Time Magazine Lets Us All Down

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I rarely have time to write more than one post a week, but (ironically) Time is what has fueled the fire for another rant.


The title alone is enough to be questionable, setting the stage for thousands of folks to start wondering why the heck they even bother adding intense movement to their day:

The Myth About Exercise:
Of course it’s good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight. Why it’s what you eat that really counts.

The rest of the article skews the information in a similarly slanted fashion. For every good point it raises – eat better, move more throughout the day, you don’t NEED to go to a gym to get a workout – it ruins them by promoting lower intensity workouts as the better alternative.


“Actually, it’s not clear that vigorous exercise like running carries more benefits than a moderately strenuous activity like walking while carrying your groceries.” Now he almost makes a good point, if he worded it better, that modern research focuses too much on studies done with folks fresh off the couch to try to garner data on exercise guidelines. This fails in the grand scheme of things, since the studies are never long enough, and rarely with any true intensity, since the best guinea pigs they can find are too unfit to complete tougher tasks. A great deal of our current ‘understanding’ of exercise has been derived from these vague studies, and that is a good point to bring up.

BUT that is not his point. Instead he actually uses the vagueness to slant his article towards a science that shows vigorous exercise as not being any more effective than lower intensity workouts. In other words, lets all walk rather than run, walk rather than test ourselves and push physical boundaries, walk instead of train for any type of sporting event or fitness goal, walk instead of actually being able to DO ANYTHING. Just eat better and walk!

Apparently we’ve been doing this fitness thing all wrong.


John Cloud, the author, spends about 80% of his ink preaching how exercise is basically useless since it doesn’t actually help us burn fat. On one hand, there is some truth to the fat burning part, but on the other hand, if the emphasis was on all the BENEFITS of exercise, then the fact that it isn’t the all-potent fat burner WOULDN’T MATTER!! Yes, eat better, but for Pete’s sake, don’t reduce your movement just because it might not burn fat as well as all the infomercials preach!

He even spends an unfortunate amount of time giving evidence to how adding intensity to a workout will make you gain weight, and then justifies it by stating how weak willed we are as a species. Seriously.

“Some of us can will ourselves to overcome our basic psychology, but most of us won’t be very successful.” The ‘basic psychology’ he’s talking about is the our ‘proportionally enfeebled self-regulatory capacity’ that falls apart if we ‘force’ ourselves to jog for an hour. “Rather than lunching on a salad, you’ll be more likely to opt for a pizza.”

Um… what about the folks who opt for a pizza WITHOUT working out before hand. Perhaps I’m blind, but I see a lot more NON-exercising folks making poor eating decisions than folks who move hard regularly.


The last paragraph is particularly sad, but sums up the whole article. Again, it starts with a statement that is absolutely worth considering, but then ruins the moment by slanting the words to make exercise seem like a waste of time.

“In short, it’s what you eat, not how hard you try to work it off, that matters most in losing weight. You should exercise to improve your health, but be warned: fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain. I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow skip the versaclimber – and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual post workout reward.”

BE WARNED, he says! Avoid real exercise folks! Despite it leading to improved overall fitness, greater self confidence, increased speed, workload, sporting prowess…. basically an increased ability to do ANYTHING and making you feel better, a couple people might have gained a few pounds from it somewhere because they also ate like shit. So DON’T DO IT. Walk a little and eat more salads.

Too many folks, including the author himself, will read this as “I only work out to burn fat, and since that’s useless, I’ll stop, despite all the other benefits.” WTF!!??

Can you make up for bad eating with fitness? Not really, and that’s a point we try to push hard around here. But that’s not the point of the article, which seems to be pushing LESS exercising as much, if not more, than better eating.

(sorry Alyson, you should probably just walk and eat better)

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Showing 17 comments
  • Craig in Seattle

    I sometimes wonder how we move away from the industry of all this shit. Obviously, the clothing and gear and book and certification manufacturers have a biased hand in promoting the ‘image’ of fitness…but largely (as you point out in your book) what they sell is ‘fight fat’. The interesting thing to me is that while it may look cool (based on what we get fed from said media) to see your abs, you might well be better off with a higher BF% and seriously active. This certainly doesn’t mean you are a best served aspiring to be Conan the Cowbarian, but there is a much wider line than people are led to believe. There is space within that line to lift, sprint, play rugby, climb mountains, surf, fight, and look seriously hot…all without seeing your abs.

    Jim Wendler made the point about Fedor- he ain’t ripped, but the dude is much badder than the rest of us. Seems to be a very kind, well mannered, spiritual individual…and while he might be a ‘special case’ the guy takes care of himself.

    The limited degree of available willpower argument is pure enabling crap. This does not mean actually using your will-muscles is easy. They require training. The more you use them, the easier it gets. In time it actually becomes -gasp- pleasurable! This is strangely like intelligent and fun exercise! However, it’s damn hard to sell these ideas.

    Eating well, whether you are a pure carnivore (I’ll never eat my cat, but if the Doom comes down we’ll be hunting rats together) or a pure vegan you can eat well pleasurably. You can eat well spectacularly! You actually are missing the point if it isn’t good, tasty, and fun to make and consume.

    The same goes with exercise. Yes, walking is good for you. As is riding the bike, running, lifting weights. The critical missing factor in the exercise/health/fitness message is that this is a fun way to live! If machine cardio is your personal pain, don’t do it! Go play Frisbee with the dog and fight him for it! Got punish the garage wall with a medicine ball. Kettlebells and clubs rule and not because they are ‘the best tools’ but because they are the most fun tools! I often tell my friends that in life, pain is unavoidable but the suffering part is optional.

    At work I get comments from “I could never do that” (really? You couldn’t eat some kind of vegetable for lunch every day? Seriously?) to “I hate you!” (somehow the salad inspiring hate seems just a little out of whack). And folks suck down the Coke and the Lean Cuisine and a whole pharmacy of pills and still suffer. It’s sad.

    I know I mentioned this a few months back, but it’s time for the ‘walking will not save you’ sticker campaign.

    Keep the Faith, the Knowledge, and the Humor-


  • tonf

    America is in the sorriest shape of any nation in history i think when it comes to attitudes about eating/exercise. The food industrial complex is basically enslaving the population. The “science” of high carb/low fat eating was invented by the food industry complex. There’s a “low fat” everything so we don’t have to go through the hassle of actually exercising. We are saturated with every kind of cheap gimmick and expensive contraption for to exercise with without actually having to use any energy. It’s pitiful. The Time article is quite the good indicator of how sorry our society really is in that it actually is advising most people in the right direction from what they do now, as ridiculous as that may be. Maybe the totally inert crap eaters will take the baby steps outlined in the article instead of continuing to be overwhelmed into sedation by the thought of normal exercise. Maybe in 30 years people might graduate from the calf raise isolation machine to an overhead squat here in America.

  • Ron

    Oh, why did I look at Chip’s rant before leaving work. I read this stupid thing too, and, it’s just wound me up. Here we go….

    “I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow skip the versaclimber – and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual post workout reward.”

    The author needs a freakin’ “reward” of food for working out? Clearly he’s not being honest here–he DOES NOT like how exercise makes him feel or it in and of itself would BE the reward. The reward, to a large extent, is the journey itself not the destination.

    The reality for this sad author is that he views exercise as “work” and intrinsically “bad”—work that he can be excused from by saying it “doesn’t cut fat”. (Since god knows the only reason to exercise is to “burn fat”–and, of course, “tone” and get “ripped”). But he doesn’t stop there—he seeks to bring others along for the ride to justify and support his own warped view of things.

    He dials in the fear tactics–since the “general public” views exercise as a fat-loss tool, why not scare them the hell away from that by telling them they’ll get fatter if they do exercise? This is akin to telling old folks that Health Care Reform means “Death Camps” for old people and the infirm. He’s the Sarah Palin of exercise: find a fear and exploit it. It’s one of the oldest propaganda tools in the book. I’m surprised we didn’t learn that intense exercise is just another road to “socialism” or “one world government”!

    One has to then ask the next question: what drives this guy? My guess is that he’ll feel less guilty and more self-assured about his decision to blow of exercise and movement if he can convert others. Just as religious zealots can only sustain their beliefs under conditions where everyone believes as they do, he feels the need to justify and support his position by creating an anti-exercise movement. Don’t do it! Beware! It’s gonna make you fat!

    The unfortunate logical long-term conclusion of the kind of the thinking being propagated in this article is best captured in the movie WALL-E: fat people not even able to move happily eating “cupcakes in a cup” while wasting time “playing” video games. Hey, since we have a “proportionally enfeebled self-regulatory capacity’ anyway why bother controlling what you shove down your pie hole? You are too intrinsically weak willed to fight that “need” for donut, pizza, or “cupcake in a cup” so why not just learn to enjoy them? (Or, as McDeath used to say “You DESERVE a break today”—so why not reward yourself! We, the advertisers will tell you food is a reward over and over again, and by golly, over time you WILL believe what we’re selling!) Oh, and of course, while your at it why even bother moving at all?

    If you’re old enough to, as I am, think back 35 years. What were people like then? What did they eat? What did they look like? Most importantly, what were they physically capable of doing? Okay, now recall your last visit to your local mega-mall. Ask yourself those same questions. (These days I wonder how many could make it up two flights of stairs without dropping dead or passing out….) You’ll have to admit that for most of the population they’ve moved closer to the WALL-E future faster than we’d ever have thought possible.

    Now think forward another 35 years. Now THAT is something to actually be afraid of! I believe it becomes our duty to fight that future (and those who seek “achieving it” like this author) in whatever way we can: by leading by example and by sharing the joy of exercise and movement with our friends, our parents, our children, in our schools, and in our communities. Body Tribe is a valued ally in that fight (thanks Chip and the rest of the tribe).

    Stay strong all! Now go do some sprints for fun and enjoy yourselves! That’s what it’s all about!

  • Chris in Arcata

    John Cloud ? So what…….

    We don’t excersice. We Body Tribe.

    Let’s name a fat GPP in his name………..

  • Ed Pierini

    Well I’ve not read the article and will not, but that won’t prevent me from adding my two cents, all based on my personal training experiences.

    I have thrived on intensity in my training and became superfit and ate like a horse as a result of it. I have also lost serious bodyweight from less frequent and less intense training and by eating less during my recent journey with an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

    Less intensity and eating less may be incompatible with strength development and strength endurance or elite athletic performance, but it is definitely compatible with general fitness and achieving a desirable bodyweight for someone carrying excessive lard.

    Maybe I do need to read the article so that anything else I say is in its context but facts are facts and I’ve lost more bodyweight with less intense exercise than I have with it. And I’ve lost more bodyweight by eating less rather than eating more. I’m a walking experiment of one and truly believe that abs are made in the kitchen. Perhaps that was a point that the article was trying to articulate.

  • Amanda

    Ed, I really do believe you should read the article. It might be true that diet has the greatest influence on body fat, none of us are arguing that. The issue is the conclusions that the author draws from that, and the direction in which he takes them.

    I think another thing we need to consider is that moderate exercise (movement) has been shown in neurobiological studies to treat anxiety and depression in adults as well as commercially marketed antidepressants.
    As long as exercise is focused on solely as a way to pigeonhole us into the coveted yet impossible media archetype (‘lose fat’, ‘get toned’, ‘get ripped’), we’re missing out on a vital healing tool…one that has lasting and visible repercussions. Loss of creativity and the ability to connect is devastating to our communities, yet Cloud irresponsibly chooses to promote discarding movement (beyond walking!) because obviously the only goals we should have in our society are related to is to body weight.

    It’s an adaptation issue. Brain and body are connected. In depression, the brain stops adapting, stops making new neuronal connections. This is made visible through all of the symptoms of depression. Anti-depressants can stimulate the production of certain neutrotrophic factors, which are kind of like a growth broth, thereby recreating an environment in which the brain can again make new neuronal connections, and the human being can connect again with life.

    Yet, movement does the exact same thing! And the best movements to promote this ‘broth’? Dance and martial arts, or anything else to which we constantly adapt. I believe the kind of training we do at BodyTribe has excellent therapeutic potential, since we focus on training along the full spectrum of strength. This hasn’t been formally studied yet, but I’ve got plans to explore this avenue.

    It is irresponsible for a journalist to overlook all of the extremely positive effects of regular exercise and instead focus solely on whether it helps us appear the way the media tells us we should. There are so many people out there who will take what Time magazine says at face value, and simply “skip the brain muffin” instead of moving their bodies, and that can have far-reaching consequences…simply consider how many millions of Americans are affected with depression and anxiety, and how this affects the way they raise their kids, their performance in the job market, and their level of creativity.

  • ultrafknbd

    Wait, pizza is not good for you?

  • Ron


    +1,000. Well said!

  • Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS

    Nice post. Had John Cloud actually bothered to read the research, he would have come to a very different conclusion on the topic. But that wouldn’t have sold magazines. Instead, he skewed the facts to support a conclusion that is spurious if not downright wrong. The upshot is that he’s done a grave disservice to the general public. I’d encourage you to read my rebuttal to Mr. Cloud on my blog, http://www.workout911.com, where I actually cite the research on the subject. Spread the word: exercise is good for waistline!


    Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS

  • Veronica

    Media’s Finest Hour — The hour before it began. :/

  • DonCarlin

    Great blog! Time did let us down, and they contributed to the growing problem of American obesity! I hope many people read this and see the fallacy of Time’s crap.

    your statement about the workout being the reward, I couldn’t agree with you more and it could not have been said better!!!

  • Andy

    Don, I think you’re wrong about Time contributing to the problem of American obesity. Do you honestly think that there are enough readers left to be significantly influenced by this article?

  • Ali

    I am far from educated in the health and wellness industry. All I have to offer is my own experience. As the mother of 3, my mom always told me that chasing kids around and daily housework was all I needed, I didn’t need to “exercise”. That kind of attitude led me to 186 lbs. I was depressed and in denial. I tried everything to loose weight- the “magic” pills, the step-class, the diets and nothing worked. Why? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that running and actually working “hard” did the trick. I took my frustrations out by working harder & running faster (usually in tears). It wasn’t about loosing weight or the number on the scale anymore. It was about feeling good about myself. I’m down 40 lbs. in 4 months and the BEST thing is I’m mentally and physically stronger than I ever thought I could be! Go figure ….

  • Dan

    I think these magazine writers are taking this viewpoint to the extreme. Just because top athletes such as Lance Armstrong and others develop cardiovascular disease and live a short lifespan doesn’t mean that everyone should avoid sports. Those are due to specific reasons I think with our modern knowledge we could prevent if we just put a little bit more thought into things. Football players need to switch from fried chicken to grilled chicken. Just look at Jack Lalane. He lived a very active life, ate high fat, stuff life dairy cream, and he’s in his 90s now.

    Weightlifting is very important for depression IMO. Especially for previously sedentary people. This helps all the muscle groups catch up, so your emotional levels rise, your metabolism rises, your coordination rises, and your ability to get into and preform other activities improve. Your self image also improves because you have a more desirable physical appearance. It also slows the aging process and decreases the chance for injury. Just by weightlifting I can dramatically improve the distance and speed I go when I’m running.

    What’s wrong with pizza though? It’s better than a lot of things people eat. You just need some magnesium to go along with the high level of calcium in it. It’s good to eat a higher fat diet, and dairy fat is an excellent source. I disagree with the fat comment. During most of your medium to lower activities throughout the day you burn from 85%-50% fat as you main source. The human body is made from half and half saturated and monounsaturated fat, and 4% polyunsaturated fat, so it’s also good to consume fats in that proportion. Your body doesn’t require that many carbs unless you do weightlifting, sprinting, or competitive sports. Walking requires more fat as energy. A higher consumption of fat increases the body’s heat and thus burns more calories due to thermogenesis.

    Just my two cents,
    Daniel Christopher Holt

  • chip

    The problem with pizza, besides being a caloric nightmare and being seriously high in saturated fats, while lacking anything resembling fiber, is how it messes with our insulin. Despite its relatively high fat and protein content, it has been put on the danger list for diabetics who have to watch out for things that rank high on the glycemic index. Pizza seems to mess with insulin in less-than-good ways, probably having a great deal to do with the crust. It is FAR from better than what most people eat. It should still be on everyone’s list of shit that really isn’t doing you any good. In other words no one got healthy eating pizza.

    And your fat percentages are sort of moot. If a person is hardly doing anything, but they’re still burning a few calories from just existing, then by your logic they’d still be burning fat just from cooking and eating the food that is making them fat. For people who are overweight, I have yet to see this happen.

    Saying that ‘walking requires more fat as energy’ doesn’t mean a thing when walking doesn’t require that much energy to do to begin with. 85% of hardly nothing is still hardly nothing.

    So if you truly believe that a person (who apparently is made up of 104% fat according to your numbers) who participates in minimal activity should be consuming a diet of 85% fat, half of which is saturated, and that will keep them healthy, then see how that works out for you.

    Again, Dan, your too obsessed with numbers that mean NOTHING right now. First, just try eating real foods. I know you haven’t made THAT step yet. You’re leaping before even taking step one. Stats and percentages DON’T MEAN ANYTHING if you’re still eating like garbage. Step one: eat real food on a fairly regular schedule. Try that for a year. THEN worry about the nitpicky stuff you’ve read on the internet.

  • Jack

    Love the post and comment!

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