The Benefits of Exercise

18exercise-t_CA0-articleLarge This weekend, Jonah and I ran another 5K race, along with my sister and her family. I took five minutes off my last time finishing in the 28 minute zone. After we finished the race and patted each other on the back, we drove home. On the way back, I spied a McDonald's at the side of the highway. I threw on the turn signal and flew off the highway Dukes of Hazzard-style. Two Egg McMuffin meals, please. I was starving.

For the past couple of months, I've been running two miles every morning. It took a while to get into shape to run the whole thing without stopping. My knees have always been a problem, but I found that if I went to the gym every day rather than just a couple times per week, my legs developed enough muscles to protect my knees.

The two mile workout is great, because I can do it even on days when I don't have a lot of time. Half an hour including some stretching time, and I'm out of the gym. If I have more time, then I can do more miles or increase the speed or do weight exercises to help my knees. I'm doing one 5K per month, because I thrive on the competition.

Even with all this exercise, I haven't lost a single pound. I'm not overweight. Compared to most Americans, I'm thin. But I wouldn't mind knocking off five pounds. At first when I started running, I kept stepping on the scale expecting to see a loss of big pounds. That didn't happen. In fact, I'm sure that I'm consuming more calories, because I'm so hungry. 

The New York Times discusses how ineffective exercise is as a method of losing weight. My experience would confirm all those studies.

However, my two mile regimen has had other benefits. It redistributed my weight from my waist to the muscles on my legs. I certainly have greater endurance. It improved my mental attitude. With all this running, I can also justify buying cute, new running pants.

The goal of exercise shouldn't be weight loss; it's about a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, along with home cooked meals that include lots of green stuff and that are eaten at the dinner table, will help some lose weight, and it will help everyone live longer, better lives.

UPDATE: Laura/GeekyMom points to the important conclusion of the NYT article, which is that moderate activity, even standing, is as good for you as my two-mile daily sprints.

11 thoughts on “The Benefits of Exercise

  1. Yes. This was my experience. Eating habits affect. But bodies feel better after (moderate) exercise. And you’re obviously less flabby than you were before (although when I think of you, laura, “flab” is NOT what comes to mind).
    So… lunch on Friday? Salad?

  2. Exercise used to do it for me in my 20’s. Now I see very little real impact to my weight, though I would agree that I feel damn good after a solid workout and even though the scale says no, I swear I look thinner in the mirror.
    My standard is, as long as I can do the physical activities I want to do and it doesn’t hurt the next day, I’m in good health. Whenever I start to have trouble with one of those activities, it’s time to step it up at the gym.

  3. What exercise routines do you recommend for protecting your knees? I’m a walker, but would love to be a runner too; I’m just afraid of the knee horror stories.

  4. I completely agree that “healthy lifestyle” is the important thing, and really object to the fetish over weight as a proxy for health. (What’s the first thing you do when you go to the doctor’s office? Step on a scale.)
    So, I found the linked article very interesting, as it looks at fat in a completely different way — fat is a way that we protect ourselves from the bad stuff we eat.
    http://www.economist.com/science-technology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15660902
    It makes intuitive sense, and it gives a good way to approach food and exercise — don’t worry about the fat you already have, since that’s not hurting you. Just worry about not doing things that will make your body make more of it.
    (Note: Link has picture of semi-discreet naked fat person)

  5. Here’s an AP story on the Kenyan who won the Boston Marathon, setting a new record, and tying the food and exercise themes together:
    “Cheruiyot, 21, surpassed the course record of 2:07:14 set by his namesake in 2006, when he was 27. A farmer back home, the younger Cheruiyot earned a bonus of US$25,000 on top of the $150,000 — and a golden olive wreath from the city of Marathon, Greece — that goes the men’s and women’s winners.
    “”I am going to buy some cows,” Cheruiyot said.”

  6. (Note: Link has picture of semi-discreet naked fat person)
    The police blotter is never so kind to me. It’s always “overweight male exhibitionist.”

  7. af, the latest research shows runners have healthier knees than non-runners..
    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/phys-ed-can-running-actually-help-your-knees/?pagemode=print
    the best way to adapt to running is start slow and pay close attention to any new pains. For the first few months, run/walk rather than try to run the whole thing. Do two miles with as much running as you can manage, work up to the whole way.
    To Laura’s point – if the goal is to ‘lose weight’ then presumably the goal is to look like a coke-thin supermodel. This ain’t healthy..
    I started running as a 6ft 130-lb teenager, and was very happy to put on weight as a result, since it was all muscle.
    Exercise isn’t directly effective for losing weight. Here’s a funny article on the physics of losing weight,
    http://muller.lbl.gov/TRessays/22-ThePhysicsDiet.htm
    However the side effects are what work – the exercise reinforces the resolution to eat better, to break the other bad weight habits, etc etc. Also, muscle burns more calories than fat even at rest: there is a post-exercise raise in the metabolic rate that lasts for several hours: and so on.

  8. Yes to everything Doug k said. Also, good running shoes are really important to staying injury free. As we get older, stretching before and after is super impotant. Run on the street or a track, rather than a sidewalk. I do weight training for my legs once a week. I should do more. And, as Doug said, work into it sloooooowly. If something hurts in a bad way, stop and walk for a while.

  9. I’d like to add a standard warning. If you have any specific reason to fear knee injury (i.e you already have frequent, significant knee pain when resting or during normal activity, you have a past injury, you live on a hill covered in ball bearings and banana peels, etc.) you should probably consult a doctor or PT before you start to run.

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