Exercise is Decoration

If you want to lose weight, what do you do?

When I started putting on extra pounds in my forties, my doctor, told me to exercise more. She gave me some tips on how I could fit more exercise into my busy schedule.

Michelle Obama has used mostly exercise to address childhood obesity, one of her signature issues as First Lady of the United States.

In the documentary Fed Up, experts suggested that focus might be doing more harm than good.

Is more exercise the best answer to obesity and overweight?

No. It is not.

First, let me be clear. Physical exercise provides great benefits to the human body and its systems.

To name a few, strengthening of bones and muscles including the heart; increasing coordination and decreasing one’s risk of osteoporosis and falls; boosting brain and immune function as well as one’s sense of well-being; increasing HDL cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides and the oxidation of LDL cholesterol; lowering blood pressure and insulin resistance and improving insulin sensitivity; and raising endorphins which can improve mood, sleep, and general health.

Those benefits are all great.

man lifting weightsThe noticeable effect we seem to care about most is weight loss and physique. Those 6-pack abs.

But we shouldn’t exercise just for the sake of weight loss or appearance – unless you’re into body-building competitions.

Most of us should engage in daily physical activity for all of the health benefits listed above and many more.

Weight loss should be viewed as a beneficial side-effect of getting healthy.

Yes, activity burns fat. It uses energy.

When we eat, our bodies must decide what to do with the energy we get from food – use it or store it. If we are active, we’ll use that food energy right away and it won’t be stored (unless it’s heavily processed). If we don’t, guess where it’s going?

I am not against exercise. I studied exercise physiology in graduate school. After getting a health education degree as an undergrad, I chose exercise – from the many facets of health – on which to focus. I love exercise and the benefits it provides.


For weight loss or general health, exercise should not be the top priority for getting back on track. It might be the second priority, but it shouldn’t be the first.

What should be the first?

I’ll get back to that in a minute. First, I want to share an exchange I heard from an adjacent booth in my local Panera recently.

Two women, maybe late fifties or sixties, one overweight and the other clearly obese, were having lunch. The one facing me, the obese one, talked the most and the loudest so I couldn’t help but hear her.

“My doctor tells me I need to exercise more,” she told her friend. ‘But I’m at the gym for 60 minutes,’ I told him. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘try doing 75.’”

She sounded exascerbated. “So, now I have to spend more time at the gym and I’m already out of breath when I go.”

I felt for her. “It’s not the exercise,” I thought to myself. Exercise is not the answer.

Fed Up DVD cover

I said the same thing at the end of Fed Up when adolescents expressed their frustration with their excess weight.

“Who is helping these kids?” I asked myself out loud. Really helping them? Not just promoting exercise so they can feel good about it. Where are the results?

During the Obama Administration and the First Lady’s promotion, childhood obesity has gotten worse, not better.

During the past 40 years when exercise has been the focus of weight loss, obesity, overweight, and diabetes have skyrocketed. We now see public service announcements suggesting lazy kids are causing the obesity epidemic.

Meanwhile, the real culpit is escaping unscathed.

I feel like I’m going against the religion by demoting exercise to a less glorious position in the neverending quest for optimal health.

But, a few days ago, I heard a medical doctor describe exercise perfectly.

Exercise is a decoration, he said.

Exercise is like paint, rugs, or curtains. We can paint damaged walls, throw rugs over damaged floors, or hang curtains over broken windows. And doing so might make us feel good for a moment but it doesn’t address the underlying problem.

With overweight and poor health, the underlying problem is almost always, first and foremost, nutritional deficiencies.

As Americans, we tend to be overfed……..but undernourished.

The leading causes of death in the United States are cardiovascular disease and cancer. Do athletes who exercise a lot get cardiovascular disease?


That’s why many marathon organizers have ambulances on hand and why, too often, we hear of a participant collapsing – or even dying – during or shortly after the race. Not from broken bones but heart attacks.

The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx book coverJim Fixx was a runner. He authored the 1977 best-seller The Complete Book of Running. A lack of exercise was not an issue for him. Still, a fatal heart attack killed him at the age of 52. He was running.

Do athletes get cancer?

Sadly, yes.

The running back for the Pittsburg Panthers, James Conner, sat out the 2015 season battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Is lack of exercise the #1 cause of cancer?


What is?

Eighty to ninety percent of all degenerative diseases – cancer, heart, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc. – are preventable, caused by oxidative stress due to free radical damage. Chronic systemic inflammation, an unintended immune response contributes. Long hours at the gym and high-intensity training often increases free radical damage and oxidative stress.

Sometimes, you can get too much of a good thing.

While exercise may be a fantastic addition to a healthy lifestyle, it is not the alpha and the omega of good health.

What is?

More than anything else, nutrition.

Americans have been made guinea pigs by the Medical Establishment for the past half-century. The results of this experiment are devastating and heartbreaking. What used to be extremely rare diseases are now epidemics. Illnesses that used to affect only the aged, are now attacking children and young adults. The ‘eat-more-carbs-and-exercise-more’ prescription has caused more harm than good.

The numbers don’t lie.

So, please stop obsessing over exercise and heart rates and minutes at the gym unless you are in training for sport.

Make nutrition your priority. Cellular nutrition. Pure, potent, effective nutrition will not only put you on the path toward optimal health, it’ll make your body more efficient and your desired weight loss will become a natural, pleasant side effect – exercise or no exercise.