Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Exercise Guidelines for Women: The Medical Community Still Doesnt Get It

A recent study on weight loss and exercise in women published in JAMA has all of the media outlets buzzing again about exercise and weight loss. It reminds me of the Time article last year. They are both approaching it the wrong way! The authors and researchers just don't get it. Low-intensity exercise doesn't result in a net fat loss. So, doing more of it is futile! Yet, the medical community and government recommend doing more. It is all based on a flawed hypothesis, bad research, ignorant interpretation of this research and thought-less regurgitation by the media. If you want to lose fat and keep it off, go to the people that get results. I have consistently produced outstanding results in a fraction of the time! It is not a scam or starvation. It is a better understanding of the physiology of fat loss! More on that later.

First of all, this study involved no dietary intervention at all. The researchers wanted to see how many minutes of low-moderate intensity exercise middle-age women needed to perform to prevent weight gain without dietary manipulation. Yeah, if you haven't realized it, diet is extremely important for fat loss. The average American female (and male) eats tons of processed, sugar-laden garbage. More than ever, people eat for reasons beyond for just physiological needs. They eat because they are bored, or they are sad, or they are happy, or they are alone, or they are out with friends. It doesn't matter. They have some psychological reason to eat. However, as the saying goes "you can't out-run a donut!"

Not all exercise is created equal. This drives me crazy! The medical community calls all physical activity, exercise. Going for a walk and performing a timed-set of jump pull-ups are as different as night and day (ask my clients). Yet, they are all grouped as exercise. Big mistake. In terms of metabolic demands and fat burned, there is an exponential difference. There is also a dramatic time difference. Two minutes of timed jump pull-ups are equivalent, in my book, to walking 30 minutes.

It is not about Calories In-Calories Out. This is a simplistic application of thermodynamics that gets thrown around (out of context- the human body is not a closed system) but the evidence shows it is flawed. It is more about the control of energy storage and utilization. Which is influenced more so by hormones (that are affected by the type and intensity of exercise) and genes (which are turned on and off by the type and intensity of exercise, epigenetics). Low-intensity exercise has little influence on these factors. In fact, the body may get even more energy-efficient with regular, low-intensity exercise.

Why aren't women encouraged to do heavy resistance training? This is one of the best ways to burn fat, but is never recommended. Get over the myth of bulking up! That is utter nonsense! You will bulk-up by drinking orange juice and eating fat-free muffins, not strength training. The so-called 'experts' never even mention it. They should say "heavy resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your health, strength, and body composition. If you don't know how to do it properly, seek out an experienced trainer to help you lift safely and effectively."

This research is poorly designed and the data is misinterpretted. This study, like many are simple observational studies. They can show correlation, but shouldn't be extrapulated to show causation. This is how many of the fitness myths start. I don't have access to the full article, but the authors conclude in the abstract:

"Among women consuming a usual diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain only among women whose BMI was lower than 25. Women successful in maintaining normal weight and gaining fewer than 2.3 kg over 13 years averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity throughout the study."

So, there is a correlation between women with a BMI under 25 and not gaining weight. This seems unfair. The skinny stay skinny, but the fat get fatter! Also, the women who stayed under a BMI of 25 averaged 60 minutes of exercise a day. Quickly, experts are now recommending an hour of exercise a day for females. That is, of course, if your BMI is below 25. If it is higher, just give up! Ugh, correlation does not imply causation. Haven't we learned our lesson?

For all of you females who hear these experts spouting their recommendations and feel like it is a lost cause, I have good news. You don't need to workout seven hours per week. I have helped numerous females significantly improve their body composition with less than two hours of exercise per week (but high-intensity). As I posted before in my post on The Fat-Loss Time Management Hierarchy, some things give you more bang for your buck. Low to moderate-intensity 'cardio' doesn't give you much bang for your buck. In fact, some clients don't do any low-intensity 'cardio', but have seen good results. Sleep, diet, and high-intensity strength training are the keys to transforming your body in an efficient manner. Get off the elliptical trainer and spend your time moving some iron. Read back through my blog on nutrition, it is vital for fat loss. Finally, quit listening to the media for your health and fitness advice. Get your information from someone working "in the trenches" of fat-loss training, who has consistently produced outstanding results.

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