A popular documentary circulated a while back suggesting that many people simply do not respond to exercise. Despite best efforts, it seemed that a large percentage of exercisers weren’t seeing results under test conditions.
The documentary called these people non-responders.
Unfortunately, the documentary may have served as a ‘hall pass’ for many by inadvertently suggesting that they skip physical activity altogether. Without results, what’s the point?
Various health and wellness academics weren’t exactly sold on the non-responder theory so they embarked on their own series of studies.
Their research showed that while everyone responds a little differently, subjects all saw results when they turned up the heat, especially when weight training. It seems some people need to exercise a little harder, some a little longer, to achieve the desired outcome.
Part of the problem was that walking for 30 minutes at a low intensity, often the recommended standard, either under-challenged subjects or resulted in an early outcome plateau. In other words, their body responded to exercise but they peaked early, requiring them to adjust their routine to achieve further results.
In actuality, true non responders are unable to see results simply because they have made a conscious decision not to exercise.
To be clear, I’m not talking about people who have legitimate reasons for avoiding exercise. Serious barriers, including physical, psychological and economic factors, can be debilitating. Most of us will never understand the silent burden these people carry.
I’m talking about the majority of our population who put their heads down and cruise through the day on autopilot staring at a screen, stopping just long enough to eat processed chicken nuggets and diet soda (one study found that each daily diet soda increases your risk of becoming obese by 65 per cent).
According to Statistics Canada, the number of overweight and obese men has jumped to 61.8 per cent for men and 46.2 per cent for women. The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that of the 31 per cent of Canadian children who are overweight and obese, four in five will be overweight as adults. Overweight is fast becoming the new normal.
Closing quickly are diabetes rates, which are forecasted to grow by 44 per cent between 2015 and 2025. Diabetes, also the new normal.
Our privileged society has access to fantastic opportunities. We choose what to eat and when to eat. We have many hours in the week at our disposal to explore unlimited leisure pursuits. We have incredible access to medical care. Yet we are overweight and saddled with preventable disease.
“I’m busy” isn’t an excuse. We are all allotted the same 24 hours. Some of the busiest people eat healthy, exercise regularly, contribute to their community and are involved with their children — after working 50-plus hours a week.
Sure, being a parent with young children adds to the chaos. But when you consider that Canadian kids are spending an average of eight hours a day in front of screens, the excuse becomes somewhat thin.
So what’s the problem? A growing body of research points not to our weak muscles but to a flabby willpower.
When confronted with the choice between sugary snacks and lettuce, the brain — weak from a full day of deliberation — simply folds and eats the ice cream, the whole tub. Hey, if I’m going to blow the diet I should give it 100 per cent.
So, if your willpower can’t perform a single rep, where do you start?
Frankly, a pumped willpower comes from a clear and committed motivation. For example, if you rate personal health as a six out of 10, chances are you won’t see much change.
Motivation is often born in the doctor’s office, when you discover that your physiological age matches someone 30 years your senior. No one likes to hear that they are physically older than Uncle Stan.
When you find your motivation, it’s important to look for support. A friend, family member or mentor will help you along the way when you stumble and fall. The right trainer provides more than education. Exercising willpower comes way before building pecs and glutes.
Then, show up. Not pump up — show up. Choosing any form of physical activity over the couch is a significant step. Now, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Worry about the type of exercise and intensity after you’ve established a pattern. Your new habit proves that you’ve tightened up your willpower, making it stronger and more resilient.
You’re a responder. You’re on your way. Great, now we bench press.