Tag Archives: Fit Fatty

Why we need to “broaden” the Definition of Exercise

If you haven’t seen it already, I am sorry to be the one to bring this to your attention.  The news agencies have begun to pick up on a “study” that shows that fat women exercise, on average, for one hour per year.  Now naturally, I found this highly suspicious.  Nearly every fat person I know exercises more than that.  It seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I held my nose and started reading the articles and checking into the study.

Now the articles that are reporting about this study sport headlines like: “Obese Women Get One Hour Vigorous Activity Per Year”. (Warning, link leads to article with obligatory “headless fatty” picture.) But let’s look at a few things here.  First of all–the study asked the participants to wear accelerometers for 10 hours per day for 4 days.  Based on the findings from the accelerometers they extrapolated how much “vigorous activity” each participant got over the course of a year.  There were not a lot of participants in the study, and the participants were not all fat.  In fact, nobody in the study got very much exercise based on how they defined exercise.  Even those in the thin categories only got about 10 hours of exercise per year–far, FAR below what is recommended for good health.

So what is going on here?  Well the main thing that’s happening, is the the study makes the definition of “vigorous activity” extremely narrow and then reports how few people fit their definition of activity.  The study uses accelerometers which are known to only measure a very specific type of physical activity.  Typically accelerometers are good at recording lower body movements of a certain type (walking, running, climbing stairs) and not really good at recording many activities of daily livings (ADLs).  Further more, it appears that the study uses a short period of time to calculate the activity.  (4 days is considered the minimum by some standards and below the necessary threshold of measured time by others.)

The main issue here is that while the study’s definition of vigorous activity is really narrow, may of the headlines don’t reflect this.  I’ve yet to see a single headline that says “Fat people spend nine hours less per year running and jumping rope than thin people.”  But in essence, that’s what we’re talking about here.  It just gives the fat people a lot more ammo to throw at people of size.

It also gives people of size more reason to believe that they are both inactive and unhealthy.  And believing you are inactive and unhealthy can help make you inactive and unhealthy.  A recent study involved two groups of  hotel workers who had moderately active jobs.  In the study, one group of workers were told that their daily work “counted” as exercise and the other group were told that their daily work “didn’t count” as exercise.  Then they took a host of health metrics down the road.

According to the study:

Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention,the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.

In other words, if you believed the activity you are doing “counts” as exercise and will help make you healthy, it is more likely to do just that.

In this light, it is difficult to understand what good will come from narrowing people’s definition of what constitutes healthy activities.  In my certification process, I was taught that there are three main categories of exercise–cardiovascular training (aerobic exercise), resistance training (strength training) and flexibility training (stretching).  I was taught that all three of these are very important to health.  But the “fat ladies get one hour of exercise study” only counts a small percentage of one of these categories as exercise.  It doesn’t count resistance training or flexibility at all.  It doesn’t count cardiovascular activity based in water or that primarily uses the upper body.  It doesn’t count many forms of walking, cycling or jumping as vigorous activity despite failing to take body weight or heart rate into account.

In fact, of the 60 activities listed in the Fit Fatties Virtual Decathlon, less than ten of them would be likely to be accurately measured by an accelerometer.  And it would be difficult to determine how many of those would be considered “vigorous” enough to count in this study.

But our bodies are smarter than this study.  And our bodies love joyful, physical movements of all different types.  We know that shame doesn’t work, and we know that believing you are engaged in healthy behavior makes it more likely that you will receive benefits from that healthy behavior.  With that in mind, it seems like we should be actively working to expand the definition of what “counts” as exercise and providing as many examples of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities, who are smiling and doing this stuff as is possible.

With that in mind we are going to be inviting you to tweet some of your absolutely gorgeous pictures of healthy, happy, and fabulous activities in an upcoming project.  Stay tuned for the details.  In the meantime, keep having fun and keep moving your glorious bodies in lots of different and happy ways.  It all counts.

Love,

Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to make sure you are the first to know about fabulous fit fatty projects and get some free stuff?  Don’t forget to join my group!

 

 

 

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Frank Sinatra as Exercise Inspiration

In case you’re noodling over my semi-bizarre title, let me just say this.  Frank “did it his way”.  And when it comes to exercise, I’d like to invite you to do it your way.

I was inspired to write this after reading a great post by a young exercise guru named Ryan DeBell.  In his post, he talks about some of the anatomical differences in the hip region that can have a dramatic difference in the way we squat.  If you aren’t too squeamish when it comes to looking at human bones, I’d like to encourage you to hop on over to the article.  Because those pictures of bones tell a story that is very interesting.

The pictures feature the bones of the hip, showing us the socket part of the joint on the pelvis (called the acetabulum) and the ball part of the joint on the head of the long bone of the leg (called the femur).  When the pictures are compared, side by side, it is clear that there is a LOT of anatomical variety.  The angle of the ball part of the joint differs widely from one person to another.  The length of the ball part of the joint is different.  The position of the socket part of the pelvis is very different from one picture to another.

From this picture, Ryan extrapolates that these bodies would perform the “squat” in ways that are very different from one another.  He posits that one person would be more comfortable in a wide stance and another would be more comfortable in a narrow stance.  And he suggests that this difference is likely to continue expressing itself, even after a fair amount of exercise in both strengthening and increasing range of motion in the hip joint.

It’s also fascinating to me that Ryan followed up his blog post with a brief video. Here it is:


Basically what the video says is (and I’m paraphrasing): “Yeah helpful commenters, I didn’t say that because hips are different people should stop working on their hips.  And no I don’t have reams of incontrovertible evidence detailing the exact range of human hip diversity.  But what I am saying is that even if you exercise a lot, people are still going to be different. ”

And the end of the video is so awesome, I’ll quote it here:

“Keep doing it so you can be the best version of you in your movement.”

Okay, I want to give this guy cyberhugs.  Seriously.  Because what he says makes so much sense not only in the context of exercise, but also in terms of body diversity in general.  It should be obvious, right?  We don’t all look the same.  Some of us are tall and some of us are short.  Some of us are designed to be weight lifters and some of us are designed to sprint and some of us are going to run long distances like marathons and ultramarathons like a freakin’ gazelle.  Some of us are designed with a great deal of musical talent.  Others of us can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  Does suggest that the sprinters can’t do marathons or that the non-singers should just mouth “Happy Birthday to You” at the next family gathering?  No it does not.  However it does suggest that the sprinter’s body is likely to respond to 26.2 miles in a way that is very different from the gazelle.  It means that the non-singer is going to have a much different experience learning to sing opera than the kid who rolled out of bed at age 18 with a high “C” and perfect pitch.

And speaking of singing, there is so much diversity in music, and in many ways it seems more accepted.  I am a soprano.  I can sing the same notes as many altos and even some tenors.  But no matter how much I train my voice to extend my range, I will not  be an alto or a tenor.  The quality of my voice will not match those voice types.  And the more I try to train my voice to artificially create a sound that is not right for me, the more fatigued and frustrated I will become.  And if I train against the natural tendencies of my voice long enough and hard enough, I am likely to experience pain, injury and possibly even permanent damage.  Does that mean I stop working to extend my range?  Of course not!  But it does mean that I need to progress in a way that is in harmony with my anatomy and my abilities.

You know, as I watched the Golden Globes last night, I found a number of things really striking.  One thing I noticed was how tall most of the women were.  And another thing I noticed was how similar all the women looked to one another.  There were a few striking and glorious examples of body diversity, but the vast majority of the women at that show could have easily swapped couture gowns with one another.  And I think this is one of the main dangers of consuming media in our culture.  It makes us lose touch with how much natural diversity there is in bodies.  It gives many of us the sense that our bodies are all wrong because everybody we see on TV and in the magazines either look the same naturally, or are photoshopped into uniformity.  But if we look outside of media, if we look in the real world, I think there is a beautiful and astonishing level of difference.

So how do we bring this back around to our title?  How do we relate this to Frank Sinatra?  My dear friend, I think it means you need to do exercise YOUR way.  By all means enlist the help of a personal trainer or exercise teacher.  By all means build your strength and extend your range of motion.  But while you are doing this, please listen to YOUR body.  Don’t assume that there is only one way to strengthen or increase flexibility in any part of your body.   Don’t even assume that there is only one right way to do a particular sort of exercise.  And when your body says, “OW it hurts when I do that in that way,” follow your Mom’s sage advice and don’t do that.  Just focus, as Ryan says, on being the best version of YOU.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. One of the things that is so exciting about the Fit Fatties Virtual Events project I co-created with Ragen Chastain (besides how cool it is to do anything with Ragen Chastain) is watching how different bodies respond to the very different challenges offered in the program.  Rather than asking everybody to do a 5K or a triathlon, we are encouraging people to explore a wide range of activities and pick a few  that feel great to them.  We are still offering early bird special pricing so I urge you to go check it out!