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Why you can’t trust this media report about exercise and fat loss

Whether it’s down to cunning or incompetence, the mainstream media does a terrible job of health reporting. In a new regular column our resident 'Healthy Sceptic', Joe Halstead, exposes bad science - starting with the recent claim that exercise won’t help you lose weight or live longer
The headline

Dr Michael Mosley: Why running more won’t help you to lose weight… and nor will it make you live longer – that’s just one of the many common myths about exercise

The source

Daily Mail online

What the story said

Author and resident BBC medic, Dr Michael Mosley, used a recent study to justify his view that exercise is waste of time and that he doesn’t “think it’s necessary or appealing to go running or sign up for the gym.” At least he lays his opinion cards on the table before he gets stuck in to the study and a bunch of exercise benefits he claims are ‘myths’. 

The Unfiltered takedown 

The Finnish study referred to by Dr Mosley in his article has a major flaw that is a perfect example of scientific ‘rigour’ being used over simple common sense.

The study found that long term mortality was barely different between those who exercised and those who didn’t. BUT only if you control for BMI and other health statuses.

This is real-world insanity and I’m not sure it isn’t scientific insanity too. By controlling for BMI they are implying that exercise and a lower BMI are unrelated. By controlling for other health statuses they are implying that exercise doesn’t benefit your health.

So if you take those factors out all that’s left is the wear and tear from exercise without the benefits.

In other words, if you don’t count the benefits of exercise then exercise isn’t beneficial. Really? You don’t say! 

Guess what, if you don’t count the hydrating effects of water it’s actually pretty deadly, causing countless drowning deaths annually. So we should conclude that water is not essential and, in fact, might kill you, right? If we follow the same logic then we should.

Put simply, the study and the article based on it should be tossed in the bin before anyone else uses it as justification to worsen their lifestyle.

Running joke

Another negative about the study is that the forms of exercise accounted for were running, more running or way more running. No mention of weight training.

That’s utterly irresponsible.

I don’t trust the health advice of anyone who starts out by saying “I’ve never been that keen on exercise” and I envisage Dr Mosley’s morning ‘resistance training’ to be a pathetic workout done with rehab bands. If it were weight training and pushups he would say weight training and pushups.

Dr Mosley then goes on to list a few things that he spuriously calls myths. He counters the idea that exercise will make you live longer by saying “maybe it’s not the exercise” and American footballers aren’t healthy. Well, duh. Have you seen how overweight half of them are, not to mention the repeated concussions? That’s like saying “boxing doesn’t make you live longer therefore exercise in general is not good for you”.

He then challenges the idea that exercise leads to weight loss. Of course it leads to weight loss. Yes, a lot of people use it as an excuse to eat more but almost certainly those same people would be in a worse state without exercise. It’s true that temporarily burning extra calories with pure cardio will be fleeting if you stop the exercise. But making that point is the opposite of providing evidence that exercise doesn’t work.

The next ‘myth’ Dr Mosley questions is that exercise increases your metabolic rate. Maybe not for the pure running exercise averaged out over 24 hours that he cites. But it is definitely true for weight training done to maintain or increase muscle mass.

The final ‘myth’ he looks at is the phenomenon of exercise giving you an endorphin high. I’m not sure if this one is true or not, but WTF does this have to do with anything? He basically uses this as an excuse for why he doesn’t like exercising. Or, in other words, the whole article is what the kids these days call a ‘cope’; I don’t like exercise and I don’t have a robust argument against it but you should still listen to my longevity advice and keep paying me.

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