Fitness Articles

8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

It's Time for an Exercise in Tough Love

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One workout may not undo a sedentary lifestyle.
Working out really matters for your health and longevity, but more research these days is telling us that simply exercising—whether 10, 30, or even 60+ minutes a day—may not be enough to offset the effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Just because you exercise doesn't mean it's OK to be a couch potato the other 23 hours of the day. Sitting, driving, working from a computer, sleeping—all of these "inactivities" make up the bulk of many people's days, and the longer you sit still, the worse the effects can be on your health. I talked a little about "activity" vs. exercise above. This is where those extra non-workout activities DO matter. They may not be true workouts, but they do have benefits. More movement is good—and that is how you achieve the benefits of an active lifestyle.

You're not burning as many calories as you think.
"Burn up to 800 calories an hour!" How often do you see phrases like that advertised on workout DVDs, group classes, and other fitness products? The truth is, most of these numbers are seriously inflated, and the average person won't burn a fraction of that claim. This is the case for treadmills, stationary bikes and other cardio machines, too. Those "calorie burn" screens can be off by 30% or more. SparkPeople tries to be a little more conservative with the numbers we use on our Fitness Tracker, but just remember that calculators/trackers are estimates. When it comes to weight loss, you're better off with a conservative approach to calorie burn. Assume you're actually burning fewer calories than a tracker or machine says you are. A better way to gauge what you're really burning is by wearing your own heart rate monitor. While a general fitness tracker would tell me that an hour of Spinning burned some 600+ calories, my HRM (using my gender, weight, and actual heart rate during the workout) showed closer to 400. That's a big difference that could really affect one's weight loss.

It won't allow you to eat whatever you want.
A walk around the block doesn't earn you a brownie. That yoga class doesn’t mean it's OK to indulge in an ice cream sundae this weekend. How often do you "reward" yourself for working out by undoing most of your efforts with one or more dietary splurges? Remember, exercise really doesn't burn as many calories as people assume it does, so a single workout—even a rigorous one—won't come close to offsetting just ONE big splurge. Yet I know many people who justify their food choices by saying "I worked out today." If weight loss is your goal, you have to keep these splurges in check; otherwise, you'll be fighting a losing battle and never really get ahead in the calorie equation.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • STOLL2013
    HI everyone
    It is true that you do have to work hard to see results.
    I have to say I am a non exerciser and reading an article like this really inspires me to " get going"as it were.
    However keep in mind this article is intended for persons who are not suffering from physically limiting illness or injury. For those that are you really just need to do what you can do and not be discouraged. I think it is great and inspiring that someone with a debilitating illness is getting out each day and doing some form of exercise. Even if it is just for 10 or 15 minutes. Keep up the good work you are an inspiration to people like myself who really need to sit down and get in the discipline of routine. - 11/29/2014 1:03:17 AM
  • What does this mean for those of us who *can't* exercise for 10 minutes at a time or longer? I get that this article is supposed to be the cold, hard truth, but is it geared more towards people who are already in pretty good shape? Because for a lot of us, there is no way we can live by these guidelines and yet we have to start somewhere. This is the kind of article that leads those of us who are very heavy and out of shape to just say "screw it... I can't do this, so I'm never going to be able to lose weight." - 11/28/2014 6:09:09 PM
  • This comment bugs me... "For any activity to count as true exercise, it has to meet certain parameters, like lasting at least 10 continuous minutes (so those stairs you took or that walk from your car to the store doesn't count as a workout), it has to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level (that "hard" feeling I mentioned above), and more. If you count all of these "activities" or body movements you do each day as workouts, then you are only shortchanging yourself—and you could be hurting your weight loss efforts." I have to admit some of my walking exercise would not count in this regards. As I do exercise every day, some days is more strenuous than others, I do allow some days to be lighter exercise. This would tell me that those days are not exercise. If I thought I had to exercise hard every day, I would give it up. I know I would. There are days I feel like it and there are days I don't. - 11/9/2014 11:35:17 PM
  • Ugh, just ugh. Yes, these truths are very hard to hear, but it made me think about what I did when I WAS fit (and God's truth, I was). I went to an aerobic dance class 4, 5, even 6 times a week when it was done the high impact way. I was competitive and would push myself to kick higher, or do more reps than anyone else. I worked out at the front of the room and tried to out dance the instructor. And sweat rolled off me. I also got down to 142 lbs, and had great legs and arms. I even had a 'six-pack' as I went to the gym and used nautilus, too. Then I herniated a lumbar disc, and everything went downhill from there. 25 years later, I'm a blob. I can't do that kind of exercise anymore, and no one even offers it. I'm trying to make do with walking and some bands or free weights at home, but I know I'll never be again what I was then - hot and fit. - 11/8/2014 11:56:37 AM
  • I love ya Nicole. Great info as usual, but "fitter" is not a word as used in your writing. "as you become fitter". The correct grammar should be "more fit". Just a pet peeve. Sorry. - 11/6/2014 11:03:06 AM
  • Every time I read this article, I get very depressed and upset. Some people have physical limitations and can't do a full cardio workout for even 10 minutes. So, according to this article, that means we're doomed and will never become healthy. I've had to change my exercise from walking 30-45 min. to the recumbent bike. Of course I don't get the same results. Plus, if that's not boring, I don't know what is. You're telling me to "suck it up, get over yourself and do it". Thanks a lot for the encouragement. - 11/6/2014 11:00:29 AM
  • This article rings so true for me; I have experienced it all. A keeper! The hardest thing for me is to continually look for new things to try. It is easy to get comfortable with the same routines so it takes me some real effort. - 11/6/2014 6:06:04 AM
  • Good article! I think the thing that bugs me the most is how quickly we lose the endurance we build............
    .............
    .......... - 11/5/2014 9:17:30 PM
  • This is all true--and I hate it! LOL I want it to be easier and I want to be able to either lay off the exercise or eat more goodies. Sigh - 11/5/2014 6:08:06 PM
  • As I workout at a barre class or do zumba, both fun activities, I feel lucky as a senior citizen to be able to still be active. The sweat and sore muscles just confirm that I have done something fun and good for me. Gardening is another fun, but tiring exercise for me.
    But when I do the "Calories-in-and-
    out", I do eat more when I have exercised and that seems to be good. I need the extra calories and still can lose weight. Feeling too hungry isn't helpful long term or even short term, because that is exactly when I might overeat. - 11/5/2014 12:08:46 PM
  • Although the article is full of truths, it seems like it's discouraging. It's almost saying... No matter what you're doing, it isn't enough. - 11/5/2014 11:58:11 AM
  • The difference between "exercise" and "activity" is an interesting one. The latter counts against your Base Metabolic Rate, while the former is Bonus Burn??? - 11/5/2014 9:40:50 AM
  • I will go along with all that is said, get a HRM is the best and the worse thing I ever did. It showed that I was not burning the calories that I thought I was . It also showed that I was burning more when I changed things around.

    If you have a HRM try turning it on when you get up and just see how many calories you have burnt in that day, I bet it is a lot less than you thought you had. - 11/5/2014 5:05:56 AM
  • SARAFIE
    This article was trying to give some good advice but the way in which it was delivered was not helpful in particular in regard to the points on not all activity counting as exercise. Focussing people on an idea of it doesn't count unless it is ten minutes or done in any certain way sets up a barrier in their mind of exercise as being like a burden. Half the problem with everyone's issue with exercise is this feeling of inferiority in it and their concept of what it is to count. Focussing people in on time and form of it makes something that could be natural more enjoyment of life that feels timeless into a set mundane hard picture that they are trapped in, people need exercise to seem an easily accessible, achievable and enjoyable concept to be able to easily approach it in everyday life and keep it up. The best exercise comes when you are involved in an activity that has relevance to your everyday life that is not an add on to it just a part of it you are naturally choosing and approaching with a stuck in attitude because you get more out of it than if all you are focussing on is how many calories it might burn you or how much food it might earn you or how much weight you might lose. You only lose track of time in exercise when it has other rewards. I.e, you like the feeling of breathing more life in and there is something at the top of the hill you want to see or get. Or you want to get your new appliance home to play with it so you are so focused on what you are going to do with it at the end the weight is not what you are dwelling on, anything is something, it gets you started and it may not continue long in the moment but it may get the oxygen going to get you doing more later. All exercise is is realising what an exciting gift we have been given in our body and testing out in wonder like a child what you can do with it, stretching out into the ends of it to feel the most fully and joyously involved in life. If it is ten minutes of this or they say it won't count otherwise it will be harder to put life into it as it feels so etch... - 9/14/2014 5:02:12 AM
  • the article was right on the money. In working out you should break a sweat. I found this article to be informative. It has a lot of good information to take in. All which I found to be true. I do know that you need to find a workout you like or you won't even do it. - 9/13/2014 6:39:09 PM
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