So recently I wrote a de-motivational post about exercise. I do that sometimes. In this one, I outlined the sophisticated mental coaching techniques I use to resist fitness challenges, even the tempting ones like the "100 Burpee Challenge."
Why would I be so mean, when all of you are doing your best to try to get fitter and stronger, not more slothful and lame?
Well first off, Cranky Fitness is not the most serious of health blogs. (Helpful Research Tip: when searching for a completely serious health blog, try one that does not contain the word "whining" in the subtitle. Frequent use of words like "crap" and "dorkitude" and "asshat" are also signs that you are not in the right place).
But also, the post had a secret agenda. I was not just trying to recruit more people into my exercise religion, Crankyism. (Although we have tons of extra slankets in the warehouse and could use a few more converts). I also was trying to do some good things, too, like:
1. Sneakily point out to the super-fit folks that there was yet another challenge to take on that they might be interested in;
2. Post a burpee video so that people could find out what burpees were if they ever wanted to try a new exercise; and
3. Encourage the no-way-in-hell people in their exercise endeavors by subtly pointing out that Crabby McSlacker is herself a no-way-in-hell person--yet she still drags her lazy ass to the gym somewhat regularly.
See how that works? "Demotivating" on the surface, but buried within:
But if you want a truly demotivational article about exercise? I know where you can find one.
Heading off for a tough work-out and want reassurance it's all worth it? Might want to avoid the Health Page at the New York Times.
I was over on there recently and came across a prominently featured article: "Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?"
Well, the title is ominous enough. It's like you don't title an article "Are America's Highways Really Safe?" if you think the answer is yes, they're really safe, gosh darn it! You only call it that if you intend to talk about 50 car pile ups, crumbling overpasses, potholes the size of elephants, and long-haul truckers on meth.
But stupid me, I actually wanted to find out: Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?
Watch Out, The Answer is Kind of a Downer.
Gina Kolata, whom I usually like, got me really grumpy with this one. She basically takes all those 87 thousand studies you've seen that say how great exercise is great for you, and dismisses or minimizes most all of them.
"While exercise can boost mood, its health benefits have been oversold." All that stuff about heart disease and cancer and blood pressure and osteoporosis and weight loss? She argues that most of the data is either inconclusive (because exercisers tend to have healthier habits to begin with than non-exercisers) or says that at best, the benefits are very, very modest.
She points out for example, a study that showed that "the average amount of muscle that men gained after a serious 12-week weight-lifting program was 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds. That added muscle would increase the metabolic rate by only 24 calories a day."
Photo: KansasCity Dale
So What To Do With This Annoying Information?
Several possibilities occurred to me:
1. Dig up all the studies I've ever seen that say exercise is really good for your health and assess whether they meet the criteria discussed in the article, or if they were all actually bullshit studies.
2. Re-evaluate all my assumptions about exercise and health. Figure out if I still really want to do the hard stuff I hate if it's not doing much more than "improving my mood."
3. Pretend I didn't see the article because I don't like what it says, despite the fact that it's in the New York Times, which is supposed to be generally reliable source for health news.
4. Write a whiny blog post about about the demotivating New York Times article, assuming that since the article is prominently featured on the page it must have come out recently, and then discover after writing two thirds of the blog post that the stupid thing came out over a year ago and is now old news and probably no one cares, but decide to finish the blog post anyway, because what blogger wants to start over after writing two thirds of a post?
As you can see, I went with option 4!
But for those looking for I-don't-want-to-exercise excuses, you might want to check it out and see if you found it more convincing than I did.
The Real Message Behind The DeMotivating Article?
I think what's behind the whole "exercise is oversold" argument is a valid point: many people think exercise is some sort of miracle weight loss and health solution that will fix everything and make them thin.
For the record: you can not "erase" the effects of a 4,000 calorie junk food dinner with a 150 calorie stroll around the neighborhood or even an intense 800 calorie cross-country run! And you gotta do lots of other things for optimum health, like eat right and not smoke and watch your stress levels and get enough sleep and floss your teeth, etc, etc.
And even if you do exercise constantly you still might be overweight and might even have a heart attack if your genes are plotting against you. It's my belief you'd be at even higher risk for obesity and early death if you were sedentary.
As Much as I Whine About it, I Still Believe in Exercise
I can't erase the cumulative effects of reading, for decades, all kinds of studies saying exercise is awesome for your body and your long-term health. Nor can I ignore how much better I feel when I get regular exercise. So the heck with the New York Times; I'm not doing anything different.
What do you guys think? Does exercise seem essential to your good health, or do you think its benefits are only very modest and it's way oversold? Or are you somewhere in between?