New York Times science reporter Kolata (Flu, 1999, etc.) takes a revealing look at the myths and misunderstandings about what exercise can do for you.
A clear-eyed skeptic who is also an unabashed exercise enthusiast, the author knows how to dig for truth behind the puffery of a press release. Researching one especially misleading handout led her to ask questions about the science behind the exercise industry’s fitness and health claims. For background, Kolata provides a brief survey of attitudes toward exercise from the ancient Greeks through the aerobics movement of the 1970s to the computer-monitored health clubs of today. She questions many generally accepted training claims—that low-intensity exercise burns the most fat, that weight training prevents osteoporosis, that stretching should precede a workout—and tries to determine how and why these and other ideas about fitness and health came to be accepted as fact. When her daughter decides to become certified by the American Council of Exercise as a personal trainer, Kolata gets an inside view of the exercise industry and concludes that for the most part certification is a business involving little training but lots of fee payments. She also scrutinizes the promotion of food and food supplements promising weight loss and muscle definition. As the author tracks down answers, she not only gives the reader a look into the worlds of exercise physiologists and trainers but also a glimpse of how an experienced journalist researches a story. Her personality shines through to brighten the reporting, as she shares the story of her own love affair with physical exercise, using adjectives like “exhilarated,” “strong,” and “focused” to describe her state of mind and body after a rigorous workout. For Kolata, it seems, the greatest benefit of exercise is not weight loss, improved health, physical fitness, or longer life, but sheer pleasure.
Easy reading packed with information that, without inflicting guilt on couch potatoes, suggests that maybe they’ve been missing out on a lot of fun.