Published August 19, 2009

Will Exercise Help You Get Thin?

by Helen M. Ryan

The answer is no, at least according to a Time Magazine article published last week, Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin. In fact, it is their thought that exercise might even make it harder for you to lose that excess weight.
Could this possibly be true?

As someone who has lost 80 pounds and gone from a size 20 to a size 4 by exercising and making moderate changes to her diet, I can confidently state "not very likely."

Why would Time Magazine makes those claims if they are not accurate? Because study results are always open to interpretation - and because we are talking about that very article right now. Buzz is good for business. That's why.

When I first read the article on why exercise will not help with weight loss, I did so with an open mind. I analyzed the studies presented, examined the facts, and listened to the experts. Putting my own bias about the many obvious benefits of exercise aside, I found the article itself had many biases against exercise.

Dr. Timothy Church, chair in Health Wisdom at LSU, and quoted in the Time article, has since stated, via the American College  of Sports Medicine, that his "professional opinions were misrepresented," and adds, "Exercise and diet go together. Weight management is most successful when careful attention is given to both physical activity and proper nutrition (ACSM, 2009)." ACSM has also released their own opinion on the subject in a press release dated August 7, 2009.

Your Self-Control Is Getting Weaker...

Despite article claims that exercise increases hunger (which it can, for a bit), or that people feel justified to eat more if they've exercised (it certainly happens), the oddest assertion is that your self control weakens the more you use it. In essence, the author seems to be telling us that if we use our self-control to make ourselves exercise, we won't have any will power left later to control what we put in our mouths.

The Examiner looked at that statement, and the underlying study, and found that [the author] "...mistakenly misinterprets two psychologists who claim that “self-control operates like a muscle or strength… [a] limited resource that is depleted afterward (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000).  Cloud states that “will power, like a muscle, weakens each day after you use it.”  First, muscle actually gets stronger after continual use, which is a basic, fundamental concept in exercise physiology.   Cloud also misrepresents Muraven and Baumeister’s will-power model.  Although the authors say that self-control is reduced under stress, Cloud interprets this as after a person goes for a run, s/he will eat a pizza rather than a salad.  However, once again, he fails to see the bigger picture. In their review, Muraven and Baumeister recognize  that “not only does self-control show short-term fatigue effects like a muscle does, it also shows long-term improvement, just as a muscle gets stronger through exercise.  In other words, there is a long-term effect of gaining strength with practice.”

In other words, when you first start using your self control, it may be weak. But with continued and regular use, it will grow in strength. Sounds just like a muscle, huh?

The Flip Side
To learn some positives about exercise and how it can improve your life and health, Fitness has put together 10 benefits of exercise for you to review. Don't cancel that gym membership quite yet...