Today I’m going to explain why you should NEVER get your health and fitness advice from the news and the mainstream media. I’ve already discussed how awful the news can be for your mind and positivity. So today, I’ll give you some examples from a purely fitness perspective.
What I’m specifically referring to is those “eating this one food will kill you!!!” or “Make sure to avoid these five fattening carbs!!!” articles. You know the one’s I mean
So let’s dive in and review.
According to this article from the BBC “short bursts of intense exercise [is] better for weight loss.”
Intense exercise is referring to HIIT (high intensity interval training) where you sprint all-out for 10 seconds. Followed by a light walk or jog for 40-60 seconds.
Take a treadmill.
Sprint all out for 10 seconds.
Hit the slow down button until you are at a snails pace.
Wait 40-60 seconds.
Sprint all out for 10 seconds.
Repeat 8-10 times.
This is different to the typical cardio session you probably already know. The one’s where you just go for an extended period of time. Usually around 20-60 minutes or more. They are much less intense and you can usually go without stopping or slowing down.
So according to the BBC article you’re better off with HIIT than longer duration ‘steady state’ cardio. Let’s see shall we.
These workouts [Hiit] were compared with longer continuous moderate intensity workouts, most of which were between 30 and 45 minutes. All participants exercised for at least four weeks.
4 weeks is not enough time to cover much ground on long term sustainable weight loss. 12 weeks and up would be more sufficient because dieting becomes harder the longer you do it. How do we know the HIIT participants could keep up the HIIT exercise longer than 4 weeks when the participants were hungry and, less energetic?
Remember that HIIT is extremely intense and should be harder than typical steady-state cardio (at least it is designed to be.)
As we’ll touch on in just a second, this is an important factor to consider.
Those doing interval training lost on average 1.58kg (3.48lb) compared with the 1.13kg (2.49lb) lost by those doing lower intensity workouts.
So, on average they only lost an extra 1 lb over 4 weeks? Big whoop. That’s not really a stat to go screaming home about. With the extra effort and stress HIIT causes the juice is not worth the squeeze.
Sure, if the difference was 4 lbs or up, then perhaps they’d be onto something. But this stat doesn’t impress me.
Considering I work with women who sometimes only walk for their workouts and have lost up to 7 kg in one month it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff.
Dr Niels Vollaard, a lecturer in health and exercise science at the University of Stirling, said the results were counterintuitive as most people burned more calories during longer moderate exercise.
Which they generally do because steady state cardio is MUCH easier to do and less stressful to the body. The reason I recommend a less intensive type of cardio for the women I work with is because it’s low stress.
HIIT is an all-out ‘give everything you’ve got’ modality of training. I’m talking 90-95% max effort for the sprint portion you carry out. Most people never get to this intensity and drop off after 3 rounds because it’s too intense to maintain. For anyone that says they are doing HIIT over 20 minutes are definitely NOT doing it properly…
Hiit may lead to greater energy expenditure after exercise – metabolism may be increased for up to a day following a Hiit session.
What they are referring to here is EPOC – or exercise post-oxygen consumption. This is when your body tries to pay back the oxygen debt after exercise is finished.
What happens is we burn calories even after we’ve finished exercising which is commonly referred to as the ‘after-burner effect.’
Which is actually true.
If you compare a 20 minute bout of HIIT to steady state, you burn roughly 7% more calories.
But most people who do 20 minutes of low intensity cardio are only just getting started. Real cardio sessions can sometimes get 45-60+ minutes of cycling, running, rowing and can burn an epic 500 calories doing it.
Saying that, the one major benefit HIIT has over steady state cardio is time. Though I’d still prefer walking for 20 minutes over a sprint session any day for one simple reason: recovery.
HIIT takes a lot out of you as I’ve already explained. Imagine trying to tell a woman with kids and other things going on that she needs to go and do sprints until she’s blowing out her ass and then go home to feed the family, do all the washing and everything else. Talk about unsustainable.
After a Hiit session, you may be less hungry.
Hunger is a very personalised response to exercise. What we do know is that exercise can significantly drive up hunger levels but this may not be intensity specific. Meaning the harder your workout the hungrier you feel.
This is simply a case of ‘try and see what happens.’
It is, however, not easy to study whether energy intake is reduced as a result of this in the longer term when following a Hiit routine, so at the moment we are still unsure exactly what the reason is.
And here it is. The ‘more studies are needed’ line. Black-and-white statements such as ‘short burst of intense exercise [is] better for weight loss need numerous studies under different conditions before they can be confirmed.
The title is misleading and anyone that doesn’t look into the actual research (I don’t blame you… why would you if you’re not paid to do it) enters this big game of Chinese whispers where it starts with “HIIT is more effective for weight loss.”
What the article fails to take into consideration is:
- a persons preference (some people hate the thought of max sprints. I know I do!)
- whether the person is heavily overweight or obese (which HIIT is a really really really bad idea because you’ll destroy your joints if you’re not careful.)
- time allowance and lifestyle
- the higher risk of injury associated with HIIT
- how likely you are to adhere to weekly sprint sessions (can you go longer than 4 weeks without destroying your recovery?)
There are too many factors to suggest HIIT is more effective for weight loss. Until we sit somebody down and find out their current position and long-term preferences, it’s not a good idea to throw out a blanket statement without context.
In his seminal book Bad Science (which I highly recommend) Ben Goldacre calls this type of article ‘churnalism’ where journalists have the impossible task to fill newspapers and website space in such a short space of time.
So instead of delving into the research, they spot a research paper, skim through it, and publicise it regardless of the consequences.
The job of a journalist isn’t to educate the population about health. Nor to give evidence-based, realistic advice that is pragmatic to the individual in question.
You should ignore these types of stories (and news altogether) because they don’t give you the full picture.
The next time an article states that eggs give you cancer, or red wine helps you sleep better, or resistance training stunts your growth and destroys your knees and joints: remember to think critically before blindly following the advice.
It’s likely just lazy journalism.