could blow away my rate of progress but for a guy who's pushing 40, I'm trending towards better health while most people my age are slowly losing theirs. I'm in no rush to reach my goals and I'm developing sustainable habits I can maintain for the rest of my life. This is an exercise routine that I genuinely enjoy and could see myself doing for many years to come. In the end I think that will make all the difference.

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