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August 2004 Issue
The classic weight control dilemma: diet or exercise?
by Michael Fick
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Exercise, however, whether a stroll around the block, a gut-busting gym session, or sports (the ones you do, guys, not the ones you watch), does provide instant gratification if we choose exercises we enjoy. It also improves our health, increases our metabolism to burn fat 24/7, clears the cobwebs, relieves stress, improves sleep, makes us look and feel much better short and long term, improves self-esteem, and improves both the quality and length of our lives. Most successful weight management programs include plenty of exercise along with a healthy eating regimen.

This is supported, for example, by a study of nearly 2,000 rural northern Rocky Mountain men and women to identify any relationships between obesity and lifestyle. 70% of the men and 59% of the women were overweight or downright obese, as defined by their BMIs, a widely used formula related to belly size proportion. Obesity increased with both diet and exercise factors, including soda pop consumption, large food portions, eating while doing other activities, television watching, less physical activity, and even the perception of insufficient exercise. This mix of apparent causes indicates a mix of solutions, not just diet or exercise, is in order.

Lifelong exercise is the closest we have found to a fountain of youth. It has a huge positive impact on almost every aspect of our lives. It's important to identify, prioritize, and follow a sound exercise program which avoids inefficient or harmful exercises and overtraining and provides some intrinsic motivation. Some physical trainers estimate exercise to be 80% of weight management, in both time and effort.

Which type of prolonged, calorie-burning exercise -- aerobic or anaerobic -- will improve your weight and health more depends significantly on your muscle fiber makeup. Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, dancing, or brisk walking, in which the objective is moderate activity over longer periods, is best suited to people with mostly slow twitch muscle fibers. If you never were much at jumping or sprinting, but could play or hike moderately for hours, your muscle makeup is likely to be made up mostly of slow twitch muscle fiber. Those who favored sprinting and jumping as a kid, yet tired quickly when asked to run or swim distances, are likely to have predominantly fast twitch muscle fibers, and may favor explosive sports such as basketball or tennis. Each type will likely respond best in performance, tolerance, motivation, and results to activities best suited to his own inborn, permanent muscle fiber makeup. Both types also need strength-building workouts.

There's no reason working out has to be grueling. People who think "sports" is something one watches on TV rather than something one does will benefit far more from a little activity than from clicking a remote. Every time you breathe, lift, and/or sweat a little more (not counting hotter weather) than usual - and live -- you get a little stronger and leaner. This long, slow approach to increased fitness promotes significantly greater health than binge exercising, crash dieting, or watching others exercise on TV. Its ratio of benefits to perceived effort is great, and one of those benefits is sometimes a snowball effect leading to a long, vigorous, active life.

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