As a native son of L.A., I have a complicated relationship with exercise. Growing up in a city notorious for its driving culture, I, like most of my fellow purebreds, prefer to drive as little as one block rather than to walk the same distance. On the other hand, everyone here looks like they’ve just left the gym — a sort of citywide form of peer pressure to be in the best possible shape at all times.
So when I come across a study or article that tells me do less with my body, I can’t help but grin like a comic-book villain. And believe it or not, there are a lot of these kinds of studies out there. More than you would ever think, actually. Here are my six favorites:
1. Last week, The New York Times published an article that explained “Why You Shouldn’t Walk on Escalators.” Though walking on an escalator hardly counts as exercise, the author’s insistence on not even doing that made laziness endorphins flood my body. In an experiment done in 2015 at New York City’s Penn Station during the morning rush, researchers found that standing on both sides of an escalator reduced congestion by about 30 percent. Better yet, the “time in system” — or how long it took to stand in line to reach an escalator and then ride it — dropped sharply when everyone stood (not walked), according to a blog post by the researchers.
2. In 2015, Forbes published a piece that detailed the injury risks associated with high-intensity weights and nonstop pace workouts such as CrossFit. This makes sense considering that CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, was quoted in a 2005 New York Times story as admitting “it can kill you.” At Vox, Julia Belluz cited several studies that “have revealed alarming trauma rates” among CrossFit athletes. “Of the 132 people who responded to the survey, 97 (or nearly three-quarters) reported getting hurt during CrossFit training, and most injuries involved the shoulders and spine. These respondents reported a total of 186 injuries; nine led to surgeries.” The obvious answer to these problems: Don’t do CrossFit.
3. Also in 2015, the Times covered a study that suggested frequent exercise causes “profound changes in cardiac physiology and structure.” These changes can mimic heart damage, with cardiac cells often becoming “leaky” after strenuous workouts or events, releasing proteins into the bloodstream that, in other circumstances, could indicate a heart attack. Again, my takeaway: No exercise = no heart attack.
4. In 2011, British researchers set out to study the heart health of a group of fit older athletes. The results, published a few weeks ago in The Journal of Applied Physiology, were rather disquieting. None of the younger athletes (or better still, the older nonathletes) had fibrosis in their hearts. But half of the older lifelong athletes showed some heart muscle scarring. The affected men were, in each case, those who’d trained the longest and hardest. In other words: Spending years exercising strenuously or completing more marathons was associated with a greater likelihood of heart damage.
5. Technically this 2012 study from the University of Copenhagen doesn’t suggest that exercise is bad, but rather, that just 30 minutes of vigorous exercise can be enough when it comes to shedding weight. The team studied 60 heavy, but healthy, men between the ages of 20 and 40 who wanted to lose weight. Twenty-one were directed to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — running, cycling and rowing — daily. Another 21 were told to get 60 minutes, and 18 were assigned to a control group that remained sedentary. The results showed that exercising for 30 minutes at a pace hard enough to break a sweat was sufficient to promote weight loss. I, of course, want to know more about the sedentary group.
6. My pièce de résistance, however, is a 2017 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that men who exercise strenuously may have a lower libido than those whose workouts are lighter. Translation: They’re a lot less interested in sex than guys like me.
In fairness, none of these studies suggest that exercise is bad. In fact, the vast majority of science says that not exercising at all is about the worst thing you can to your body. But it’s also nice to know that being a gym rat or an overzealous escalator patron has its drawbacks, too.
As Krishna once said, “Moderation is the key.”