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Horizon – The Truth About Exercise (BBC, 2012)

An interesting documentary has been circulating around the internet lately. It’s called “The Truth About Exercise”, and it busts some fitness myths with new exercise science.

Personally, I really liked it. I’m a fan of high intensity exercise, and I mentioned it briefly in the article ‘Conditioning Exercise 101‘.

Of course, where there’s extraordinary claims, there’s debate – but this is really new stuff in the exercise science world, so don’t expect things to be settled too soon.

Still, this information is pretty accurate and informative, and I highly recommend it. Here it is on YouTube, free to watch. Enjoy!

Here’s what I was thinking while watching:

2:45 – Lactic acid probably isn’t why exercise hurts – it’s more likely other chemicals. Lactic acid is actually important fuel for high intensity exercise. Just sayin!

8:00 – Yeah, exercise is a pretty bad way to lose weight. Not eating junk food is way more important – and easier (in terms of time and effort) if you can resist the temptation. Personally, that’s my problem. I love food.

9:30 – Benefits of exercise, however, are important and lifesaving. It’s not about the calories. See: ‘Why Strength Training is Important’.

12:00 – Sure, eating a fatty meal like that raises fat in your blood. Not really surprising. But a good question would be for how long? Once in a while probably isn’t going to kill you if you are already healthy, and as we see in a few minutes, if you exercise regularly.

16:30 – There’s your benefits of exercise. Really cool stuff. Again, stop dwelling on calories.

20:00 – This, to me, is yet another reason why we need to ignore testimonials. Results are not typical! Plus, before and after pictures are usually complete BS and easily faked. Use science.

26:00 – I’m happy he said “I don’t know, it’s just a powerful indicator of health in epidemiological studies”. True, there is some debate around the test (not gonna get into it here) – but generally if your score is good, it means you’re healthier.

30:00 – Yes, the theory is still in its infancy, and needs much more research to figure out how it works – either way, it works. Still, you want to know how it works, to make sure this type of exercise isn’t missing something important.

41:00 – While this is all neat and interesting, what I want to know is how much it actually matters. No measurements of health markers we’re taken here! Just talk of calories.

42:45 – Okay, 500 calories extra – perhaps the equivalent of an hour of moderately intense exercise. A McDonalds carrot muffin has about 420 calories, just so you know. Don’t eat it.

44:00 – But again, burning calories is not why you should be more active – the benefits of exercise are different, and seriously important (as discussed previously).

44:16 – Bottom line, sitting is bad, even if you exercise. I’ve posted about this before. Note to self, get up and walk to washroom.

48:00 – I so badly wanna try one of those TMS machines. We don’t have one in the lab at my University… yet.

50:10 – This “central governor” theory of fatigue is very interesting. Of course, there is always debate. It’s almost certainly a large factor, but fatigue is definitely caused by many factors.

53:00 – Well there you go, it seems to have worked! However, his “experiment” has a huge confound: all the other stuff he’s done over the weeks (like trying to sit around a lot less)! He really should have tried both interventions separately.

55:00 – He’s a non-responder… interesting. I’d like to learn more about this. However, he did improve in the blood markers tested earlier. Moral of the story – exercise, even if you are a “non-responder”.

57:12 – “If you do long sessions in the gym, or jogging, and that’s what you enjoy, then great. But most of us don’t.” – In my opinion, this is a very important point. If we expect to raise the health of the general population, we need to make this information widely known. Kudos to this documentary for informing the general public.

Final thoughts – Keep in mind, this documentary was about exercise and it’s effects on health. You still need to exercise (the more appropriate term is probably train) an awful lot to become an elite athlete. Still, many of these lessons are important even to elite athletes – like the value of choosing a high intensity over high volume.

Overall, a great documentary, which has made me feel quite guilty simply sitting and watching. But it’s my day off – I’m gonna sit. Plus, I have practice later tonight. I will survive.

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    6 Responses to Horizon – The Truth About Exercise (BBC, 2012)

    1. Christer Dehlin says:

      Concerning the blood fat levels another good question would be does it really harm the blood vessels? If it does, how much so, and are people equally disposed for said harm? Are all fats equally harmful? What are the metabolic changes different fatty acids undergo in the body? How do diefferent fatty acids impact the immune system? What is the role of carbs in triglycerid production in the liver? Given that there is a connection there, how did the toast he ate impact blood levels. Would his levels perhaps have been different if he ate only the fats and proteins? Why do so many studies show an improvement in the blood profiles of people on high fat diets? Is perhaps inflammation factors of importance here? Could the meal be healthier if fish oil was added? Would that be visible in a separation test? The oversimplification of that part was horrendous, and could easily turn an uninformed person onto very unhealthy high carb diets.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Very true – high carb diets can be bad as well. As you demonstrate, there are way more questions than there are answers in any of the topics discussed in this documentary.

        Overall, though, I think the documentary did quite well for its one hour length, while remaining entertaining enough for a layperson to enjoy.

    2. Patrick says:

      In my opinion good old fashioned training is not only rewarding you physically, but it also psychologically makes you “feel better”. It’s just like everything else in life, you can’t get the feeling of accomplishment unless you give it your all and train relentlessly with consistency. Apart from bboying, I also go to the gym, swim, do yoga and I take part in various sports at my center to help youths. You have to set your mind straight and do things right.

      Besides, when it comes to muscle fitness you have to solicitate each individual muscle families and that process has to be done by doing movements slowly and properly.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        It’s all completely up to the individual. If that’s what you like, then do it! I feel the same way. I go to the gym as well as train bboying – overall I exercise 6-10 hours a week.

        But as the video states, much of the worlds population doesn’t love to move (unfortunately). So it’s important they know about this new research. However, I think we (everyone who loves to move) should be doing what we can to inspire others to enjoy moving… not just feel guilty about not moving. Ya dig?

        That’s another reason I love dancing, and promoting and teaching dance. Exercise is but a fringe benefit to the joy of dancing.

    3. Nick Harris says:

      Is it wrong to dismiss him as a non-responder simply because their was no significant improvement in his VO2max test post exercise intervention based on the the fact that the intenstity and duration of the 30 second max cycle test was predominantly anaerobic, thus didn’t stress the aerobic energy systems enough to trigger a stimulus for aerobic adaptation. Peripheral adaptations at the level of the predominant muscle involved, say the vastus lateralis in cycling that would increase the subjects VO2max include increased mitochondrial density, increased aerobic enzyme content and angiogenesis for enhanced delivery of arterial blood to muscle fibres, none of which would have occurred from this type of exercise over such a small period. Any thoughts? I dont think this prgram would have produced any VO2max increase even if he was a genetic ‘responder’.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        I agree with you almost completely. I would point out, however, that HIIT usually involves multiple sets of 30 seconds, and there is a measurable demand on O2 consumption during VO2 testing. I agree, however, that this may not be enough to cause an increase in VO2max. Then again, he was untrained, so if anyone would improve their VO2max on such a protocol, it would be someone like him (previously sedentary).

        Still, I doubt he’s a true “non-responder”. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that HIIT has all the same benefits as steady-state endurance exercise. The verdict is still not in.

        Good comment, thanks!

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