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How to use the latest science as a better guide for fitness

Have you clicked on an ad that claims to be something like a “Science-based fat burning exercise program”? It sounds more reliable than other programs, but my question is “Is it really reliable for you?”


We are told that we should choose methods with evidence that they work, but not many people know that the “science” may be not relevant to YOUR body.


Magic words


“Science-based”, “evidence-based”, “by xxx University” are common phrases that are popularly used as marketing in the fitness industry. They basically say “some professional authorities have checked if this method works and they recommend people to use it” in only a few words.


I also used to be a big believer in these words, and used them as a decision maker when I was searching for good methods for losing weight. Back then, I didn’t even doubt that the research was relevant to me, and took the information as if I had found the answer that I was looking for.


However, many science-based methods don’t show how the research was done, and many of us don’t even question it. So, let me show you how important it is to know the basis of such research for your fitness journey.


Who are the patients?

When I started learning about health promotion at university, I was reading articles about the effect of cardio exercise on fat reduction. It was mostly to find a solution for myself to get over my eating disorder back then. Then, I realised that a lot of knowledge in the fitness field came from findings based on research on “young healthy adult males." Only in the past 10 years or so has more research started focusing on women.


I started wondering “If the research was done on healthy African-American male university students, to what extent are these findings relevant to this Japanese girl with irregular periods who grew up mostly in Asia?”


This question continued when I started teaching people individually. I’ve been in many situations where what the research told us didn’t lead to good results for my female clients. What the research has told us had to be modified for different individuals to make it work.


As an ex-science student, I want to be clear: Science does help you find more effective methods. However, especially in the fitness field, there is a gap between the latest science and practical use.


This is getting clearer and clearer as I learn more about exercise science and teach more people from different backgrounds.


The best method for men might not be the best for women

As more and more research for women is done, we have clearer ideas about how women’s hormones and physical structure affect their reaction to exercises.


Sports teams themselves are pioneering in this field more than the fitness industry today. For example, women’s major sports teams these days have programs that are specifically designed to coordinate with athletes’ period cycles. Many ACL (knee ligament) injuries happen during their periods, and this new programming method helps reduce the onset of this major injury.


In saying that, there are interesting findings in the fitness fields too.


1: High metabolic phase

If you are a gym goer, you might have heard that your body keeps burning more energy than usual even hours after you finish an exercise session.


However, not many know that this high metabolism reaction has a gender difference. It lasts for about 21 hours for men, whereas it lasts only about 3 hours for women.


What this finding tells us is this: - For men, the best method may be having a big session at the beginning of the day to make the most of the high metabolic phase. - For women, they may receive more benefits by adding small but frequent physical activities throughout the day such as standing often and using stairs instead of elevators.


2: Menstrual cycle

Research on hormones reveals the importance of adjusting fitness throughout your life stages:

  • During puberty when women start having their first period

  • In the 20’s - 30’s when the menstrual cycle stabilises

  • During the 28 days of the menstrual cycle

  • During pregnancy (1st, 2nd and 3rd trimester)

  • In the 40’s - 50’s when the body starts getting ready for menopause

  • Post-menopause

Women’s hormonal change throughout life is unique to women. My clients often say they started carrying more weight in their midsection after they turned 40. Some find big changes in their body and mind during a menstrual cycle.


If you know more about your hormonal status throughout your life stages, you can choose exercise options that can better benefit your body and mind without adding stress.


These days, programs like the “30 day-challenge” are very popular to give you a kick start or to spice up your workout routine. But when you know the importance of following your hormonal changes as a woman, such programs that require the same pace and intensity for a whole month might not be the best option for you.


“Learning the differences between men and women in fitness enables you to make fitness goals that suit you better.”


Ask questions before jumping in

So, if you are feeling like your efforts are not paying off, or the amount of effort you are putting in is not matching the results you’re getting, you might be following a method that doesn’t suit you.


The media likes to use attractive titles to gain an audience. “Successful business people exercise in the morning.” “HIIT is the most efficient way to burn fat.” In a world where anyone can be an information provider online, anyone can say that their claims are “scientifically proven” without you knowing what the actual study was.


That means that you, as an information receiver, need to have media literacy to lead yourself in the right direction and protect yourself from misleading information.


Ask yourself these questions when you find information online that is based on scientific studies:

  • Who are the participants of the research?

  • Who benefits the most from this information?

  • How relevant is it to me?

  • To what extent should I rely on this method?

  • How long do I give myself to try and see if it works on me?