A Little Realistic Reasoning
Worst: I want to lose weight.
Most people are not successful in losing weight with exercise. The ones who are have generally been diligent in following a disciplined nutritional regimen and this was the reason the numbers on the scale went down. Now whether the reduction was good—fat loss, or bad—bone and muscle loss, we do not know, but exercise alone is generally a poor method of weight loss. Not losing any weight is a primary reason people stop participating in an exercise program.
Best: I want to stay healthy.
Two thirds of the American population get no regular physical activity. The adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle have been proven. Physical inactivity is far more debilitating than most of us realize. One way or another, you will end up spending time and money on your health. Spend it up front with exercise and proper education, or spend it later on medical tests, disease treatments, and doctors’ bills. The good news is you get to choose.
Worst: I want six pack abs.
This is probably not going to happen no matter how hard most of us train. Body fat levels have to get down to well below 12 percent to see an outline of the abdominal muscles. Twelve percent for men is low and for women it may be unhealthy.
Best: I want my brain to function at high levels.
Lots of new research has been done on exercise and its effect on the brain. The animal and human research subjects that perform the most physical activity have the best scores on brain function tests. Read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John J. Ratey. I would rather have a pumped frontal cortex and a jacked hippocampus than chiseled abs.
Worst: I am making up for eating like an idiot.
You can’t out run a cookie. It is much easier to ingest more calories than burn them off with exercise. The damage caused by a diet filled with bad food, alcohol, and tobacco cannot be magically counter balanced with an hour on the elliptical or a step class. Success with exercise has a huge psychological component. Several studies have shown it is difficult to stay consistent with exercise if you mentally approach it as punishment for bad behavior.
Best: I want to feel good for a long time.
Move well and you feel well. If you can maintain the capacity to get off the floor, squat, lunge, and rotate, you will be far less likely to have pain. Rarely do I evaluate a patient with shoulder, neck, knee, or lower back pain and not find a glaring loss of mobility or strength. Maintaining the ability to move should be a lifelong pursuit for anyone interested in staying active and independent into old age.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS