This morning, the New York Times Well blog gave Americans across the country yet another reason to skip their workout: they’re simply reached their activity ‘set point’ for the day, and their bodies can’t do anymore.
A ‘set point’, by the way, is, according to some scientists, the threshold of exercise and expenditure that, once met with a workout, is nearly impossible to cross, because the body is out of energy overwhelmed with exhaustion.
Of course, the article, entitled Do We Have a Set Point for Exercise? actually goes into great detail about various rodent and young adult studies, which studied groups of both highly active subjects, as well as more sedentary ones. Each study found that sedentary subjects were more likely to conserve energy and rest after exercising, while active subjects, when their activity levels were reduced, were more likely to be fidgety or try to work in activity.
Which really could just point toward students (and rodents) being conditioned or not conditioned to exercise, and not any kind of heredity. Or that, you know, an out-of-shape rat gets tired more quickly.
But those who skim, rather than read, and take just the first few paragraphs of an article, rather than finish it, may have missed the part, in the final sentences, that spells out that ‘set points’ are not an excuse to quit exercising or stop pushing oneself when working out.
The science cited in the article in favor of ‘set points’ could be indicative of a lot of things–many of which offer solutions for increased activity, rather than excuses for not being active. But what’s especially harmful about the ‘set point’ rationale is that it sets sedentary individuals up for the “I’m not built for it” line of reasoning, which is definitely faulty.
Anyone who’s ever recently broken through their own distance or resistance goals (longest bike ride ever, most weights lifted, fastest swim) will relate that, when your workout is a little harder than usual, it does leave you feeling more tired. Because exercise is hard. And getting yourself to exercise is hard. But it also gets easier as that more difficult workout becomes the standard. It’s not that you’ve reached some kind of biological stopping point–despite what your body may be telling you as you’re riding up a particularly steep hill–it’s just that your body hasn’t been conditioned for that level of activity. Is it a ‘set point’ if you routinely challenge yourself to break through it?
The same is true of those who were once sedentary, but then began exercising. Sure, the first few weeks of working out after being inert for a long period of time, but eventually, as the perceived difficulty of tasks and exercises decreases, the workout can become more strenuous, with less exhaustion. Is it a ‘set point’ if you’ve just never challenged your body?
Of course, there are a million reasons why a person’s body may not be able to exercise strenuously, including injury and health complications. But barring those very valid reasons, the argument behind ‘set points’ sounds kind of ridiculous–that, essentially, certain bodies can simply handle more physical exercise than others. Which is true, because some bodies are more accustomed to moving more. But offering that if working out makes a person very tired means they’ve reached their limit is silly–not to mention detrimental to readers.
Image: Tan Wei Ming / Shutterstock