Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cure for Everything! by Timothy Caulfield

University of Alberta professor Tim Caulfield untangles the Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness, and Happiness in The Cure for Everything! Physical fitness, diet and remedies -- both alternative and conventional -- are the three main topics, all explored via the evidence of scientific studies.

The good news is that exercise is good for you. Which is also bad news, since many of us don't get enough exercise. The "benefits of regular physical activity for health, longevity, and well-being easily surpass the effectiveness of any drugs or other medical treatment."

The benefits do not include weight-loss, however, which is considered one of the biggest myths associated with physical activity. Todd Miller, professor in the Department of Exercise Science at George Washington University, states "People don't understand that it's very difficult to exercise enough to lose weight. If that's why you're doing it, you're going to fail. In part, it's because you're fighting creeping obesity. Everyone puts on weight as they age. If you're keeping your weight constant, you're winning the battle." Working out to stay the same is depressing... unless you remember the other benefits (see previous paragraph).

Another pervasive myth is "spot reduction." "You cannot lose fat in a particular region of the body by working that part of the body. You cannot 'tone.' You cannot lose stomach fat by doing sit-ups." Hunh!  That was a revelation for me, brainwashed by the cover copy on all the fitness magazines I see in the library and at the grocery checkout. I've been doing 20 minutes of core strength exercises every morning for several years and wondered why they had no effect on my round tummy. My reasons for embarking on this particular activity had to do with physical health: being tired of feeling old and creaky and prone to back injury. And the results have been rewarding, which is why I continue. But I was puzzled about my unchanged stomach fat and now I know the answer. I felt stupid not to have realized this sooner.

I also learned is that strength training is more important than aerobics exercise. "Women and the elderly are the ones that benefit most from resistance training, not young healthy men." I've added more push-ups to my morning routine since reading Caulfield's book.

The section on diet didn't hold any surprises for me. Caulfield's advice is basically the same as Michael Pollan's. In another chapter, alternative healthcare and conventional pharmaceuticals are both found lacking. Both are affected by the powers of money and wishful thinking to distort scientific fact.

"The results of [Caulfield's] research point to a disheartening conclusion, which is, basically, that nothing works. Despite the immense diet, fitness, and remedy industries, very little actually does what it promises to do." What steps can we take to achieve maximum health? "First, exercise often and with intensity (intervals work best) and include some resistance training. Second, eat small portion sizes, no junk food, and make sure 50 percent of what goes in your mouth is a real fruit or vegetable. Third, try your best to maintain a healthy weight (yes, this is insanely tough -- but we should, at least, try). Fourth, do not smoke, and drink only moderate amounts of alcohol."

In the end, these are Caulfield's tips for untangling the twisted messages: "be skeptical, be scientific, be self-aware, be patient, and look for the best, most independent information."

Tim Caulfield's LitFest appearance in Edmonton was sold out. Catch him on YouTube here.

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