…if physical activity was a drug it would be classed as a wonder drug, which is why I would encourage everyone to get up and be active.

--Sue Bailey, Chair, UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

The problem with exercise is that it’s called exercise. We all know what exercise means: enjoyable by those who do it, something to be avoided by the rest. Maybe it’s the word, with all those connotations of PE at school, sweaty gyms and work – hard work. If you’re not into it, you’re not into it.

Trouble is, if you want to lose weight (most Americans do, apparently), “exercise” is one of the first things that you’re told to do. For instance, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” puts a huge emphasis on exercise. (A pediatrician-blogger wryly noted that a series showing people not eating week after week probably wouldn’t be as much of a hit).

As I recently wrote, exercise is actually rather ineffective for losing weight. In round figures, you have to run 35 miles to lose a pound (100 calories/running mile, 3500 calories/lb weight). I have a daily walking goal of at least five miles (10,000 steps per my $14 pedometer), but from my body’s point of view, that’s only a couple of cookies’ worth, 400-odd calories.

So why do I do it? First, I’m lucky, I mostly enjoy moving, thanks to whatever Welsh sheep-herding genes I inherited, a boyhood love of hiking and cycling in the Boy Scouts, and being married to someone who calls herself a “adult-onset lover of fitness.”

Secondly, even though exercise doesn’t do much for losing weight, it is a great help in keeping it off, both physically and psychologically. Physically, there are those 400 calories – which I’d otherwise pack away in my belly-fat (ancient genes never having gotten over the fact that more people starved than ever died from war and disease). Psychologically, I imagine some back-of-the-brain conference going on: “Hey, he’s an old fart trying to take care of himself, let’s get on board!”

Thirdly, and here’s the Real Deal – weight loss aside – being active (let’s avoid the E-word) is great for helping avoid a shit-load of stuff I really don’t want to deal with: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, dementia, depression. Oh, and memory loss. Don’t forget memory loss.

Closing thought: it takes time to eat healthily: all that shopping, preparing, sitting down to a good meal. Fast food is just so much easier – no muss, no fuss. And it’s killing us. Or making us fat. Or turning us into, you know, bad people. So here’s a gentle, forget-it-if-it-doesn’t-work suggestion: if you you’re spending an hour at the gym (getting there, exercising, showering, driving home), consider using that time instead on eating better. It’s much more efficient if you want to lose weight. And you’ll still have time for a stroll on the boardwalk after supper.

Don’t think of it as “Exercise.” Think of it as “Moving.”


Barry Evans gave the best years of his life to civil engineering, and what thanks did he get? In his dotage, he travels, kayaks, meditates and writes for the Journal and the Humboldt Historian. He sucks at 8 Ball. Buy his Field Notes anthologies at any local bookstore. Please.