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
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Being overweight has been a problem for me for 40 years. If I can maintain the weight I am today...I am thrilled. However, to maintain this weight. I must exercise daily and watch my food intake. When entering my fitness of the day, I might add house cleaning. No, I'm not cleaning my house. I do this a couple of times a week for money. When I go in that house, I'm scrubbing, mopping, sweeping, folding, changing sheets, dusting, moving furniture....yeah
    , it's a work out. I only have a couple of hours to complete this job. So yes...it's a work out indeed! - 4/1/2015 8:55:08 AM
  • I don't like your attitude at all, Miss Priss! Yes, little workouts do count, and you CAN put them in the fitness tracker. It all adds up at the end of the day. I think beginners and disabled people should be given more credit when they fit in a workout, however long that may be. I am really very sick, but I get up and get in 2 hours of walking everyday. And you know what? I'm pretty proud of myself for doing it, and you can't take that away! No matter what you say, I will still feel proud for what I have done to better myself. If you can't take it, go home, chick! - 3/31/2015 7:43:59 PM
  • Tough love and a good reality check. Gaining the weight didn't happen overnight and losing it and getting healthy won't happen overnight either. Nonetheless...got
    ta stay focused on the the goal...to be healthy. - 3/31/2015 3:29:46 PM
  • Wow. Cold, hard truths alright.

    But this is just what I needed to read today, as I have been getting more active but NOT getting the results I expected. Your clarification between exercise and activity has clicked a little switch in my thinking and I will put that into action.

    Thanks for this article. - 3/31/2015 2:03:53 PM
  • All very true. The part I think some people miss while reading this is that it has to be hard. If it is HARD for you to be in motion for 10 minutes then you are working out. My first walk of a 1/2 mile had me breathless and exhausted. That was a work out. Months latter my 4 mile will leave me breathless if I am pushing it. That too is a work out. For me, at this point logging in heavy house cleaning won't work. If House cleaning leaves you exhausted and is hard, It is a work out. All movement is good. Please do what you can when you can. Push yourself when you can. Do not give up!! - 3/31/2015 12:12:58 PM
  • Great Article!!!! - 3/31/2015 11:00:52 AM
  • WYATT18
    Great article!! No surprises at all! Reality checks are always positive! - 3/31/2015 6:55:23 AM
  • 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
  • VIVIENDOPARAHOY
    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

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