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Friday, August 07, 2009

Why Time Magazine Won't Make You Smart

Time Magazine has a new article entitled Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin.

OK... I'll catalog this one in with articles like Why Michael Jackson Was As Sane as You or I, Why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Become a Dynasty and Why the Money Will Run out for Oprah.

I suppose I am a little jaded by personal experience, having lost almost 30 pounds since February (the equivalent of a fairly lean border collie). I am watching calories a bit, but haven't changed my eating habits that much so much as resisted that second hamburger or extra salami sandwich on occasion. Admittedly that's quite a few calories, but relatively thin mints, so to speak, given that my usual diet is strikingly similar to any episode of a Guy Fieri Food Network series.

However, what I have also done is run 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes at a time, with a ten-minute warm down. By run, I mean actual jogging as opposed to laboured walking with exaggerated arm movement, which pretty much describes my first two weeks. Also, I work in 90-120 minutes football (soccer) when the opportunity presents itself, usually once a week. This involves a great deal of running, sprinting, kicking,* and in my case falling down, which I presume is a highly efficient means of burning calories, as well as my knees.

So, my skepticism is based on the enormous amounts of sweat I've shed** and not just a general dislike of smarty-pants exercise scientists and the magazine reporters who love them.

Time however does appeal to the usual group of "exercise experts" to make their case, who in turn appeal to "recent studies" which in turn just happen to be recent studies from their institution. The inevitable book deal can't be far behind.

I found it intersting that the study noted didn't seem to include any analysis of what the participants were eating. Apparently, the researchers (and the Time reporter) have concluded that if you exercise it will make you hungry and you'll run out and binge on foods that will undo the exercise work. How they concluded this without actually knowing precisely what the participants consumed and in what quantities is obviously a technique of science I have never personally come to grips with. I'm probably being cynical, but I suspect Uri Geller was involved.

They did ask participants not to change their dietary habits during the study and as we all know people never, ever lie about what they eat.

Sure exercise will make you hungry, but lots of things do that. I've worked up a massive appetite watching television (Iron Chef and Good Eats, if you must know). Writing this blog post has just now given me the distinct urge for a plate of bacon and a pint of Murphy's stout.*** I've seen people devour an entire bag of crisps after a strenuous nap. (Actually, that was me.)

So, I'm not sure that the logic behind dismissing exercise as a tool in the weight-loss arsenal is a particularly rigourous approach. Titles like Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin are great eye catchers though. Surely, Time will follow this up with elucidating articles on Why Donuts Are Good for Your Heart and How Fried Foods Build Lean Muscle Mass. I'm working up an appetite just thinking about it.

* Occasionally, this involves the ball.
** Enough to fill the Grand Canyon , if you're counting
*** The trip to Ireland in June didn't hurt either. Actually, I've always room for a pint of Murphy's. It's like Jello as far as I'm concerned. I have to replace that sweat somehow.

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