The percentage of obesity in United States has increased drastically over the past few years and with it, lower quality of life and life expectancy for more and more Americans (Ford et al., 2005). Interestingly enough, at the same time span the number of gyms and fitness clubs has also gone up, along with an increase in exercise equipment sales (McElroy, 2002). There has also been an increase in autmatization of activities that were previously in the realm of daily house chores. There are for example, a larger selection of services available for home cooking, house cleaning, and childcare than ever before (Slotterback, Leeman, & Oakes, 2006).
Everyone agrees that decrease in physical activity has been a major contributor to rise of obesity but there are good reasons for hypothesizing that people have an incorrect perception about what amounts to a good physical activity, at least for burning calories. Mainstream media frequently reports that intense exercising is the best way to achieve good health and body weight. Phrases like “no pain, no gain” or “feel the burn” are thrown around as kernels of wisdom in various exercise and diet books. Even Oprah Winfrey (Greene & Winfrey, 1996) in one of her co-authored books noted that the number of calories burned over the whole exercise session is less important than the rate at which calories are burned.
In order to see if people really do have incorrect perceptions of calories burned by daily chores versus short term intense exercise activities, Slotterback, Leeman, and Oakes (2006), researchers at University of Scranton, conducted a correlational study on 222 college students. The students were given a list of 30 physical activities, of which 21 were intense short term physical exercises (e.g. weight lifting) and 9 common household activities (e.g., 2 hours of gardening). The participants were told to rate how much they thought each of the activities burned up calories.
The results of the study demonstrated that the participants perceived short term intense activities to expend more calories than long term but less intense daily household activities. Activities like dancing, walking at 4 miles/hour, and weight lifting were rated much higher in their calorie burning capacities than they actually are, while household chores like 2 hours of gardening were rated much lower in their calorie burning capabilities contrary to their high energy requirements.
This study indicates that people have unfortunately grown accustom to the notion that intense physical activities use up more calories than longer but less intense physical activities. Although it is true that intense physical activities are more useful for improving one’s conditioning, there are no scientific studies that have shown that short term intense physical activities are more beneficial for losing weight than long term but less intense physical activities. An emphasis on intensity of physical activity is harmful because it potentially discourages people from exercising, especially the elderly (Cousins, 2000).
Cousins, S.O. (2000). “My heart couldn’t take it”: Older women’s beliefs about exercise benefits and risks. Journal of Gerontology, 55B, 283-294.
Ford, E.S., Mokdad, A.H., Giles, W.H., Galuska, D.A., & Serdula, M.K. (2005). Geographic variation in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and obesity-related behavior. Obesity Research, 13, 118-122.
Greene, B., & Winfrey, O. (1996). Make the connection: Ten steps to a better body and a better life. New York: Hyperion.
McElroy, M. (2002). Resistance to exercise: A social analysis of inactivity, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Slotterback, C.S, Leeman, H., & Oakes, M.E. (2006). No pain, no gain: perceptions of calorie expenditures of exercise and daily activities. Current Psychology, 25, 28-41.
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