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Monday, August 13, 2007

Exercise? No way, that stuff will kill you!


Photo by A-Wix

I've recently read several articles indicating that in certain circumstances being overweight seems to have life-extending qualities. In cases where people have had heart attacks, some cancers, and various forms of cardiovascular disease, the overweight patients simply lived longer. Huh? Doesn't this fly in the face of everything we've ever seen, read, or heard?

These studies are real studies and I've added links at the end of this post if anyone is interested in reading more about them. Even the studies that suggest being overweight has some protective effects in this population of patients are quick to point out that being overweight is a proven risk factor in developing these diseases in the first place. The best thing to do is not end up in one of these studies by having cardiovascular disease. Whew! Looks like all of that running isn't going to kill me, after all.

Is exercise really necessary?

Why bother with this whole exercise thing? It is possible to lose weight by dieting alone. People do it all the time. The real question, though, is how many of those people keep that weight off? The answer is not many. As mentioned in a previous post, the National Weight Control Registry is a study following people who have kept off more than 30 pounds for more than 5 years. How many of these successful, long term, weight loss, veterans turned to exercise? 94% used increased physical activity as a technique to keep the weight off. I'm always second guessing numbers and statistics, but to me, that is a powerful statistic.

What motivates people who frequently exercise to continue?

Few people would argue that exercise has lots of benefits. Here are some of those benefits for the readers out there who have lived under a rock for the last 30 years, or so.

  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease - The American Heart Association, American College of Sports Medicine, Center for Disease Control and the Surgeon Generals Office all consider a sedentary lifestyle a major risk factor in developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Increased energy - It is counter-intuitive to think that you will feel more energetic by being more active, but increased activity increases your metabolism and this effect lasts for longer than the time you exercise. The result...you feel more energetic after you exercise.
  • Exercise lowers LDL cholesterol - Exercise reduces the "bad" cholesterol in the blood. 'Nuff said.
  • Reduces stress - Stress causes a release of hormones in our body activating the "fight or flight" response. Exercise is a positive way to put those hormones to use, rather than allow them build up. Over the long term stress hormones, like cortisol, can do damage to your body.
That's all fine and dandy, and there are many more benefits to exercise, but are those reasons really why people do it? I can tell you, nothing, and I mean nothing makes me want to go out, spend hours on a Saturday morning running 30 miles, or so, than knowing that my LDL cholesterol might be a point or two lower as a result. As a matter of fact, I'm getting all worked up right now just thinking about how much I've decreased my risk of cardiovascular disease.

Umm...I don't think so. Those things are all so...abstract. If I get those benefits, then great. They sound like they are good improvements in my life, but that doesn't get me out the door at 4:30am on Saturday morning. So what does? Simple...it makes me feel good.

Feel good? I've been on a treadmill before and the last comment that I would make about it was that it "felt good".

I'm not going to lie to you, after I've been out running for hours, I'm definitely not feeling good. I just want it all to be over with. But when it's all over, that's when the magic happens. Mentally, I feel better having accomplished something for the day. Physically, I feel tired, but very calm and at ease. I consider the time spent exercising an investment in feeling good for days. It's a "no-brainer".

I'm not suggesting that someone has to do as much exercise as I do to get those same benefits, but the more fit you become, the greater the benefit from a "feel good" perspective. If you are very unfit then your body is not working efficiently, but you don't know any better. For you, feeling sub-optimal is the norm. By increasing your fitness level, you start to feel better and you realize that what you thought was normal was really feeling crappy. If you increase your fitness level by 20%, that's 20% more enjoyment out of each day that you were missing. The reason that people continue exercising is that they never want to go back to the point in their lives where feeling bad everyday was normal.

Your body is an amazing machine that has the ability to adapt and improve. By becoming more fit and healthy, your body will work much more efficiently throughout the day. The number one reason to stick with exercise for the long term is not because of how it makes you feel during exercise, but how it makes you feel the other 23 hours a day.

What are your reasons for continuing to exercise? If you don't exercise regularly, why don't you?

Study/Article links:

Body Mass, Fitness and Survival in Veteran Patients: Another Obesity Paradox?
Obese Heart Attack Patients Are More Likely To Survive After Treatment Than Normal Weight Patients

Related Posts:

National Weight Control Registry
Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Myths
Starting a running program