If America could somehow harness the energy it puts into looking for excuses not to exercise into actually exercising, we’d be the fittest nation on earth. But instead, we’re a country with a rapidly expanding waistline that takes any opportunity to sit on the couch, watching advertisements and news reports that only enforce our belief that working out is outdated.
Like a codependent boyfriend or girlfriend, the media wants you to hang around, so it tells you what you want to hear. With that in mind, we’ve decided to take some of the “information” you may have seen recently on the evening news and look at it from a fresh perspective.
1. The exercise pill
In August, scientists at the Salk Institute near San Diego announced they’d discovered two drugs that mimic the benefits of exercise. The two drugs, Aicar and GW1516, were given to mice. They increased endurance and burned fat, just like cardio, only without the sweat. It’s been suggested that the drugs could be used to treat obesity or even give athletes a performance edge. “If you like exercise, you like the idea of getting ‘more bang for your buck,'” said Professor Ronald Evan, who headed up the study. “If you don’t like exercise, you love the idea of getting the benefits from a pill.”
That’s the part the media got all excited about. What got lost in the hype, though, is that the pill doesn’t clear clogged arteries or strengthen tendons and joints needed to support your magically increased jogging stamina. So even if a pill like this can help you look good, you’ll still probably drop dead of a heart attack before your time—that is, if your knees don’t give out first.
Furthermore, the pills were tested on mice, which have an entirely different physiology from humans. So don’t get too excited yet.
2. The Flat Belly Diet
Prevention‘s “Flat Belly Diet” has been all over the news lately, from the papers to Rachael Ray. The diet, which is based on the magazine’s own research, centers around monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs as they call them, that theoretically target and blast away belly fat. According to the actual book, exercise is optional but encouraged. There’s an entire chapter devoted to a workout plan, but there’s still a mixed message happening here, considering that the Flat Belly Diet Web site has “Never Do a Single Crunch” plastered across it in big, purple letters.
The sad thing here is that the eating plan itself is pretty good. It’s a 1,600-calorie, Mediterranean diet made up of mostly healthy foods. Sure, you’ll lose weight, but it’s not because MUFAs are zapping your gut. The “research” for this goofy MUFA theory consisted of 11 people studied over 28 days. Some of the people were on the MUFA diet. The rest were on a high-carb, saturated-fat-rich diet. Of course, the MUFA people lost the most weight, and some of that fat came off the stomach, but that hardly proves anything.
Despite this being the extent of the research, The Flat Belly Diet has received almost entirely positive press. The only reportage calling this plan out we could find appeared on the noted medical Web site WebMD. “You can lose weight on The Flat Belly Diet plan,” WebMD director of nutrition points out in her review, “but don’t be fooled into thinking MUFAs have magic belly-flattening nutrients capable of melting away belly fat.”
So if you’re going to follow the diet, go for it. It’s fine for what it is, but remember, there’s no such thing as targeted fat loss.
3. The fat gene
Last year, the press went nuts when British Researchers at Oxford discovered a “fat gene” that promoted obesity in some people. In an oddly defeatist way, this was great news for couch potatoes across the world who assumed that they had this faulty gene. For them, diet and exercise were now, thankfully, futile.
But in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers announced that they’ve found a cure for the fat gene. It’s called “exercise.” After surveying 700 people in a Pennsylvania Amish community, they discovered that people with the gene who did moderate exercise for 3 to 4 hours a day showed no difference in weight gain from people without the gene.
Daunted by spending a fifth of your day working out? Consider that these people were doing moderate exercise. Given that a hard workout falls under the category of intense exercise, it’s relatively safe to say you can get away with doing somewhat less than 3 to 4 hours. Furthermore, the exercise can be cumulative. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Pull weeds from the garden for a couple minutes when you get home. Chase your kid around. These little things add up quickly.
But most important of all, stop staring at this computer and go Push Play!