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BLOG: September 2007

Health and exercise

How are health and exercise related? Are seemingly better short-term results of a specific form of exercise necessarily also better long-term? Are gains in your muscle mass, or even fitness level necessarily - and unconditionally - better for your long-term health and longevity?

Focusing on one or another aspect may cause you to lose the big picture. An interesting small Danish study, reported by Associated Press/AP Online, may be a good example.

 The study analyzed effects of two different forms of exercise - plain jogging and soccer game - on the rate of burning body fat and muscle mass gain. Not surprisingly, those playing soccer burned more fat, and gained some muscle mass (joggers didn't have significant gains in that respect). At the same time, due to playing soccer being much more of a fun than plain jogging, it didn't feel as exhausting, on the average, and also felt more invigorating.

British reviewers were quick to embrace these advantages of playing soccer, as opposed to jogging, and to conclude that exercising more vigorously is, in general, healthier.

Such blanket statement doesn't seem appropriate. While one aspect of exercising - fun - should always be among priorities, with a bit of thoughtfulness and creativity it can be incorporated in its non-competitive, less vigorous forms. On the other hand, the significance of burning body fat, or gaining muscle mass, vary significantly from one individual to another. Placing them among the top criteria for ranking different exercise forms based on their positive effect may not best serve the purpose.

 Putting aside that competitive, vigorous forms of exercising are likely to result in both, more frequent and more serious injuries, exposing body to a higher physical stress level may not be the healthiest thing to do in the long run. There is a fine line of balance in the nature, and any gains on one side - such as burning more body fat, and building more muscle mass - are paid for

by losing something on the other end. 

No one has ever conducted a study to show that more vigorous, competitive forms of exercising are healthier in the long run than those more moderate.

Obviously, in the absence of such study, we can only speculate. But no one should go for more vigorous exercise just because someone says it is "healthier". There is an optimum exercise intensity level for everyone of us. Beyond that level the benefits begin to diminish and negative effects and risk to mount. The problem is, it varies widely from one person to another, and no one can set general rules that apply to everyone, including you.

But you have a reliable indicator, and that is how well your exercise makes you feel. If it does what it needs to do for you, don't try to make it even "healthier" by chasing higher fat burning or muscle gain rate, if it doesn't feel good. Let your own body be the judge.