The <i>Real</i> Truth About Exercise

To imply, asmagazine did, that we shouldn't be working out or playing sports because exercising alone won't help us get thin is missing the point of exercise entirely.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

John Cloud, senior writer with Time Magazine, dropped a bombshell -- or was it a "dumb" bell -- with his August 17 cover story, "The Myth About Exercise." Not only is the logic behind Cloud's article flawed, his message is dangerously irresponsible. What's the next cover of Time going to be, "Hard work proven not to work"?

Cloud should be ashamed of putting this drivel forward, especially now. He's telling the American people that exercise doesn't really matter at the time when our country's leaders are wrestling with how to incentivize preventative medicine as a means of promoting good health and reducing overwhelming health care costs.

Cloud points to various studies indicating that by exercising, one may want to eat more. BIG DEAL, I love to eat and one of the main reasons I exercise is so I can indulge myself from time to time. This doesn't mean I go rushing out to buy french fries every time I work out like some sort of heroin addict.

I also exercise to feel good, to look good and to keep my brain alert -- and exercise does the trick for me and millions of Americans in all three of these areas. To imply that we shouldn't be working out or playing sports because exercising alone won't help us get thin is missing the point of exercise entirely. Yes, of course we should be exercising and eating healthy nutritious foods so we can have active minds and healthy bodies -- that is the message that the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports puts forward and that is the message that the media should be putting forward to our fellow Americans. Our doctors get it, our nutritionists get it, our moms and dads get it -- why doesn't John "my head is in the Clouds" get it? Is it perhaps because he really wants to sell magazines more than he wants to be a responsible journalist?

Cloud states that the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association's guidelines regarding weight loss and exercise are unrealistic, especially for those with jobs or those looking for jobs. The guidelines encourage exercise for 60 to 90 minutes on most days of the week. What he fails to mention is that they also say that "research shows that moderate-intensity physical activity can be accumulated throughout the day in 10-minute bouts, which can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight. This can be useful when trying to fit physical activity into a busy schedule."

"If exercise were a pharmaceutical it would be the most potent drug ever invented," says my friend Dr. Robert Sallis, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. "Exercise has been clearly proven to prevent and treat chronic diseases and lower mortality rates. From a scientific perspective, any attempt to discredit the value of exercise is just laughable and potentially very harmful to the public. As a physician who works hard to get patients more active, I find it very irresponsible for Time magazine to run a story that so misrepresents the facts."

While exercise alone won't make you thin, it does play a significant role in helping to keep one fit, and helping to avoid a host of chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Exercise, coupled with the intake of fewer calories, is just what the doctor ordered to help keep this nation healthy... and the best solution to helping Americans lose weight.

Unfortunately, a great number of Americans do not regularly exercise, resulting in a nation of children and adults who are overweight or obese and suffering from health problems that can be avoided with proper diet and exercise. Lack of exercise has led to more than 20 million Americans living with Type 2 Diabetes. This will only get worse if we give up on exercise. In fact, for this generation of children, if things don't drastically change, they may be the first in history to have a shorter life-span than their parents.

Health care expenditures in the United States exceeded $2.2 trillion as of 2007 and are continuing to spiral out of control. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases account for 75% of the national health care expenditures. One thing both Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that exercise is good for the mind and body. While the Obama administration is actively working to deliver a sustainable health care reform package that will provide health care insurance to all Americans, a significant way to reduce health care costs is through preventative measures, which includes exercise.

You don't have to take my word for it. Here is what Rear Admiral Steven Galson M.D., M.P.H, Acting Surgeon General of the United States has to say: "For the past two years I've been crisscrossing our country talking about the value of exercise and diet in prevention of chronic disease. I'm worried that the Time magazine article could discourage Americans from engaging in physical activity. We know from hundreds of scientific studies that physical activity is linked to good health. If more Americans engaged in exercise, over time we could save lives and health care dollars."

Those who exercise regularly are fitter, feel better about themselves, have less propensity for developing a chronic disease, and ultimately do lose weight. I was a fat kid with a bad stutter growing up. Exercise helped me lose weight while boosting my confidence and self-esteem. Exercise changed my whole life.

Cloud's article interweaves some of the positive outcomes of exercise but overall he has gone to great lengths to disavow the correlation between exercise and weight loss and in turn could provide couch potato Americans with one more excuse for sitting around instead of getting out and exercising. Not only is an "exercise doesn't work" mentality detrimental to adults, it will be disastrous for our children. Today's kids already have to be reminded to get off the computer, put down their handheld videogames and get outside and play. Suggesting that exercise will do nothing for weight loss could put the future health of our entire country in peril.

I'll give the last word on this subject to my friend Dan Broughton, pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic:

As I watch political leaders wrestle with how to improve the quality of care in this country and lower our overwhelming healthcare costs, it is clear that reasonable people from both sides of the aisle have different opinions on the best way to proceed. In contrast, medical professionals ALL agree that exercise, as part of a healthy lifestyle, improves one's health and lowers costs to the health care system. Americans should be encouraged to do more of it, not less. Of this there can be no debate.

Jake Steinfeld is the Chairman of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting physical activity and fitness for all Californians especially children and youth.