The Truth About Exercise Exercise is good for you. Nobody argues with that. But how much, for how long and to what end is harder to sort out. So how do you separate health benefits from exercise hype?
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The Truth About Exercise

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The Truth About Exercise

The Truth About Exercise

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We Googled the words “the truth about exercise” and we got 42,600,000 hits. Truth, in other words, of just about any shape and size. There are claims for the slow burn and for the fast and short workout. Some truths insist you need to exercise every day, others that you can be fit with one workout a week, and some truths simply beg some questions.

Can you really get massive muscles in minutes, six pack abs in three minutes a day? Can you do too much cardio? Can you be fat and fit? Do you really need to exercise at all? Presuming for the moment that you do, there's a bewildering series of choices, spinning, cardio, boxing, pilates. What about yoga, hot yoga, yogalates, yo-chi, chi ball, and belly-robics.

And if classes are not your thing, there are devices of all descriptions, from Thigh Masters to treadmills to stationary bicycles and home gyms and, of course, you'll need the right shoes.

The exercise industry has grown into a multibillion dollar industry so, of course, we've come to be the fittest people on earth. Ha. Today, we're talking about exercise. What works and what doesn't.

Later in the program, a trip around the world in 1888 to promote the healthful benefits of the American game, baseball. But first, exercise. What do we really know about what works and what doesn't and why? If you have questions, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is

We begin with Allison Aubrey who's NPR's health reporter. She's with us here in studio 3A. Nice of you to come in today.


Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And can we at least begin with the assumption that exercise is good for you?

AUBREY: You can begin with that assumption, and there's been a building body of evidence over the last 10 to 15 years. I think the general truth about exercise is that fitness has come to be seen as a sort of lifestyle choice. It takes time and work to be fit.

Successful exercisers schedule a series of sort of unbreakable appointments, if you will, to get them, you know, to do their workout, their run, whatever gets them out, their heart rate up and their muscles moving. The bottom-line is there's no such thing as a quick fix.

There's no gadget or machine to replace putting in the time.

CONAN: We hate you, Allison.

When did we as a country become exercise crazy?

AUBREY: You know, the exercise craze is really a fad, and you can actually go back to the 19th century and find that there was a time at the end of the 19th century when people were into bicycling. The idea that took hold in mid-century, the mid-20th century, around the 1950s, was an awareness, really, at the political level. Eisenhower became fascinated with the idea of fitness when he realized that recruits during World War II, many of them could not pass basic fitness tests, meaning they couldn't do a pushup, couldn't touch their toes, and this was a big wakeup call.

There are several big studies that came out during that time from exercise physiologist that had devised really simple tools for measuring fitness, and they found that American kids were much less fit than European kids, and Eisenhower saw that and said, we've got to do something.

He actually created the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and that's where it became sort of a political issue. From there, it, the idea of exercise and fitness being a personal choice developed slowly through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Running started to become very popular in the ‘60s. Aerobics came out in the ‘70s.

CONAN: Yet, and we heart of all these trends and all the equipment and all that sort of stuff, and we also hear about an epidemic of obesity.

AUBREY: Right. Well, I think a lot of it is trying to figure out how much is enough. You've got, at both ends, you've got about 25 percent of the population that says, the people who say they exercise routinely and then you, at the other end of the spectrum, you've got 25 percent of people who say they do no exercise at all. The other half falls in between. The question then becomes how much is enough exercise, something that has been, that science has been able to help answer in recent years.

If you look at a lot of the recommendations for exercise, a lot of them are science-based now. So the question is, if you want to protect your heart, how much do you need to exercise? We actually have a pretty good answer for that now. We know that in a study, the Nurse's Health Study, that was 70,000 nurses looked at over a period of eight years, they found that nurses who walked three hours a week or more cut their risk of cardiovascular disease by about a third, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent.

CONAN: Pretty big number.

AUBREY: Pretty big number, and the interesting thing is that people who actually exercise more did not get any kind of increased protection, meaning they, exercising more didn't seem to, uh, protect you from stroke, heart attack risk, that sort of thing. So the idea took shape that what we need is a consistent amount, perhaps a half hour a day of moderate exercise that can be something as simple as walking.

CONAN: And in terms of all of the classes and devises and all the shoes that we buy, a lot of them collecting dust in somebody's basement, but nevertheless, these are all, in a way, sort of motivational tools, aren't they?

AUBREY: Absolutely. If you go to a gym, what a fitness manager will call them, they'll call them toys, and the idea is that, you know, fitness competes with social time, and when people get, go to a gym, they want, they don't want to be bored.

I mean, the reason why people don't go into stationary bikes anymore is because there's something much more interesting, spinning, where you actually have a teacher, and the teacher's got music going, the teacher's having you, you know, do dynamics within a class to get you motivated. I mean, it's a lot more interesting than sitting on a stationary bike by yourself, so, yeah, a lot of it is, are gizmos to keep people interested, to, you know, make things more exciting.

CONAN: Let's bring in another voice now, and a voice without whom we would not have the world aerobics. Dr. Kenneth Cooper is a physician. As a young military doctor in Texas, he began doing fitness research for NASA in the 1960s. His book AEROBICS became a bestseller in 1968 and helped start an exercise movement of its own. In the 1970s, he founded the Cooper Aerobic Center. He's now a fitness research guru and joins us now from Cakemix Recording studios in Dallas, Texas. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Dr. KENNETH COOPER (Author, AEROBICS): You're welcome, Neal. It's a pleasure to be with you, and let me comment on a few things about what Allison said. First of all, I've tried for the past almost 40 years now, since we started this work, to bridge the gap between faddism and scientific legitimacy, using exercise for projects of medicine, because in my early days, if people were physically fit when they were free from disease, fitness wasn't cardiovascular fitness, it was absence of disease. So we charted back in the ‘60s trying to quantify exercise, like an antibiotic.

I mean, how much is enough? How much is too much? A lot can be beneficial. Too much may actually kill you. So when I developed the aerobics concept, and actually invented the word back in 1966, I was preparing for that manuscript on that first book, got to that chapter with endurance exercise, just walking, running, cycling and swimming, in those days, I recall the word isometrics. It was a popular word.

CONAN: Sure.

Dr. COOPER: I mean, tension. So I took the adjective aerobic, added an S to it and made it a noun, entitled that a chapter in my book, sent it off to a publisher back in 1967, he said let's call the book AEROBICS. I disagreed. People can't pronounce, they can't spell it, they won't remember it.

Look what's happened over the past 38 years since that book was published? And, yes, as Alex said, we did start a running movement in 1968 that reached a peak in this country by 1984. We went from 24 percent of our adult population exercising in 1968 to 59 percent claiming they exercise in 1984, which is up 100,000 joggers or 34 million people jogging regularly by 1984.

There were many critics of my work back in that time. They said the streets are gonna be full of Jed joggers as more Americans follow Cooper. Well, did more people die? To answer that question, let me quote from that famous medical journal, The Wall Street Journal, January 1984, “Deaths from coronary heart (unintelligible) sharply in the ‘40s and reached a peak in this country in 1968.” I like the word they selected. “And then mysteriously began dropping. As more Americans embraced the exercise concept, particularly the baby boomers, death rates didn't go up, they went down, and by 1990, we'd had a 48 percent reduction (unintelligible) heart attacks (unintelligible).”

So, yes, we've tried to bridge that gap, and we've asked how much is enough, how much is too much? I think we (unintelligible) now with over 600 articles published since 1970, working with some, over 92,000 patients, with the database now of over 100, with over one million persons of follow up.

And by the way, Alex mentioned, the nurses' study will be at Harvard next Tuesday exchanging data, because our data measures fitness by the treadmill stress test, an objective measure of fitness. And the studies from the nurses' study measures activity by questionnaire.

Without question, the measurement of fitness by treadmill stress test timing, which has a test, re-test liability coefficient of 0.9, is much better than activity because what people fill out and answer in activity questionnaire, the way they perform the laboratory in the treadmill, the correlation (unintelligible) --


And, doctor, just let me interrupt. We're having some interruptions on the line between here and Dallas. We're trying to work that out and so far, I don't think it's interfered with our understanding of what you have to say.

Please, let me just advise, our other guest is Allison Aubrey, not Alex. But anyway, let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, 800-989-8255, if you'd care to join us, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is, and here's a question from Varoon (ph), Varoon calling us from San Jose, in California.

VAROON (Caller): Hi.


VAROON: I see a lot of these ads on the radio or on the television, and all that, everywhere, promising the moon, but the thing that I'm concerned about or I'm a little confused about is, every individual has different metabolism as well as different genetic makeup. And we eat different. Some of us are vegetarian, some of us eat meat and things like that. So when I look at this ads, what things should I consider before saying okay, this particular workout or this particular dietary supplement will be good for my health to lose weight or to get fit, and, you know, to get in shape and things like that? They don't say anything on the ads.

To me, it looks like everything is for everyone.

CONAN: Well, Allison Aubrey, why don't we turn to you?

AUBREY: Well, to start out, I mean, basically yes, everybody has different lifestyles and different eating habits, but everyone does have a heart rate and blood pressure. And the idea of exercise is that you're either strengthening your heart through cardiovascular exercise, or you're strengthening your muscles.

And so in that regard, you know, everybody has sort of the same goal, there's the same way to get the sort of conditioning. I mean, there are obviously lots of different activities and sports, but in the end, the goal's the same: strengthen the cardiovascular, strengthen the heart and the muscles.

Really, the key here is to figure out what appeals to you. I mean, that's really what keeps people exercising. When there have been so many studies done that have tried to figure out what, about looking at adherence to exercise, what distinguishes the people who stick with it from those who want to do it, but can't stick with it? And it comes down to what appeals to you. Can you find something that you like?

CONAN: Dr. Cooper, we just have a few seconds before the break, but do you have any advice for Varoon on how he sorts out all of these different claims?

Dr. COOPER: Send calories out that determines whether or not you lose or gain weight. Following our studies have shown even 30 minutes of sustained activity, three times per week, can reduce a small (unintelligible) heart attacks by some 58 percent and increase your life span up to six years. That was published back in 1989, and it's been classified as the landmark study of the century.

How much exercise is enough if your goals are health and longevity? That's what we need in this country to improve our cardiovascular health, not our musculoskeletal building and conditioning.

CONAN: Varoon, good luck to you. Whatever you try, the object is to keep it up. Don't fall off the wagon. Varoon is with us, on the line from San Jose, California. We thank him for his call. We're going to take a short break and come back with more of your calls on what works, what doesn't, and why. Exercise, it's the TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of workout video)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today about exercise. How much is enough? How much is too much? If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

Our guests are NPR Health Reporter Allison Aubrey and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who invented the word aerobics. He's the founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center, in Dallas, Texas.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Jim. Jim's with us from Bend, Oregon.

JIM (Caller): Oh, hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JIM: I do a lot of spinning at the athletic club here, and it's all geared around heart rate training. And I've dutifully purchased a heart rate monitor. And my question to the, your guests would be, is pushing your maximal heart rate worth the effort? And if so, how do you determine, theoretically, your maximal heart rate?

CONAN: Dr. Cooper, you want to help us out? And apparently, Dr. Cooper, we're having difficulty with the line to Dallas, Texas, again. So Allison, what can you do for us?

AUBREY: Okay, actually, if you want to figure out your maximum heart rate, do you mind giving me your age?

JIM: Fifty-nine.

AUBREY: Okay, so you're about 60 years old. So what you do is you start with 220, the number 220, and you subtract 60 from it, and then from there, so what number does that give us?

JIM: 160.

AUBREY: Okay, yeah, 160, and then you want to exercise about, at 65 percent capacity of that, so that would put you in the what? One?

CONAN: One-sixty, half of that would be 80, say around 90.

AUBREY: Around 90, that would be considered 65 percent. I mean, this is like the standard measurement of trying to figure out what your maximum potential heart rate should be. Now there's a lot of controversy because the guy who came up with this has pretty much admitted that it's, you know, it was this rough calculation and he had no idea that over time it would end up as being this calculation everyone uses.

So obviously, if you don't feel like you're getting enough of a workout from that, the idea would be your, I've heard exercise physiologists say that your body can tell you to, you know, move it up a little higher, to 75 or 85 percent. So that's sort of the ballpark of how to calculate it.

JIM: And is it worth doing?

AUBREY: That's an interesting question, and I think the science on that, it comes out both ways. I think the idea is, there's been a lot of focus in trying to figure out what is the significance of getting the heart rate up? Clearly, you do have to get it up in order to get, you know, cardiovascular results. How high you have to get it, for how long, we, maybe if we have Dr. Cooper back, we can go to him for this.

CONAN: Indeed, he is back on the line. We apologize for our technical difficulties. And Dr. Cooper?

Dr. COOPER: Yes, can you hear me now?

CONAN: Yes, we can hear you now. So we, this is a question about max heart rate and how far to push it, and the benefits of pushing your maximum heart rate.

Dr. COOPER: Okay, first of all, Allison, I apologize for calling you Alex a few minutes ago.

AUBREY: No problem.

CONAN: And we're still having technical problems with the line from Dallas, Texas. Jim, we'll try to get an answer to your question earlier.

AUBREY: If we go back to the general idea, I mean, it sort of depends on what your fitness goals are. Clearly, if you planned to go out and try to take your spinning training, and put that on the road, and do a long-distance bike ride or if you were to try to move over into running and do a long-distance marathon, for instance, you're clearly going to have to get into that training level that boosts you up higher so that you're going to be able to endure that. It depends on what your endurance goals are, really.

CONAN: Okay, Jim, thanks very much for the call.

JIM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's try Frank. Frank's with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

FRANK (Caller): Yes, hello?


FRANK: You faded out there briefly. Anyway, thank you for the opportunity. I was just going to comment. I'm one of those people who hates exercise. I don't enjoy it at all. I don't even like being out of doors. And given the choice of exercising 30 minutes a day or dying three or four years earlier, I'd just as soon cash in earlier.

CONAN: Well, I guess that's a choice you can make, Frank. There are people who may regret that decision when push comes to shove, however.

FRANK: Well, there may well be, you're probably right.

CONAN: Anyway, good luck to you, and feel the burn.

FRANK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's bring another voice into the conversation here. One to way to know which exercise program is better than the next is to try them all. John Briley writes a weekly column for The Washington Post called The Weekly Moving Crew. In it, he tries out a new exercise every week and writes about it. He's with us here in studio 3A. And, John, nice to have us with us. So far, how's the radio exercise program going?

Mr. JOHN BRILEY (Columnist, The Washington Post): It's going very well, Neal. My core is engaged.

CONAN: Last week you tried something called a balletone. What is that?

Mr. BRILEY: Balletone is, as the name implies, based on ballet dancing, but not to scare anybody too far away, it's not 100-percent ballet exercise or ballet instruction. It's indicative of a movement throughout the fitness industry where instructors are trying to get people involved however they can, and essentially, distract them from the movements they're going through.

So instead of sitting in a weight room or sitting on an exercise bike, or just getting a treadmill and pummeling yourself, you're trying to get people challenged in a variety of physical ways so that the exercise becomes something that is, okay, I want to achieve this. I want to try to do what my instructor's telling me to do. I'm not focused on the pain or the challenge of the muscle contraction. I just want to do it right.

What balletone adds, or added for me, anyway, was a lot of balance exercise. You're up on one foot frequently, you're leaning side to side, you're being asked to drag a foot behind you and out to the side, you know the other side, kick up, all while sweeping your arms. And if you're humor inclined, which I am and you do this in a room with mirrors, as I did, you know, you can fall over laughing at yourself. So it's just part of, there's a variety of classes, as I mentioned in the column I wrote last week.

CONAN: As with the other things, it takes a brave man to refuse the blindfold.

Mr. BRILEY: Right, right. You know, I was fortunate that this class was not packed, but there were very curious people peering into the room as I was pirouetting around, so --

CONAN: Balletone is just the latest thing. What's the wackiest thing you've tried?

Mr. BRILEY: I would have to say, and I forget how I became aware of this, but a thing called the caveman workout.

CONAN: The caveman workout?

Mr. BRILEY: The caveman workout. A gentleman named Dr. Hamner in New York has a fairly creepy video on the internet of him emerging into a workout room alone in a pair of fairly skimpy running shorts and silently begins beating on his own chest with a force that you wouldn't want to try to replicate unless you were a fitness columnist and your editor told you to replicate it.

And so I found myself following along with this video, engaged in what I was hoping was a fitness-enhancing self-flagellation, and Dr. Hamner, fortunately, did not progress to hitting himself in the face. But --

CONAN: Advice, I assume, you've retained for your editor?

Mr. BRILEY: Yes, yes, exactly, but I reserve the right to try that at a future time. And his premise was you are engaging muscle by, you know, inflicting these impulses on your neuromuscular system, and by doing that, you're putting oxygen demands on your muscle and your tearing muscle fibers just like you would in weight lifting, and therefore, you're going to get stronger muscles out of it, and you don't need any equipment.

CONAN: How did it work for you?

Mr. BRILEY: Well, I only did it once, so I don't know if that's indicative of whether or not I enjoyed it. But it, I, you know, certainly felt it, and I certainly got my heart rate up because you beat on your torso in a variety of places, and you beat on your thighs, and hit yourself in the sides. And so you know, some other exercises involving your glutes.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is Jennifer. Jennifer's with us from Cincinnati, Ohio.

JENNIFER (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

JENNIFER: I'm very excited that you have Dr. Cooper on your program today. And the reason why is because I used to live in Brazil, and I still go back quite a lot, and there, instead of saying jogging, like we do, adapting the English word for jogging, they use the word Cooper.

CONAN: Really?

JENNIFER: They say, would you like to go Cooper, are you going to go Cooper? And I had to ask, what does Cooper mean? What does Cooper mean? They said, you know, it's when you run, like on a track or in nature, and it's for exercise. It's called Cooper.

CONAN: Dr. Cooper, did you know you were on the dictionary in Brazil?

Dr. COOPER: I'm in the dictionary all over the world, it's not just Brazil. And, Jennifer, I appreciate that, because I've been to Brazil over 20 times since 1970 when I worked with the Brazilian World Cup soccer team from 1968 until 1970 and they won the world championship in Mexico City because they were trained by Cooper. Well to some extent, but they had Pele playing.

CONAN: Might have had some talent there, too.

Dr. COOPER: A challenge, but it became popular overnight. But they couldn't translate aerobics into Portuguese, so since 1970 they called it doing jogging running in Brazil and South America, in general, they ask you, have you done your Cooper? It's quite a thrill to go down there.

JENNIFER: Right, it's very exciting.

CONAN: Jennifer, thanks for the call.

JENNIFER: It was nice meeting you, Dr. Cooper.

Dr. COOPER: Thank you, Jennifer, I appreciate that.


CONAN: Jennifer, before we let you go, do you Cooper?

JENNIFER: Personally, I don't Cooper. I should Cooper more.

CONAN: We all should Cooper more. That's good advice, Jennifer. Thanks very much.

JENNIFER: Thanks. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this will be Craig. Craig's with us from Ontario, California.

CRAIG (Caller): Hello, Neal, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, Craig, how are you?

CRAIG: I'm fine, thanks, great show, every day, day in and day out, especially today.

CONAN: Well, thank you.

CRAIG: I want to talk a little bit about my exercise. Nobody's mentioned it's it's a great one. It's not stressful and you can have fun while you're at it, and it's called golf.

I rode a cart for years, and a year ago, my wife bought me a little electric cart caddy to carry my bag so I could walk. Now I walk five days a week playing golf, begin to lose weight dramatically at first, and couldn't understand why, and I went to my doctor, and he said, what are you doing different? I said I'm walking five miles a day. And he said, We've got to increase your calories because you haven't changed your diet. And I was losing two or three pounds a week.

What do you think?

CONAN: Well, Dr. Cooper. That's a lot of walking, isn't it?

Dr. COOPER: Well, you know, in my first book, AEROBICS, I said you had to get 30 points a week to get aerobic conditioning and training which reduced heart attacks and all that. And golf was one of the 41 exercises that I listed, but you only got three points per playing 18 holes provided you walked the course. That means if you play 180 holes per week, you'll be aerobically fit and you might go on the pro circuit after that.

Well, that's exactly what it took. But Craig, that's great. I'm glad to hear that. And that's the whole concept, just avoiding inactivity. The Surgeon General said in 1996, if collected, we get 30 minutes of activity most days per week, we'll get health longevity benefits. And that came from our famous study we published back in 1989.

So, you're getting health and longevity benefits regardless of your heart rate. You don't need to have that.

If you want to be aerobically trained, be competitive athletes, you've got to look at your heart rate, your aerobic training effect. But if you want to just get health and longevity benefits, play golf. But just don't ride the cart and have a can of beer along with it.

CONAN: John Briley, golf, is that one of the things that you've tried?

Mr. BRILEY: Yes. Craig, it is. Aside from me trying it, there's a book out called THE NO SWEAT WORKOUT, and I might be mixing up authors because I read a lot of fitness books, but I believe it's Harvey Simon who wrote THE NO SWEAT WORKOUT. And he assigns, as Dr. Cooper was mentioning, he assigns, similar to that, points to various activities.

So, exactly what you're up to. A problem we've had in our society as, you know, Allison mentioned early on, science is helping us learn what a lot of these problems are, but science has also caused a lot of these problems by taking the movement out of our daily lives.

So, by walking on the golf course, by raking your own leaves, by opening doors, walking up stairs, by putting movement back into your daily life, you're going to account for a lot of calories that the modern Americans aren't expending.

CONAN: I think, Craig, though, a lot of people would disagree with you that golf is stress free.

CRAIG: Well, it's not physically stressing.

CONAN: Ah, mentally. That's another issue altogether. Besides, ulcers, I suppose, are good for you.

Anyway, Craig, congratulations and good luck to you.

CRAIG: Thank you.

DR. COOPER: Let me make a comment quickly.

CONAN: Go ahead, doctor.

DR. COOPER: More deaths occurred in physical activity, what sport do you think? Running or jogging? It's golf. More deaths, sudden deaths, occur on the golf course than any other type of recreational or physical activity. Why? It's because most of the golfers are so much older.

CONAN: There you go.

AUBREY: Well, there's a risk factor.

Mr. BRILEY: Not from being hit by clubs.

CONAN: Our guest you just heard, that is Dr. Kenneth Cooper, physician and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center. We're also with Allison Aubrey, NPR health reporter, and John Briley, a columnist for The Washington Post. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR news.

And let's get Janice on the phone. Janice is with us from Pine, Arizona.

JANICE (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi, Janice.

JANICE: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I have a question about the equipment that I use at our gymnasium. And it actually has two designations and, this is for an elliptical trainer, and it measures watts and mets. I'm wondering what the distinction is between those two and what should I be striving for?

CONAN: I must say, John Briley, I've seen those designations on exercise machines as well and always wondered. I assumed watts was how much power I was generating with my thrust.

BRILEY: Yeah, that's correct. And a met is, essentially, one met is the number of calories that you burn per kilogram of body weight when you're sleeping, when you're completely at rest.

And I don't know if this is, Dr. Cooper could probably weigh in much more intelligently on this. But I don't know if this is the same for everybody, but I believe it's 70 calories per kilogram of body weight when you're at rest, so it's called a Kcal.

So, when you're cranking up your mets, if it says 6 mets, that, you are generating six times, you're expending six times the number of calories than you would when you were completely at rest. And if you're at, you know, 18 mets, then you're really cranking and you're expending 18 times the number of calories you would completely at rest.

And I believe Neal is exactly correct on watts, how much energy you are outputting through that exercise.

JANICE: Okay. Are there targets that I should be aiming for, for both of these or either of them?

CONAN: Dr. Cooper, what do you think?

DR. COOPER: Well, first of all, a met is just a metabolic unit and at rest, it's 3.5 mg of oxygen consumption per (unintelligible) body weight. Now, mets and points that we talked about earlier are not the same because points integrate mets and duration. Mets is just intensity. Watts is the power, how much you're expending.

But, Janice, what you need to do on bicep, we do our spinning classes, if you have a heart rate monitor that you're exercising on, you don't have to worry about the watts or the mets, but you try to keep your heart rate for that 20 minute exercise an average of 140 or at 30 minutes, 130.

So, you eliminate that and look at the scientific output, the scientific results, and I can guarantee you results if you'll do that.

So, again, the most important thing that I always recommend to my patients is listen to your body and don't exercise to the point of severe chronic fatigue. Exercise within your limits, and listen to your body. If you're having chest pain, you're having leg pain, then reverse something else and seek medical consultation.

So, again, it's a complicated question to answer, but the mets is just a metabolic oxygen consumption, 3.5 at rest. We try to get people at 9-10 mets, something like that. Thirty-five, that's the equivalent of one point, for example.

I've integrated points and mets with my point system, developed first in 1968. I've tried to make it simple. You go with the books for 41 different exercises. Look at the time duration of the activity. You get points and then from that, you can forget about mets or watts.


CONAN: Good luck, Janice.

JANICE: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

Here's an email question we have from Chevella (ph): I'm just starting to try a cardio aerobic exercise routine. I'm about 125 pounds overweight now. Should I try to do this exercise now, or should I diet and wait until I lose some of the weight first? I'm finding that I'm not able to keep up with the instructor, but it also seems that my movements are not effective enough.

Dr. Cooper, before we let you go, any advice for Chevella?

DR. COOPER: Yes. You're not going to lose weight rapidly with exercise. It's going to have to be a combination of exercise and caloric restriction.

But in a situation like that, she needs to be on a non-weight bearing type of activity, such as a bicycle, ergometer, walking a swimming pool, something of that nature. If she starts breaking down with her ankles and knees, she's going to have to do even less.

But it's going to be equally important to do both, because she restricts the calories and doesn't exercise, the weight she gets off, she won't keep off. The only way you can lose the weight and get it off and keep it off, is to restrict the calories and exercise along with it.

CONAN: Eat less, exercise more. It sounds simple. It's so hard for so many to do.

Dr. Cooper, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

DR. COOPER: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.

CONAN: Dr. Kenneth Cooper is a physician and founder of the Cooper Aerobic Center. He was with us on the line from Dallas, Texas. We apologize for our technical difficulties earlier.

When we come back from a short break, we're gonna continue talking with NPR health reporter Allison Aubrey and with John Briley, a columnist for The Washington Post, who writes The Weekly Moving Crew, where he tries out a new exercise every week and then writes about it. That's the tough part.

I'm Neal Conan. If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. Email is

(Soundbite of workout video)

Today, we're talking about the truth about exercise. There's no shortage of exercise options promising to help us get fit fast. What works, what doesn't, and why.

Our guests are Allison Aubrey, who's NPR's health reporter. Also, with us is John Briley, a columnist for The Washington Post who writes The Weekly Moving Crew column.

If you'd like to join us, it's 800-989-8255 or email us:

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Jenny, and Jenny is calling us from Pontivedra Beach in Florida. Jenny, you there?

JENNY (Caller): Oh, yes. Hi. I was wondering, is there, I've heard a lot about yoga, and I know it's good in combination with other exercise. My question is, if you just do yoga by itself and you're about 50 pounds overweight, is that really going to help you lose weight, or do you need something more aerobic, more fast paced?

CONAN: Allison, what do you think?

AUBREY: Yoga has become a very general term, so there's lots of forms of yoga. And within that, there are lots of levels in yoga. So, yoga is a good place to start, because it will help you with stretching. It also helps with building muscle, and when you get to the point where you can actually add almost a cardiovascular level to yoga, you'll be doing something called yoga flow, for instance, where you're actually moving freely and actually getting your heart rate up a bit.

So, I would say that it very much depends on what kind of yoga you choose, and you should do a little bit of research there about your options locally and watch some classes. You'll get a sense of those that can actually get your heart rate up versus those that are just very simple stretching classes.

The trend in yoga right now, in terms of taking yoga into fitness centers, is that there's a lot of fusion classes, meaning they're combining yoga with other higher impact type exercises.

I know in Santa Monica, for instance, there are gyms that offer an hour class where you do a half hour of yoga and then a half hour of spinning, which is a very, you know, cardiovascular type exercise that's going to really get that heart rate up.

CONAN: John Briley, you tried in flight yoga.

BRILEY: I did. And it's Jennifer, correct?

JENNY: Yeah. Jenny.

BRILEY: Jenny. Yeah, I'm a big fan of yoga in many forms. I'm not sure I'd recommend doing yoga in your seat on an airplane, which I did a number of years ago for a column I was writing, much to the dismay of my seatmates. I found myself enacting a pose called The Dragon that involves sticking one's tongue out. And my neighbor was reaching for the air sickness bag to hand to me.

But in seriousness, there was a study I wrote about in October from the American Council on Exercise and you will get, as Allison intoned, you're going to get a lot of debate on this if you ask somebody in the yoga community, they're going to be a big fan of telling you all you need is yoga for lifelong health and fitness.

That is not untrue, but the American Council on Exercise found that exercise, that yoga was not aerobic for the vast majority of the public. Most classes offered do not help you burn enough calories to drop weight.

What a previous guest on the show was mentioning, Dr. Cooper, essentially it's a simple equation. You have to expend more calories every day, on average, than you are consuming. And a safe level is 200-300 calories per day of a deficit that you want to run. You want to burn 200-300 more than you're eating, and that means the boring tasks of keeping track of your diet and keeping track of how much you're exercising and how many calories that exercise burns.

So, to get a general idea, I'll wrap this up quickly, is is a great website to see how many calories each activity, and it's a huge list, down to housework, gardening, dancing, yoga, tennis, will tell you, of all those activities, how many calories they burn and then just match that up against what you're eating and try to run a safe and healthy deficit. And it will take a little bit of time, but you should get there.

AUBREY: And a general rule about burning fat is that in a pound of fat there are about 3500 calories. So to shed a pound, you need to burn 3500 calories. That's a general equation that exercise physiologists will put out there.

JENNY: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck, Jenny.

JENNY: All right. Thanks.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get one last call in. And we'll go to Shannon. Shannon's with us from Columbia, South Carolina.

SHANNON (Caller): Yes, I'm 23, and I'm a vegetarian as well as a jogger. I do yoga, and I also rock climb. But it seems like I've hit a plateau where I can't lose that last ten to fifteen pounds. Do you have any advice for that?

CONAN: This is one of those questions, it sounds like you're in pretty good shape, Shannon.

SHANNON: Yes, I'd say so, but, you know.

CONAN: Well everybody would like to lose that last ten or fifteen pounds, but some of us, maybe aren't meant to lose that last --

AUBREY: Right. I was going to say, are you sure you need to? I mean, have you looked at BMI or are you focused on weight? Or have you looked at the other measurements of fitness?

SHANNON: I've tried to look at everything, but I really just go by how I feel and how I feel when I look in the mirror. And, you know, I just know, like, I could still lose just ten to fifteen pounds to be a little bit more healthier and little bit more flexible and agile.

Mr. BRILEY: You know one, this is John, Shannon, one thing to ask is, how long have you been doing your current exercise regimen?

SHANNON: About two years.

Mr. BRILEY: Okay. One thing that experts recommend is, it's called periodization, and what that means is mixing it up every four to six weeks, because what the human body does, it grows accustomed to what you are subjecting it to.

So if you go, for example, and I doubt this is your program, but if you went to the gym every single day and did 45 minutes on a spin bike, and then 45 minutes of weight lifting, upper body one day, lower body the next, and you just did that, over time your body will become used to that workout, and it will become more efficient in handling that stress. Because exercise is stress on the body.

So it'll become more efficient at handling that, and therefore use less energy to accomplish the tasks. So try to mix it up. If you normally run, maybe try swimming. If you normally swim, try biking. Obviously you enjoy rock climbing, so don't ever stop doing that, but mixing it up not only keeps it interesting and introduces you to new exercises, but it's also good for your body and can help you burn a few extra calories.

SHANNON: Okay, great. Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck Shannon.

And Allison, again, getting back to, I think almost where we started, whatever it is that interests you and that you can continue doing, that's what you should do.

AUBREY: That's right. That is what all of the people who've studied adherence have found, that really you've got to find something that appeals to you that's actually fun.

CONAN: Allison Aubrey is NPR's health reporter. She joined us today here in Studio 3A.

Thanks so much for coming in.

AUBREY: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And also we were speaking with John Briley, a columnist for The Washington Post. He writes The Weekly Moving Crew, where he tries, what's your column this week about?

Mr. BRILEY: Upcoming next week is on the raw machine. I had to think for a minute, Neal, because I've got a bunch of balls in the air. This one's interesting. It's billed as a 4-minute workout. All you need, four minutes a day, every day, one day upper body, one day lower body. And it's quite a claim.

So I'm, I've tried the machine yesterday, and I'm vetting the science with some exercise physiologists, so we'll see. We'll see how it comes out of the wash.

CONAN: We'll look forward to reading about it. Thanks very much for joining us today.

Mr. BRILEY: Thank you, Neal. Enjoyed it.

CONAN: When we come back, Spalding's world tour.

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