the fitness middle
Last week, an article on the New York Times blog revealed the findings of a Danish study on the amount and intensity of exercise and how it relates to weight loss.
I’m paraphrasing, but basically, the study shows that, at least in men, a moderate to small amount of exercise (burning about 300 calories per workout) meant lower numbers on the scale than more vigorous workouts (around 600 calories per workout).
For some reason, this study really stuck with me, and I couldn’t figure out what it was about it for a few days. But I think I’ve figured it out now—validation. This study (right or wrong) has made me feel validated.
Honestly, this study didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I know that when I’m working out at my hardest and most intense (like while I was training for my half marathon), I eat more. I require more calories. And it feels like my body is holding onto everything I consume. I could burn 2000+ calories during a long run, only replace about half of that and still keep gaining weight. When I’m working hard on a strength regimen the number on the scale rises along with the weight of my kettlebells.
Now, on the flip side, I tend to lose my most weight when I’m doing very little to no activity at all. I consistently lose a ton of weight during weeks I never even stepped foot into the gym. And I lose my most weight when I stick to “light” activities like walking, easy hiking and yard work.
Really, my epiphany has little to do with the results of the study, but it did get me thinking about my own personal journey with fitness. So that’s where the validation part comes in—this study made me realize that I’m okay living in the fitness middle.
I’ve never really excelled at fitness. I have bursts where I’m really into one thing or another. And I pretty consistently try to stay active. But I’ll never be on the cover of a fitness magazine and I certainly won’t be setting any world records and I’ll probably never run a marathon. And because of that, I’ve always felt like I’m not doing enough. I could be doing more. I should be doing more.
I think there is this pressure out there (on men and women both) to be these amazingly fit, strong, perfect, air-brushed people. It’s not okay if you just walk. Or if you don’t lift weights. Or if you don’t run. Or if you don’t CrossFit. Or if you don’t have a gym membership. It’s like no matter what kind or frequency or intensity of exercise we do, it isn’t enough. You can’t win. You’re always supposed to be doing more and running longer distances and lifting heavier weights.
A picture is painted in the media (including blogs) that fitness is all or nothing. It’s either a switch that is on, or a switch that is off. You’re either running 30 miles a week and doing CrossFit or you’re a total couch potato. But I think for the vast majority of people, we fall somewhere in the middle.
And for the longest time, I thought that me falling somewhere in the middle was a bad thing. Why can’t I just go to the gym more? Or just run farther? Or just do a longer plank? But this study has made me think about it differently. Maybe being a moderate exerciser isn’t a bad thing. And maybe it doesn’t need to change. Maybe I’m alright just the way I am.
I’m sure there are gaggles of folks who saw that study and thought, “Sweet! If I lose weight, that means I’m healthy. And to lose weight, I need to exercise less. So yeah, let’s go sit on the couch!” But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m a big believer that weight is a terrible indicator of health. I’m definitely not condoning using this study as an excuse to skip a hardcore workout. But I do think this study might give us moderate exercisers the empowerment to accept ourselves. I’m not sure if anyone else out there feels the pressure to be a fitness super star (I do, obviously) but I’m starting to realize that it’s perfectly okay to not be a fitness super star. The fitness middle isn’t a bad place to live. And it certainly is better than no fitness at all.
I’m gonna go take a walk and be proud of my activity for the first time in a long time.