IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST
By DR. JOSE PUJALTE JR.
“To grunt and sweat under a weary life”
— William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and playwright,
HamletAct iii Sc. 1 (1601)
One of the most searched articles in Time magazine is John Cloud’s “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.” You won’t see it posted on gym billboards anytime soon. He hired a personal trainer who works him “like a farm animal for an hour,” applies the Puritan work ethic to fitness, yet wonders why he is the same 163 pounds all his adult life. He writes, “But like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t. Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”
Sobering Fat Math. According to Obesity Research (Columbia University), a pound of muscle burns approximately 6 calories a day in a resting body. A pound of fat burns 2 calories. But let’s say, you swallow in a manner of speaking, the fitness culture whole and muscled up. That is, if your previous 10 pounds of fat is now 10 pounds of muscle – you can only eat an extra 40 calories a day (roughly a teaspoon of butter) before you start gaining weight again.
Entitlement. Why doesn’t exercise make us thin? The answer is entitlement. “I can eat anything I want!” particularly after the huffing-puffing, sweating, grunting, cardio and weights. That’s sisig (pig cheeks and ears) after swimming, tiramisu after treadmill, beer after biking. An 18-month study in the International Journal of Obesityof 538 students who started to exercise showed they ate more (about 100 calories more) than they had just burned.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Well I guess to Albert Camus, gym rats are a special subset of Sisyphus. Instead of pushing a boulder uphill, watch it crash down and then start all over again, gym rats (that’s you and me), exercise obsessively then eat like there’s no tomorrow and then start all over again. But biochemically, Camus is right. After sweating and grunting, Sisyphus is happy. Exercise releases beta-endorphins, the natural neuropeptides that not only kill pain but also give pleasure and euphoria. The experience is what’s used to be called a “runner’s high” which now could be any aerobic sport from martial arts to badminton to skydiving (well okay, that’s more of fear).
Exercise – the other benefits. A 2009 study in the journal Neurology concluded that older people who exercised once a week were 30% more likely to maintain cognitive function than those who didn’t. Exercise is good for the heart and may prevent or delay chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. There is strong evidence it will lower the risk for stroke and osteoporosis and early death. Exercise boosts mood, raises IQ, and gives confidence. Mr. Cloud concedes that while exercise does not help in losing weight, we “would weigh even more if we exercised less.” So for a the-glass-is-half-full take on the subject matter, I would re-title his article “Why Exercise Will Help You Not Gain Weight.” Maybe that’s better than nothing and definitely better than watching TV for hours on your favorite couch.
Current recommendations. Adults from 18 to 64 will benefit from moderate-intensity exercise of (a total of) two and a half hours a week. Without a heart monitor, moderate intensity means an increased heart rate and breathing enough to make one sweat but still allow talking (without becoming breathless). You don’t have to get into a gym to do this. Brisk walking will do, even house and garden work. Strength training twice a week is also recommended because as we get older, muscle mass decreases. Love it or hate it, exercise is to modern man a constant of life.
Dr. Pujalte is an orthopedic surgeon. E-mail: [email protected]