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Hey, Time, 'Exercise won't make you thin'? What were you thinking?

August 11, 2009 |  5:00 am

Exercise Fitness and health experts say Time magazine got it wrong this week with its cover story, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin." The story argues that even though more people than ever are exercising, obesity rates are still rising. Moreover, the article posits that exercise backfires as a weight-loss tool because people become hungrier and end up eating more. The rationale goes something like this: "I walked three miles today so I'll reward myself with a blueberry muffin." The three-mile walk burned off 239 calories, but the muffin added 420.

Further, the story argues, humans evolved to hoard calories. Once you gain a certain amount of weight, your body tries to protect that fat storage. Indeed, this theory is widely supported and does explain in part why efforts to lose weight, either by diet, exercise or both often fail.

However, most research suggests that exercise and dieting are both important for weight loss and that exercise is critical for weight maintenance. It's difficult, but not impossible. Research not cited by the Time article shows that people who have maintained a significant weight loss over a sustained period of time largely rely on exercise to do so. This effort, studies suggest, can eventually retrain the body to respond appropriately to food and activity. Moreover, these people also carefully watch what they eat. In other words, they know that eating a blueberry muffin after their workout will undermine their goals. This evidence was detailed in a 2008 story in the Los Angeles Times' special Health section on weight loss.

The American College of Sports Medicine released a statement Friday saying it takes "strong exception" to the Time story's conclusions. "[P]hysical activity is one of the most important behavioral factors in enhancing weight loss maintenance and improving long-term weight loss outcomes," said John Jakicic, who chairs the ACSM's committee on obesity prevention.

One expert quoted in the Time piece, Dr. Timothy Church, said his professional opinions were misrepresented, according to the ACSM statement. Church noted that weight maintenance is different than weight loss. Virtually all people who lose weight and keep it off are exercising to maintain weight, he said.

Another ACSM member, Dr. Janet Rankin, said: "A practical response to the claim that exercise makes you eat more and gain weight is to look around. If this were the case, wouldn't those who regularly exercise be the fattest? Obviously, that isn't the case."

The story doesn't say exercise is bad. Indeed, exercise has been shown to convey many health benefits. It just won't help you lose weight, the author, John Cloud, states. But he seems to be suggesting that promoting exercise is some type of public health conspiracy.  "Public-health officials have been reluctant to downplay exercise because those who are more physically active are, overall, healthier," he said.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Buster Dean  /  Houston Chronicle / Associated Press

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Comments (56)

Thank you for posting this. I felt that the Time article was misleading, and could leave readers feeling like they might as well not exercise if it's not going to do them any good.

I just finished reading the Time article and was incensed at both the premise and the failure to recognize that any endeavor, weight loss, finances, relationships or career, requires at least a modicum of self control. Time has for years published articles absolving fat people of responsibility for their condition. Time has variously attributed obesity to genetics, brain cells, food processors and now exercise? Weight loss is a simple mathematical formula, regardless of how it may be more difficult for some to achieve than others. Calories in vs. calories out.

I also am glad others thought the Time magazine article was misleading. When reading Cloud's "research" on the effects of exercise, he mentioned the study by PLoS ONE found that those who exercised didn't lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. They did gain muscle though. And if they lost body fat along with that gained muscle then they will initially have about the same weight loss as the control group, who did not gain any muscle. So who is healthier...a person with higher body fat percentage or a person with more muscle mass? It seems that Cloud needs to be educated in exercise physiology before he writes any more article on exercise!

Unfortunately, the Time article will have a greater impact than any newspaper commentary refuting it, or a retraction in another edition of Time.

That is ridiculous. I lost my pregnancy weight by exercising. I walked a lot and slowly ate less. Then I started running and even though I consume a lot of calories I weigh what I did in high school because I burn more calories than I consume. A lot of people out there are just plain lazy and find it much easier to blame their weight gain on anything but the truth- they are consuming more calories than they are burning. I didn't liek running and I didn't see immediate results but a year and half later I had lost all of my pregnancy weith and then some while gaining muscle mass. Now that I see the results, I can't imagine not exercising.

Time's headlines was one of the most irresponsible I have seen in a while. I haven't even read the LA Times article above, yet, but thank you for a common sense headline.

The Time article didn't dismiss the importance of exercise but tried to discuss differences bt gym-type concentrated exercise and daily, spread-out, more moderate exercise. No one would deny that you can lose weight by walking more, say, while keeping calorie intake steady. There simply isn't proof that an exercise "regimen" can accomplish weight loss, and the Time author proposes that might be because of increased calorie consumption/less movement following a workout. He also says food matters more than exercise for wt loss--which is by no means absolves fat people of having to do something involving will power, commitment, etc.

Time's article was good comedy. Typical corrupt media using an emotional issue to gain readers with a lop-sided, half story. Of course if you maintain the typical American high fat, frequent fast food diet, exercise results will be minimal, even neglible. And the ultimate goal of exercise (or what should be an overall healthy lifestyle) is not just a "hot body" as some celebs hawking books and being paid royal salaries to promo diet programs would have you believe, but rather "good health"! Exercise is but one key of several in being healthy through living a healthy lifestyle, as outlined in my recently published book, "Transforming Body, Mind and Spirit ~ The NonDiet Way to Live Fit, Trim, Healthy for Life" (Strategic, 2009). DrDavidRobinson4Health

As the news has become another profit center for corporatons, is anyone really surprised to see wrong information published as fact? The aim of Time is to sell magazines. In show business, any attention is good attention. Time is now filling the vacuum left by the departure of the World News.

The Time article gets it completely wrong. Exercise and diet are fundamentals for staying in good shape, whether losing weight, maintaining the right weight, or even gaining weight. Check out as an online tool to help maintain your healthy lifestyle. The site has hundreds of exercises listed with step-by-step instruction and this information is complimented by blogs and other fitness and nutrition-related information.

The Time article was flat out wrong ! I have lost 15 pounds on a stationary bike over the last 60 days, riding 15-20 miles every other day. Perhaps the author does not know how to work out correctly, or is lacking in his ability to read nutritional labels. The biggest problem that I can see is two fold, first, you have people who go to the gym without wanting or knowing how to put themselves through a difficult workout, basically wasting their time. Secondly, you have those who leave the gym and then pig out on junk food, cancelling out anything done in the gym. Pretty simple formula folks, hard physical workouts, and knowing what and how much you are eating.

Actually the Time article is quite correct. For every five calories you burn you become six calories hungrier. The "reward for exercising" theory isn't quite correct though but the demand for food after exercise exists. Of course we are hungrier after we exercise - this is obvious. Ever notice that all the people you see the gym, the thin people and the chubby people, don't change too much? They pretty much stay the same. Fat people aren't fat because they don't exercise; thin people aren't thin because they do. Also, it's ten times easier to lose 40 pounds in six months than it is to keep five pounds off for six months. Almost all of this is controlled by your genes. You can exercise, you can lose weight but eventually for most people, you will return close to your natural weight. There are three types of people: thin people, overweight people, and temporarily thin people. If it were a matter of education, then we'd all be thin. (Think about it, who are the most knowledgable people when it comes to nutrition? Overweight people.) If it were a matter of money, then there would be few overweight weatlhy people. But it comes down to genetics. Most people who are destined to be overweight will be overweight. They can be thin for a while but in the long run almost all fail. Exercise is good for you but it just doesn't help you lose weight. It makes you hungrier. You still need to be 500 calories hungrier per day to lose one pound per week - whether you exercise or not.

calories in calories out makes sense to me

right amount of protein and muscles makes a difference too

but people can lose weight by not eating for sure but their
weight will just go up and down all depending on what theyre

eating less will make people lose weight but doesnt help with

just depends on personal philosophy of weight and weigh loss

TIME lies so people will pay attention.

The Article in time Magazine totally nullified the importance of exercise in losing weight and was an utter disappointment.

I lost 20 pounds early this year by just exercising regularly. By posting such articles, TIME is discouraging people like me who want to exercise and feel how importance it is in reaching their weight goals. Diet alone can not make you loose weight.

Also, I do not agree to the fact that people reward themselves by eating more than they would normally do, just because they are exercising. A person who works out for an hour a day realizes the effort put in and might reward himself once in a while, which is perfectly normal.

I am SO glad you wrote this I can't even fathom what sort of crazy clouded headspace the TIME author and it's Editor(s) were in!

How could anyone think that exercise wouldn't make you fit or healthy?

Thanks again for helping to set the record straight~

Exercise is to prolong a healthy heart and body, losing fat and gaining muscle are side benefits.

When it comes to being "thin", no one can beat genetics forever. Your genes determine your shape and where the fat goes. Using myself as an example, unless someone put me in a concentration camp for two years with a daily 500 calories in-take and hard 10-hour labor, I will never become rail thin. Leav it up to my will power, I can barely eat healthy and exercise to keep my naturally boxy shape from going out of control.

And I admit it. I tend to eat more than I should and unhealthy, too, after a hard and/or satisfying work-out. Why not? I work hard therefore I can reward myself with that scoop of ice cream or that two-piece fried chicken meal from Pollo Campero! ;-)

Yes it is a very bad idea to depend on Time for anything other than a different perspective -- the info they provide should never be taken at face value. Of course that is true of any information source, just twice or thrice so when it comes to Time magazine.

I think, though, that it may well be true that humans were designed more to perform lighter activities throughout the day rather than an hour or two of all-out exercise. One importance of either kind of activity (as long as the activity is at least vigorous enough so that one does not feel comfortable eating during the activity) is that every second spent on that activity not only burns a calorie, but also displaces a unit of time in which one might have been inclined to consume calories...

anony is right. You gain heart strength and stamina from exercise losing lbs is a by product. That is why they call it a "runners high" your body is responding to the exercise you are doing. Eating the wrong food is a learned experience and is perpetuated by the media and the food companies. D.

But it makes obese people feel good and that sells more Time magazines at the Pay and Pork. So I salute Time's business acumen. (And, hey being fat isn't illegal)

Proper nutrition and exercise work. My wife and I finally got tired of clothes too tight, becoming winded at any exertion and feeling tired all the time so about 10 weeks ago when began walking nearly every day, training with a Wii fit borrowed from my son and eating more sensibly. The two of us have lost about 20 pounds each. All it takes is consistency and perseverance.

I work in a health club in Boulder, CO. I can tell you for a FACT that exercise helps people lose weight, and of course a proper diet is important too. I've seen many obsese people come through our doors and have lost of many pounds through exercise. These people lives have changed for the better in so many ways by exercising.

This article is garbage. It sounds like to me the author of this article is having a personal struggle with weight/exercise and needs a better personal trainer/exercise routine.

There is a lot of evidence that people in many other countries who exercise more than people in the US are trimmer. The relation is not causal, but traveling to may areas is Europe is startling:

Of course it was misleading... look, you're all reading this and talking about it. Meanwhile, copies of Time Mag are flying off supermarket shelves and they're getting thousands of hits on every minute. Absolutely diabolical.

It's not the calories you burn while exercising that really matter. What matters is that exercise elevates your Basic Metabolic Rate. Twenty-five minutes worth of exercise each day can turn you into a fat-burning machine 24/7. Can you toss the advantage away by not watching what you eat? Of course you can. Don't eat enough fibre, eat high-glycemic foods, and the calories in whatever you eat count for more, because they become more bio-accessible. Calories count, but they're not the end of the story. A good fat loss program includes cardio exercise, resistance training, and careful diet. Why resistance training? Besides all the other things it does for you, it builds muscle, and resting muscle tissue burns more energy than the same weight of fat.



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