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If only we weren't so lazy, obesity wouldn't be a problem. That seems to be the assumption behind Michelle Obama's Let's Move! program which aims to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.
But as with many government programs, Let's Move! avoided addressing the real cause of obesity. Because that would require taking on the food industry and its quest to foist ever more junk food products on unsuspecting Americans, especially children.
Now a group of British, South African, and American researchers have published a report that places the blame for the obesity epidemic squarely on the junk food industry.[i] You cannot, they explain, exercise away the effects of a bad diet.
According to their research, obesity rates have rocketed in the past 30 years. But during that time there has been little change in activity levels. The root of the problem they say is the type and amount of food we eat.
And it's not just making us fat. The Lancet reports that poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity and smoking combined.
In the meantime, the food industry continues to try to change the subject from diet to exercise. But the idea that we can lose fat by exercising has never been proven. In fact, exercise might even make you gain weight.
In 2007 the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommended 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise five days a week "to maintain and promote health." At the same time, they admitted that when it comes to weight loss there was very little data supporting the idea that those who exercise more gain less weight.
According to Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, the USDA exhorts us to get 90 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise almost every day just to maintain weight. But there is no science behind the recommendation, according to Taubes. It merely reflects the fact that 60 minutes of exercise a day has been proven to NOT result in weight loss. So we must need even more.
The researchers point an accusing finger at Coca Cola for pushing a $3.3 billion ad campaign suggesting that sugary drinks are fine as long as you exercise. But they're not.
The body handles protein, fat, and carbohydrates like sugar very differently. As the writers point out, sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger while fat calories reduce hunger and trigger a sense of satisfaction.
They report that for every excess 150 calories consumed as sugar, there is an 11-fold increase in the rates of type 2 diabetes. That's compared to eating 150 calories of fat or protein. In fact, they say that carbohydrate restriction is the single most effective intervention for reducing the symptoms of metabolic syndrome that can lead to diabetes.
The authors call for an end to celebrity endorsements of sugary sodas, and the close association between junk food and sports. And they urge health clubs and gyms to set an example by removing sugary drinks and junk food from their premises.
But don't scrap your exercise routine just yet.
Even if it doesn't help you slim down, there are still many other therapeutic and health benefits to exercise.
Recently the UK's Academy of Medical Royal Colleges reported that exercise is more powerful than many drugs.[ii] They found that 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week can reduce the risk of:
- breast cancer by as much as 25%
- bowel cancer by as much as 45%
- dementia by as much as 30%
- stroke by 30%
- heart disease by over 40%
A brisk walk that makes you slightly sweaty and slightly out of breath is all it takes. They also noted that dancing, cycling, and even sex can bring dramatic health benefits.
And another study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests exercise can reduce your risk of death by 40%.[iii]
Researchers used data from the famous Oslo Study. From the year 2000 to 2011 doctors followed thousands of men born between 1923 and 1932.
They found that the men who did 30 minutes of physical activity six days a week were likely to have a 40% lower risk of death compared to their sedentary counterparts. According to the researchers the benefits were equivalent to quitting smoking.
And it didn't matter whether the activity was light or vigorous. But those who engaged in more vigorous hard training several times a week lived an additional five years.
Bottom line? Continue to get your exercise for a ton of health benefits. But for weight loss, eat a healthy, whole food, low carbohydrate diet.
For more about the therapeutic action of exercise visit Green Med Info's page on exercise.
[i] Malhotra A, Noakes T, and Phinney S, "It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet." Br J Sports Med. 2015 Apr 22. pii: bjsports-2015-094911. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094911. [Epub ahead of print]
[ii] "Exercise—the miracle cure." Report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Feb 2015. www.aomrc.org.uk/doc_download/9821-exercise-the-miracle-cure-feb-2015.html
[iii] I Holme, SA Anderssen, "Increases in physical activity is as important as smoking cessation for reduction in total mortality in elderly men: 12 years of follow-up of the Oslo II study." Br J Sports Med 2015;49:743-748 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094522