Leading health experts and entire scientific associations are taking vehement exception with a recent TIME magazine cover story, absurdly entitled, “Why exercise won’t make you thin.”

The author of the article, John Cloud, selectively, and often incorrectly, reports scientific research, misquotes experts, and exposes his naive understanding of physiology, all in order to arrive at his preconceived conclusion that not only will exercise not help you lose weight – it may actually make you fatter.

The much publicized conclusion is in direct opposition to the recommendations of leading medical authorities which promote regular physical activity as a means for managing weight as well as improving overall health.

For example, in a recent Whig column (Aug. 13), Dr. Gifford-Jones reinforced the notion that regular physical activity is a key component to a lifestyle-based approach to shedding excess weight.

Paradoxically, in the central thesis of the TIME article, Cloud surmises the following: “Exercise… isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.”

In response, the American College of Sports Medicine swiftly released a public statement denouncing the conclusion reached by Cloud.

“The statement ‘in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless’ is not supported by the scientific evidence when there is adherence to a sufficient dose of physical activity in overweight and obese adults”, leading obesity researcher, Dr. John Jakicic, says in response to the TIME article.

To the contrary, numerous studies, including those conducted at Queen’s university, have shown that when it comes to weight loss – exercise is just as effective as dieting. For example, in a series of studies performed in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Ross, obese men and women who underwent 3 months of either dieting or daily exercise lost the same amount of weight (about 6-8kg), regardless of the method.

What’s worse, Dr. Timothy Church, scientist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, who was prominently featured in Cloud’s article, has officially accused Mr. Cloud of misrepresenting his professional opinions in the article. This is most unfortunate for Cloud, as much of his thesis rests on the results of a recent study by Dr. Church and his erroneous extrapolations thereof.

Throughout the article, Cloud describes with apparent distaste his 4 hours of weekly exercise, which he performs begrudgingly with the purpose of losing weight.  The interesting thing about his confessions is that only 90 minutes of his weekly exercise is composed of aerobic activity (e.g. jogging, swimming, cycling, etc.) – the type of exercise you should be doing if your goal is to slim down.

However, current recommendations suggest that individuals attempting to lose weight should perform 60-90 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Thus, Cloud’s apparent inability to lose weight is not surprising given he performs in one week the amount of exercise which must be performed daily if weight loss is to be achieved.

While Cloud demonizes exercise as the cause of his apparent inability to shed excess pounds, one gets the impression that the cause of his unsuccessful weight management is improper nutrition. For example, he admits to previously “self-medicating with lots of Italian desserts” and describes craving French fries or greasy burritos after exercising.

Proper nutrition is a critical component of a lifestyle based approach to dealing with excess weight. You can’t expend 300 calories on a jog, follow it up with a 500 calorie burrito and expect to lose weight.

More importantly, regular physical activity is good for your health and reducing the risk of most diseases independent of its effect on body weight.

Individuals of all sizes, and ages, can vastly improve their health by becoming more active even when scale weight refuses to budge. Due to the prevailing focus on weight loss, the lack of weight change is too often interpreted as a treatment failure leading to discontinuation of the healthy activity.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the conclusion Cloud comes to at the end of the article, and it is this conclusion that is the most damaging.

In the last sentence of the article, Cloud sums up by stating that “tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber…”

I truly hope others do not follow TIME’s misguided advice.

Peter Janiszewski

Published on Aug. 22, 2009 in the Kingston Whig Standard