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Do Aerobics Work?

One of the responsibilities of a Personal Trainer is providing clients with the most up to date information available. So when I read the ASK MR. FITNESS article written by Mr. Fitness (also known as Tony Wagner) in the April 29th, 2007 issue of the Key West Citizen I felt compelled to respond with the facts.

In his column, Mr. Fitness said "...aerobics don't work. You will lose no weight doing them." and "They [aerobics] work good at making you lose lean muscle and wreaking havoc on your joints, but that's about it."

Those statements are direct, bold, and completely wrong.

There have been hundreds of clinically controlled medical studies over the last few years documenting the effectiveness of aerobic exercises to lose body fat, not just weight. In a study done at the Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba, researchers wanted to test the effects on abdominal fat reduction by adding aerobic exercise training to a diet program. They found that individuals with intra-abdominal fat obesity lost MORE intra-abdominal fat when they added aerobic exercise training to a diet-alone weight reduction program. In other words, aerobics worked for those subjects.

Perhaps Mr. Fitness was referring to children when he said "Aerobics don't work."

So I checked the research and found that the Section of Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics and the Children's Clinical Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine actually looked into it. After 12 weeks of "vigorous aerobic training programs for obese children" there were minimal weight changes, but the body fat of the children dropped an amazing 10%! The conclusion of that study was that "Vigorous supervised aerobic training in obese boys has beneficial effects on body composition, fitness and leisure time activities that are not apparent by measurement of changes in body weight alone."

Maybe when Mr. Fitness said, "Aerobics don't work." he was talking about either high-intensity or low-intensity aerobic exercises.

I looked that up and found a study at the J Paul Sticht Center on Aging, Section on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine in Winston-Salem that compared a low cal diet to both low-intensity aerobics with diet and high-intensity aerobics with diet. The researchers discovered that all groups showed a reduction in the size of fat cells, but that both the high and low-intensity aerobics groups saw "significantly" more improvement than the diet only group.

In a similar study carried out at the Divisions of Cardiology, Geriatric Medicine, and General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the Duke Center for Living, Center for Health Policy Research they concluded that both low and high-amount exercise groups lost weight and fat. They concluded their study by saying, "Most individuals can accomplish this by walking 30 minutes every day."

In an effort to give Mr. Fitness some leeway, I thought perhaps when he said, "Aerobics don't work." he might be talking about the length and frequency of cardio sessions.

Fortunately for me, the Centre for Exercise and Nutrition Science, Chester College, University of Liverpool looked into that. Researchers there compared people who exercised twice a week (burning 1,000 calories per session) with people who exercised five times a week (burning 400 calories per session). At the end of each week, all subjects burned the same number of calories. Their findings "demonstrated that whether the exercise is performed in a series of short bouts five times a week or in longer bouts twice a week, the results are identical" and that both programs "demonstrated the effectiveness of moderate aerobic exercise in reducing body weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference whilst maintaining lean body mass".

It's entirely possible when Mr. Fitness said, "Aerobics don't work." he was referring to people who didn't do "aerobics" but people who simply engaged in more cardio activities over the course of each day.

The Department of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Science, Ball State University was curious about that too. They examined the effects of having sedentary, overweight/obese adults attempt to walk 10,000 steps a day. All the subjects who stayed with the program saw "significant" reductions in body weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, waist circumference and hip circumference. All with aerobic activity only.

In study after study, the results are the same. Aerobics DO work.

Mr. Fitness did say something in his article that was correct. He said that one of the ways to lose weight is, "up your metabolic rate." He also correctly mentioned that one of the ways to up your metabolic rate is by increasing muscle tissue. If you want to burn more calories when you're not working out, building muscle is an excellent way of doing it.

The facts are this: Weight training and aerobic exercises do two different things. Aerobics burns fat and weight training improves body composition by increasing fat-free mass. Making any claims that one is superior or should be used to the exclusion of the other is bad science and bad advice.

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5/13/2007