Exercise can improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and help you feel better both physically and emotionally. So how many more reasons do you need to get moving? On the other hand, if you’re just starting an exercise regime, it’s important to set expectations and know some of the things exercise cannot do. Exercise isn’t a quick fix. It’s a long-term commitment that, combined with good nutrition and vitamins and sometimes with hormones and medications prescribed by an Ageology physician, can help you achieve optimal health.
Here are five things exercise can’t do, despite urban myths to the contrary.
1. Exercise will not make up for hours and hours of sitting.
The Nurses’ Health Study, which involved 50,000 female subjects, shows that even daily physical activity won’t reduce the risk of obesity or diabetes when it’s coupled with two or more hours of television watching per day. Spending hours sitting at work also heightened the risk of diabetes and obesity, whether the women exercised during their free time or not.
Certainly, it would help if health programs incentivized physical activity via subsidized gym and yoga studio memberships or savings on health insurance premiums. The latter makes even more sense, considering that increased activity could cut yearly medical costs in the United States by more than $70 billion. Workplaces could make activity an easy choice with on-site yoga, exercise classes or gym equipment, or rewards for those who spend their lunch break working out instead of sitting. Stand-up or treadmill desks, Thera-balls to sit on instead of chairs, and other tactics could help make workplaces more active places.
If your employer won’t make your workplace more activity-conducive, take as many steps as possible on your own to be more active on the job.
2. Exercise won’t reduce fat in a specific part of your body.
If you do leg lifts religiously, you may find some small alteration in the shape of your lower half due to building of muscle and overall strengthening. But if you have a layer of adipose tissue (fat) overlying those muscles, exercising that particular area is not going to directly “burn off” the fat in that spot—no matter how much you “go for the burn.” The same goes for abdominal exercises, butt busters, bicep curls, or any other exercise said to target fat in one part of the body. The only way to reduce fat is to eat pristinely and burn calories through cardiovascular and strength training exercise (preferably daily). Postmenopausal women and men beyond middle age may need some hormone balancing help to shed excess pounds as well.
3. Exercise won’t get rid of cellulite.
Along these same lines: the appearance of cellulite is more about the integrity of skin and the pattern of fat deposition beneath it than it is about weight or fitness. Even thin women have cellulite! The only real solution for that cosmetic complaint is surgical, and that’s a conversation to have with a plastic surgeon if it’s important to you.
4. Exercise won’t make up for caloric overconsumption.
Could you gobble down a whole box of cookies or a bag of chips in an hour? How about a densely caloric restaurant meal? Thousands of calories can slip past the lips in a matter of minutes. Don’t kid yourself that a workout—even a brisk one—will reverse the damage. Sure, it’s better to try to exercise than to surrender to the couch in defeat, but even the toughest workout will only dispatch 500-600 calories in an hour.
5. Exercise won’t have an impact if you don’t sweat and get out of breath.
You can’t go to the gym three times a week to stroll at two mph on the treadmill for 20 minutes while reading a magazine and expect to reap significant benefits. If you want the gains offered by physical activity, sweat and a little strain are part of the deal. Seek out activities you enjoy if at all possible, and push yourself not over the top to exhaustion, but to a place where you really know you’re burning energy and building cardiovascular fitness because you can feel it happening.
Emphatic haters of sweating can try water exercise, but keep in mind that the cooling effect of the water on the body reduces caloric expenditure and will reduce the efficiency of calorie burning with physical activity.
• Hu FB, Li TY, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Manson JE. Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA. 2003; 289:1785-91.
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