>The Life and Style section of the Wall Street Journal has several articles on exercise today, this being the start of the annual post-holiday fitness season.
The lead article is about Dr. Paul Williams, whose studies of recreational runners reveal that the more people exercise, the greater the health benefits. The Journal reports that Williams is shunned by all the public health guidelines committees because they are afraid that his data will upset people so much that they’ll get discouraged and stay seated on the couch, stuffing themselves with Twinkies.
Yet it’s been shown, time and time again, that the “start with just a little bit of exercise” approach fails because a little bit of exercise yields little or no results, and the person gives up.
Reading the article on Williams, I realized what the problem with the gradual approach is. It’s time.
Johnson’s critics are insisting that he wants everyone to start off spending lots of time doing aggressive exercise, and I think that’s a straw man. I think he wants people to spend lots of time exercising, but that it needn’t be aggressive.
The problem with the “little bit of exercise” approach is that it offers the delusion that you can get results with very little time invested — popping into the gym once a week, or doing a 15 minute walk three times a week, or playing soccer every Sunday. And of course, none of those approaches will have much of a fitness effect (and it’s very likely the weekend warrior’s soccer game will lead to an injury). The pitfall is that this approach fails miserably when it comes to getting people in the habit of scheduling time for fitness — which is often far more difficult than the actual fitness activities themselves.
What if the little bit of exercise were very gentle, easy exercise (walking or beginning yoga) but the person committed to doing it three or four hours a week? There would certainly be some aerobic, balance, or flexibility effect right away. And by increasing speed, or intensity, or adding something like swimming or belly dancing or a weights workout, the four-hour-a-week exerciser would soon be get some of the profound health effects Williams is touting.