Why Going to the Gym Is a Waste of Money, Time, and Resources


I noticed this morning that I have gained five pounds. Conventional wisdom says it's time to shell out to join a gym, or if I want to save money, dust off that jogging stroller.

But what does conventional wisdom know? A recent article in Time magazine points out that our belief that exercise is essential to weight loss is a recent development, and — this shocked me — not well supported by research.

That's right: For most people, exercise is useless for weight loss.

It sounds like complete crazy talk, yet the article cites solid-sounding research and academic experts saying just that. One recent study looked at overweight women, some of whom were assigned to work out with a trainer for different lengths of time, alongside a control group that did not work out. They didn't change their eating habits. All the groups on average lost weight, but the women who worked out did not lose significantly more than those who didn't.

What's going on?

The study's authors cite "compensation." That is, working out makes you hungry, so you eat more. You also might move around less for the rest of the day after you work out. The article also points out that most people overestimate how much food they can indulge in before they have consumed more calories than they just burned in their workout.

This would explain something that has baffled me since chidlhood: The overweight mail carrier. My dad delivered the mail as a kid, and I never understood how many of his colleagues, even though they were on walking routes, not driving routes, could have such big bellies. The answer, apparently, is that being out on that route all day made them very hungry.

All this leads me to think about the growing emphasis on "being active" in America right now, coming from everyone: from the schools to the scapegoats of childhood obesity, like children's television and McDonald's itself. The hope on McDonald's part seems to be that society will be OK with kids consuming their megacalorie meals as long as they do some jumping jacks first.

Look at the great amount of resources expended for the cause of physical fitness already. While I am not disputing that it's unhealthy to be sedentary, the experts quoted in this article contend that the kind of free exercise that we have traditionally incorporated into our day is just as healthy as organized sports for kids and treadmills for adults.

The article even quotes the head of Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutritional and Physical Activity wondering if the whole McDonald's playground idea was a ploy to get kids to eat more.

"I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000," Steven Gortmaker told Time.

Once I started thinking about it, I realized that working out is expensive in many ways. It might be worth it (at least for some people) if it increases your overall sense of well-being or prepares you for an activity you enjoy, like touring cities on foot or climbing a mountain. And of course, many if not most people who work out do it so they will look better and be more attractive than the gym rat on the machine two rows over. But in order to decide if something is worthwhile, you should take an honest look at what it costs.

Gym Fees

The most obvious, and most avoidable, cost of fitness. For those who have joined the extreme home workout trend, those 30 Day Shred and P90X DVDs ain't cheap either.


This is a major one for parents of small children like me. If a leisurely walk with my children is as good or almost as good for me as an hour at a gym with them in the daycare, I'm unlikely to choose the latter. And with my husband already away from the kids for 10 hours or more on a weekday, does it make sense for him to use one of the remaining hours at the gym?

Increased Calories Consumed

People who work out for weight loss set out to burn calories they won't be replacing. But it doesn't usually work out that way, simply because our bodies are programmed to prevent that from happening. And what about people who work out to build muscle mass and intentionally increase their caloric intake to help build it?

I recently saw an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry showing everything various Chicagoans ate in a day. One was an iron-pumping construction worker who consumed something like 12,000 calories, much of it protein. He obviously felt that the cost of purchasing all that extra food was worthwhile, but in a world where we are increasingly conscious of the environmental toll of food production, is it really sustainable for some people to consume six times as many calories as are needed for healthy survival?


With all the talk about how healthy it is to stress your cardiovascular system, but there is little talk about the increased risk of injury that occurs when one switches from a brisk walk to lifting weights, running, or participating in sports.

As for those five extra pounds I'd like to shed, I'm now planning to cut back on the ice cream and walk my next errand rather than drive it, rather than set aside time for a daily workout. I still plan to join a local gym once my baby is a little older, but mainly because it offers a fitness activity that I truly enjoy: indoor rock climbing. After reading that article, I am a lot less likely to force myself through any fitness routine that I loathe in the perhaps unrealistic expectation of great weight loss and health benefits.

For those who work out in an organized fashion, do you feel that the benefits exceed the costs?

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Guest's picture

I found it especially hilarious that when this post came up in my Google Reader, the banner ad at the bottom was a giant photo of a glazed donut :)

Guest's picture

I agree that working out is not really as effective for weight loss as most people think it is. You can't out train a bad diet.

However, this article completely downplayed the cardiovascular benefits of exercise and the benefits of strength training. Is it really a "waste of money" to keep your heart healthy and prevent bone and muscle loss? And since when does exercise necessarily mean you'll get injured? Not if you're being smart and not trying to overdo it.

Also - $8.49 for 30 day shred is expensive? Really?

Guest's picture

I'm sorry, I usually don't post anything negative, but this whole article is ridiculous.

Guest's picture
Sergio Sanchez

I don't really think you understand the important fact here. A lot of people think that more weight is exactly the same as bad health and a big belly. For a lot of people, this is true, but for some overweight means that they have lot more muscle in their body than fat.

It's true that the food we eat has a very high impact on the way our body works and to lose weight (or reduce the size of the belly) and serious reduction plan has to consider this as a essencial part of it.

But from this to say that going to the gym (or working out) is a waste of money, time and resources shows only that you had a bad experience and that you had not the knowledge of doing things when you tried.

First, it's true that people who exercise more are going to get more calories to complete tehir needs. But it's more important the type of calories their get. You just need to choose more healthy food. This might look like a lot more expensive, but most of the time it isnt. Going to the gym or working out (when the things are done properly) is a sure way to increase health and strenght. There is no other way to get those benefits.

Second, about time and money: When you workout or go to the gym you're investing in yourself, having fun and also not using your time and money in other things that make your health worse and/or more costly (going out to the movies, to eat out a lot, to purchase stuff to keep you busy). You can include your child in this experiences and make a base for there future life.
Also, when you keep your goals in mind and work to get them you usually feel better in almost all your activities.

Third, injuries (this is really kind of silly): Of course you will be on higher risk of being injuried when you excercise, but also when you drive, when you enter the shower, when you travel by bus, when you walk, and other more things.
If you do things right, and be a little cautious, the risk of injury is almost cero. Also, when you keep yourself fit, is less possible to get hurt in your daily activities.

This kind of articles sometimes puzzles me. I'm just waiting to see something like "why brushing your teeth is a waste of money" or "why go to school? you'll learn more in a job". "Why breathe? At the end you're going to die anyway".

Again, maybe you have bases to say this but a lot of people have a lot of better experiences with this.

Guest's picture

As someone who's only recently established a regular workout routine, I'd definitely say it's been worth it. I've never had an ounce of athleticism in me at any point in my life (seriously, I think I would've rather had bamboo shoots lodged under my fingernails than run a mile in gym class), so exercising always been a struggle. In the three months since I started working out, I've lost 15 pounds and found myself to be way happier and more productive than I've ever been. I still kind of hate the 45+ minutes I spend there everyday, but I feel so damn good once I finish that it's completely worth it. Do I get hungrier every day? Sure. But I compensate with food that's healthy and filling, because I realize that gorging myself on junk is going to undo all the work I've put into getting healthy. And as for the money, it sucks a bit, but shelling out gym membership fees motivates me to use my membership. The fact is, I'm not one of those people who's going to go jogging outside. And in 25 years, I haven't met a sport that I actually like. I live in a city, but it's a city that's never been conducive to pedestrians and cyclists. I work a desk job 40 hours per week and spend much of my free time doing freelance work online, so my lifestyle is pretty sedentary. If the air conditioning, the exercise equipment, and yes, even the televisions are what it takes to get someone like me actually exercise, then I'll gladly pay for it.

Beyond that, I feel like the assertion that exercise doesn't contribute to weight loss is pretty foolish. Obviously, it's been a big factor for me. Some folks could work out until they pass out and never lose a pound. So much has to do with genetics and body type--and there are as many different body types as there are people. It also probably depends on what your normal level of activity is during the day. If you're an active person, you burn more calories during the day. If not, you've got a lot of excess to burn in some other way. I think it's more about knowing yourself, your body and your habits and figuring out what works for you.

Guest's picture

Yes it is worth it, for the following reasons:

1) Gym Fees: If you shop around you can usually get a pretty good deal, and you can definitely bargain. If you are working at a corporation, check if there are decreased rates for your workplace. Additionally, many insurance providers will give you a refund every 6 months or so for a set amount to cover all or some of a gym membership, providing you prove your attendance. (I get $200 every six months)

2)Time: Everyone has different priorities, but I go to the gym with my husband or a friend. This way we not only get to work out, and have a cheering section, but it's not time away from my loved ones.

3) Increased Calories Consumed: Exercise is only good for weight loss when combined with a healthy diet. So those who are exercising and then think that they are entitled to ice cream aren't going to lose weight. Diet is something like 80% of the equation, since 1 slice of bread could be equivalent to 20 minutes of cardio in terms of calories in/out. So yes, eating more may well cancel out the workout, but it seems likely that that is a psychological, rather than physiological effect.

Same goes for the overweight mail carriers. While they are walking a ton, unless they have a healthy diet, it won't prevent weight gain. Same for those big construction workers with big guts. Most Americans significantly underestimate the calories they are consuming: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/16/60minutes/main3513549.shtml

4)Injuries: Most gyms offer a free session with a trainer when you join. Take advantage of it, let them design an exercise plan. Every couple months either meet with a trainer to refine, or take advantage of the gym staff walking the floor. They are more than happy to help. Injuries are preventable with common sense and the help of professionals--obviously seek the advice of a doctor before starting any exercise plan.

And lastly, the reason why many of us exercise:

5) Cardiovascular health: walking or light exercise is unlikely to raise your heart rate enough to meet the ASCM guidelines. There are a number of other health benefits (increased bone density, lower stress, for those with respiratory issues better control) completely divorced from weight which those of us who work out regularly enjoy.

Guest's picture

I agree the gym is a waste of money. I live in a community where a free gym is offered, but I rarely go. I went regularly for 3-4 months and saw very little results, which is in line with the study you referenced. I also choose not to go because it's not fun for me. I've never said to myself, "I can't wait to get on the treadmill at 6am tomorrow! YAY!"

Instead, I picked up a new hobby: tennis! They are tons of free courts in the area. I've been playing 3-4 times a week with friends. It's a great way to see your friends and catch up without spending $50 for dinner and drinks. Tennis is fun for me, first and foremost, but it does also have health benefits.

Any activity I can do with others- like taking a stroll in the park with my boyfriend- has the added benefit of nurturing those relationships in my life. I don't need a relationship with a treadmill.

Guest's picture

This is the most sophist argument I've ever heard.

Let me start by saying that I've been a regular reader of WiseBread and love the posts. But seriously, this post invites ridicule.

You start by talking about the two groups of overweight women. One working out and the other group that did not. You say, and I quote "They didn't change their eating habits." Very next para, you say the group that worked out, ate more. Of course they would not lose weight if they make up for the calories burnt. Also, muscle weigh more than fat. So even if they lost fat and gained muscle, they might weigh the same. What was the differene in body fat percentage?

What about strength? A person sitting at home for a year and a person running regularly for a year, who do you think can run a marathon or climb a flight of stairs?

You continue saying, if a leisurely walk is the same as working out, why work out. Isn't leisurely walk, a walk - an exercise? You dispute your own proposition.

I used to be over weight. I am extremely healthy now. I can now run a marathon or climb a mountain. I have never been happier with myself.

Guest's picture

And when did you need to run a marathon or climb a mountain?
Are you a thief that you need to run from the police by running a marathon? Lol
Or did there show up a mountain outside your front door and told you to climb it or else you will die? Hahaha

Guest's picture
Steven P

Possibly the worst article I've ever read on Wisebread. Going to the gym or any other activity of your choosing is most definitely worth investing in yourself and your future self. I'd rather pay the small price of being active now so that at 65-70 years old I don't have major problems from a life of self neglect and denial that any sort of activity is a "waste of money, time and resources". The overall article to me seems to be it's better to be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to your health.

For me, being active has resulted in a loss of 60 pounds over a 10 year period to 180+ lbs (on a 6' 1" frame). I know my health is much better, I have more energy and have no major health problems. My doctor told me at my last physical to "keep doing what I'm doing" because it makes his job easier! :)

Guest's picture

I've never commented before, but felt the need this time. This post is completely silly. Like everyone else has already said, exercise for the sake of being healthy and fit is a good, good thing. While I agree with the idea that exercise alone does not always result in weight loss (it must be combined with improved eating habits), exercise is not a waste of time.

You buried what should have really been the point of your article -- 1) there are many, many FREE ways to get your heart rate up and improve your health (such as walking on errands, like you mention), and 2) it's important to find an activity that you enjoy (such as rock climbing, like you mention).

I haven't paid for a gym membership in years because I enjoy running. I can run anytime, anywhere and the only cost is that of a good pair of shoes. I'm more fit, more healthy, feel better, and yes, weigh less, because of it.

The benefits of exercising in whatever form works for you FAR outweigh any other issue.

Guest's picture

It is articles like this that make me consider removing Wise Bread from my RSS feed.

Yes, exercise is worth it! I find the more I exercise, the less crappy food I want and the less stressed I am. I sleep better, I feel better and I can do more. Plus,

But seriously, the quality of the content on this site is so variable, I wonder how you are able to keep any amount of readers.

Guest's picture

To be honest, this article kind of sounds like so many other, hey, do nothing and you, too, can lose the weight! It may be true that going to the gym alone will not really solve your problem, and becoming overall active and changing your diet will help a lot with general weight loss, but if you truly want to become fit, you have to work at it. I lost a fair amount of the pregnant weight in the months after having our kids without doing much more than going on leisurely walks with the kids nearly every day. But then I hit a hall with it, and the walking just wasn't enough. It wasn't until I started running again that I really saw results.

I do think that a lifestyle change is more valuable than anything else. I'm a runner, and now that I have the running habit built back into my life, it's awesome. I eat healthier when I work out because my body just responds better to good food. I'm healthier, and that means less healthcare dollars, remember? Maybe there is extra (better) food to buy, but going to the doctor and taking a million prescriptions is a lot more expensive than just buying a little more food here and there.

I do have the benefit of a free gym right now, but I would absolutely consider joining one when this isn't available. I don't want pay a ton for it, but if you are actually going to use it, not pay up, then go every so often when you feel guilty, it's worth the money.

Guest's picture

The research just say that people who work out AND don't know what is doing don't get results. And that's what happen to most people in gyms and ("magazine") dieting.

Who knows the right principles and follows them does get results. We can say that there are different methods but training is surely one of them. Correct training with correct dieting is the way.

I lost 22kg so i can talk :)

Julie Rains's picture

I think that a gym membership can be one of the best investments you can make, and also a waste (that is, if you don't use the facilities) - it depends on what options you have for exercise, discipline level, stage of life etc. For the express purpose of losing 5 pounds and no other reason, then joining a gym might not be worth it.

One of the reasons that I joined a gym was for strength training, which helped me to avoid injury in running. I also made use of indoor track in the winter, cardio classes, and swimmng pool. This summer I have been training almost exclusively outdoors for a couple of sprint triathlons (one down, one to go) and have started debating whether I should continue this regimen and quit the Y or stick with the gym b/c of the indoor components. I could easily find an outdoor pool in the summer but not in the winter. If I decide to quit the gym, I won't be abandoning exercise, just the monthly fees.

Guest's picture

Ouch... you left this article on a down note... at least tell people alternatives so they dont just cut their gym memberships and do nothing since they "have no time and it causes injuries"

I have my membership and i ride the roller coaster of going for 2 months straight and taking 2 months off... The point is you need ot find balance. If youre not going to be going to the gym, you need to learn to control the diet...

Again, shoulda ended the article on a better note...

Guest's picture

Downplaying the benefits of being fit seems near irresponsible.

Going to the gym (and jogging, biking, swimming) has sure shed weight from my wife and I. Maybe this isn't backed by science, that's fine. But the overall health benefits of these activities absolutely increase health and quality of life.

It sounds to me like people trying to justify not doing that which is difficult.

Guest's picture

There is also the cost of exercise clothes for most, though I just wear the oldest, crappiest garments I already own. I'd also like to suggest that the lack of weight loss may be due to the "fact" that muscles weigh more than fat...not so sure this is true but I've always heard it. I go less by what the scale says and more by how my clothes fit or how I feel. I think we're way to weight conscious now. We can be healthy and not necessarily slender.

Guest's picture

You really shouldn't judge your level of fitness by the number of pounds you see on the scale. I mean, you could lose lots of weight living a sedentary lifestyle by just eating less, but it doesn't mean you're getting any healthier if you're leaving your muscles and cardiovascular system unused.

Guest's picture

It is worth it, as I can see many attractive people in tight fitting garments.

Guest's picture

Boy, I knew diet and exercise were the closest thing to religion for most urbanites, but you guys are about to declare a Fatwa here. Carrie is saying something pretty simple in this piece, For people who want to loose weight (and probably don't get too much pleasure from spending time on a treadmill) joining a Gym may not be a good solution. Her sacrilege comes from an article in TIME itself based on careful academic research. I read this article twice and I'm pretty sure she is not saying "Don't exercise".

I was surprised to see that there are about 18 scathing comments in a row.

Then I realized people who do not particularly like exercise, spending time in gyms, and have thrown hundreds if not thousands of dollars away on memberships are pretty unlikely to put their mistake on display here. Those are the silent folks Carrie is addressing who did not get much for the time and money they spent.

For the rest of you, I am glad you are all doing something you like, I'm glad you all like your bodies. But, maybe you should realize there is very powerful advertising and cultural pressure to support the 19 billion dollar gym industry. And not all of that money is creating happiness, health, or self esteem.

Guest's picture


Problem is the study is flawed and shows something we already know: that exercise alone is generally not a solution to weight loss. The study looked at people working out without changing their eating habits. Changing diet is widely regarded as the most important aspect of weight loss and exercise is only supplemental to that. This is also true of the increased calorie consumption part. You are generally meant to eat back a portion of the calories that you have burned during exercise, but the goal is to make low calorie, nutritional choices rather than processed junk food. If you exercise without changing eating habits, you'll still see some health benefits, but substantial weight loss will probably not be one of them.

What the author has done is twist this study to claim that going to the gym is worthless and exercise does nothing for weight loss, neither of those things are true.

Guest's picture

I used to work at a sports radio station. The afternoon host would routinely offer ridiculous viewpoints on the air (e.g., "The NFL should go from 11-man football to 7-man, it'll open the game up"), then smile in triumph when the phone banks lit up with people ready to tell him he was an idiot.

I hope Carrie doesn't feel the same way about comments as this guy did about phone calls, otherwise bashing this article will have done the opposite of its intended purpose.

Carrie, you claim that people who exercise eat more than their non-exercising counterparts. A) No kidding, and b) Nowhere do you draw a distinction between different kinds of food. Yes, a high-performance machine likely requires more and better fuel than an inferior one.

You also speak of "weight loss" in absolute terms without looking at how it's configured. If the women in Group A lost an average of 30 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of muscle, while the women in Group B just lost 20 pounds of fat while gaining zero muscle, would you consider those weight losses to be equivalent?

I don't think you understand the concept of exercising to leverage one's time. Your husband's away from the kids all day? Give him an hour at the gym, and he'll probably require less sleep and be more alert and less lethargic during the time he does spend with your kids. Oh, and way to break new ground with the McDonald's-bashing. Do you also think puppies are cute and sunsets romantic?

"in a world where we are increasingly conscious of the environmental toll of food production"
"We"? Speak for yourself, please. So the answer is to produce less food? And I don't believe for a moment that an "iron-pumping construction worker" consumes 12,000 calories a day. Neither Tour de France cyclists nor competitive bodybuilders consume that much (probably closer to 7,000.) Look, it's one thing to write a post that provokes thought, something different to just throw specious arguments out there to get a reaction.

Guest's picture

There are a lot of "at home" alternatives to the gym, simple calisthenics and body-weight exercises like push-ups can get you great results without shelling out a dime. However, it is far less convenient and more time consuming than attending a gym and getting to know the equipment. The cost to benefit ratio is wholly dependent on your level of motivation; if you're willing to spend the money, expend the calories and then turn around and consume unhealthy foods, it's definitely not a wise choice for you.
But the arguments in this article are weak, at best, and lacking any significant research.

Guest's picture

It always makes me laugh when people research to provide a point. Our country has a huge weight problem, that is not just caused by one factor. I believe that nutrition is the number one factor that creates so much obesity and disease. Lack of activity is definitely number 2 and gym memberships aren't always the answer. People just need to get off their butts and move more, period....and I don't mean boring cardio or laim workouts. People need to stand on their own two feet, move around, play, breathe hard and create a more active lifestyle. Computers, cars, work and couches contribute to obesity and also cause everyone's back pain. Dont over complicate the issue... people need to move and eat more natural foods...thats it. Its not about time or money or whatever other excuse you want to come up with. It doesn't require surgery or drugs. Our spoiled society and endless marketing have misled everyone and we need to get back to the basics that work.

Guest's picture

Well put. Be active in things that you enjoy, with people and/or pets that you care about, and you will be physically, and, possibly more importantly, emotionally fit. Taking care of the heart, lungs, body in-general, is as much about feelings as it is about working the limbs. We need to get back in touch with that truth. When you were a kid, did you force yourself to go climb the tree, like it was some God-awful chore? No! You climbed that wonderful thing because it seemed like a fun, challenging thing to do. And you probably raced your friend the whole way up, which made it socially stimulating as well.

I swear: the older we get, and the more crap that we let overwhelm us (media and people's mindlessly repeated opinions camoflauged as "knowledge"), the dumber, and unhealthier, we become.

Guest's picture

I stopped going to the gym about 6 months ago. I found most of this to be true. I still workout, I found a workout kit called Deskercise that I can use at work all the time from www.fityourworld.com. Unlike my gym membership I actually used for more than just the first 3 weeks. I love it-

Guest's picture

I will concede that exercise may not be useful for weight loss. So what?

It has proven good for overall physical health in study after study. What's more, there is a growing body of evidence that exercise is as therapeutic for depression and anxiety as medication. Running, swimming, and sports--many of which can be done at very low cost--can incur a much lower penalty, in terms of cash and side effects, than psychotherapy and prescriptions.

Guest's picture
Seo Guru

The lesson we may have about that article is that going to the gym just to lose weight is not practical and doesn’t make sense. I mean, the calories you may burn from gym exercise may well be burned by just doing an errand on foot. Changing your lifestyle may let you lose weight. I had done it, from changing your food intake, hours of sleep and the amount of exercise.

Guest's picture

It is true that research indicates for weight loss, exercise without dietary change is not terribly effective. However, research from the National Weight Control Registry and other sources clearly indicates exercise is very important in weight maintenance after a loss (and one could infer, in avoiding weight gain in the first place.)

Jabulani Leffall's picture

Good idea, Good tip. My only tiff with this is that Wisebread Editors played me on this LOL:( A good cross reference to this post in the related links coulda been this:


You can't train out a bad diet true but let's be real, how effective and sustainable is your work out plan really gonna be when you have to sit in a car, go to the gym, get dressed, get undressed, get dressed again, go back out to the car, sit in traffic and go home and pay to do it. That seems counter intuitive unless you're an athlete, a gym rat you just like being in public places or being scene or you're there to pick people up.

I wake up, put on work out clothes, walk outside the door into the morning air and run three miles or more everyday and try to watch my diet. That's free, completely free. I do push and sit ups, that's free. Walking anywhere or creating scenarios to make yourself walk...Also free....Gym in your condo or apartment complex, nominally free in that you have no additional costs.

Guest's picture
common sense

possibly worst article i've ever read. exercise is, in complete fact and entirely, crucial to losing weight. the ONLY WAY to lose weight is to burn fewer calories than you consume. that is the only way that weight loss is possible no matter which way you slice it. science. fact.

Guest's picture

This article isn't recent...it's from August 2009. An article that is recent at Time magazine, however, is this one: "Exercise Can Counteract Obesity" (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2015190,00.html). You

The first article is about inadequate causal relationships (ie., you go to the gym but don't lose weight...that isn't because you're going to the gym, it's because you're still eating big macs). The second is about the science demonstrating yet another benefit of exercise.

Exercise is absolutely an important piece of staying healthy, and even losing weight. But it's only part of the big picture. You also need to eat well, get enough sleep, and all the other things.

Guest's picture

I agree that this article is rediculous. People may lose weight without excercising but they will not be healthy and the money the "save" will be spent on medical bills.

Guest's picture

Are you kidding me?!?! This article is rubbish! How about let's think of the potential money spent on Diabetic needles and insulin, cholesterol drugs, etc. The amount of time and effort spent on working out in a gym or at home and following your diet in a moderate way is way more cost effective! I am shocked that this article was ever written! Stepping on your toes, injury; this article actually being taken serious, deadly!

Guest's picture

Wow. For those who work out in an organized fashion, do you feel that the benefits exceed the costs?


Ditto to what Betty said. I don't like to be negative, but come on.

Guest's picture

I think the problem here is that the heading to the article is misleading. I think it would be better to say that if you think you can't lose weight without a gym membership that's a cop out, because there are other ways to exercise. Further, as other posters have noted, it is more about reducing calories. It takes a couple seconds to eat a doughnut and maybe an hour or more to burn those calories.

I am a member of a gym, and consider this to be a luxury. I do a weight-lifting class and find I am more likely to stick to the hour of class time, and work much harder, than if I was doing same stuff at home. When you are just getting started, it is important to get some good instruction about form, so that you don't hurt yourself. But after a few classes, additional instruction is only helpful for a motivator. I go because I enjoy my friends there. I would not say the gym is useless, but it is a luxury.

The Time article that Carrie linked to contains a quote from Eric Ravussin. He is one of foremost researchers in the country on the subject of weight loss. It happens I have read a few studies he did, and I found them mind-numbingly technical. He's done studies with people in sealed chambers, tracking their movements and breathing to better understand why metabolism differs in various people. He knows his stuff. When I first read the Time article a while back I remembered thinking that he was commenting more about human behavior as opposed to anything regarding the science of metabolism. I wondered if what he said was taken out of context, since his studies indicated even the small differences in the amount that people fidget (such as jiggle a foot) can partially account for the reason some people burn more calories than others. So I am sure he was not saying that activity didn't matter.

Instead he was commenting that exercising tends to increase your appetite. So if you are not aware, you might eat more after exercise. It is also true that after a work out people are more likely to laze about fairly inert. If you do some homework, you see that watching television burns barely more calories than sleeping. So you may actually burn more calories over the course of the day doing simple tasks around the home than going to the gym for an hour and then collapsing the rest of the day.

Another factor at play is that any stress will lower your serotonin level. Our bodies use carbs to make more. This is from research by an MIT couple and pretty easy to find on the Internet, but also discussed in a good website called bodyblues. The body blues site, written by medical professionals, says that intense exercise stresses your body and so can lower serotonin. This site advocates moderate exercise instead. It follows then that if you stress your body, you may crave carbs. I don't think this carb/serotonin connection is as important for some people than others, as we all differ. Some people get a big endorphin rush after exercise, and I am pretty sure I don't. I do know I get grumpy and moody if I don't get enough carbs, so a low-carb diet would likely backfire for me. In other words, it can become very difficult to sustain the diet if the carb cravings are powerful enough. I can sustain a diet better if I start my day with a bowl of oatmeal... but that's me.

With weight loss we all have to find our own truth. It varies from person to person because we are all different. Looking at is as straight math, it is still about calories in and calories out. But our brain chemistry and who we are psychologically factors in to which weight-loss method we are better able to sustain. It's figuring the right balance between eating and exercising that is best for you.

Guest's picture

The world is flat! The world is flat! People do not want to hear that exercise doesn't equal weight loss, and they will get angry if you tell them. I exercise because it helps with my mood and keeping my heart healthy. I eat right so I can fit into my jeans.

Guest's picture

Well I do not think they are taking into account fat percentage and muscle mass, yes those woman might have not lost all that much weight overall but they probably lost a lot of fat and replaced some of it with muscle which is denser and weighs more per volume. So this whole article is based on a bad assumption.

Guest's picture

I don't use a gym. Reasons include cost in money and travel time so I agree with those points.

However, gyms provide specific equipment & people that can match a person's needs for a price much lower than buying that equipment. Machines restrict the range of motion and that can be great for working injured body parts. Special equipment (sleds, lots of 100lb plates, fat grip bars etc.) is available for those who are serious about building muscle or otherwise improving their physical state. Spotters can be found to help prevent injuries from lifting too much weight etc. Trainers (good ones) can be used to perfect form, prevent injury, etc. For some they can provide needed motivation to exercise.

Gyms are just a tool. They vary in quality and costs. If you need them to accomplish a specific goal and you know what that goal is (like lifting 2x your bodyweight), they can be great--if you don't have a home gym nor want to shell out the cash. If you 'buy' one just because you are supposed to, then you are being silly with your money. Just as if you bought a brand new car because you are supposed to, instead of matching transport to your own specific needs.

If you just need to lose 5 lbs, then cut your intake of food by a few hundred cal's a day and add 10 minutes of cardio to your normal exercise session.

Guest's picture

Your post is technically correct regarding weight loss and exercise. The issue is you neglect to consider the factors of body composition (is the weight you retain less fatty and more muscular) and fitness.

Fitness |= Lower weight.

There are a great number of studies that show it is more healthy to be cardio-vascularly fit and technically 'overweight' than to be thin or normal weight and sedentary. This is because being fat is typically associated with being sedentary, but being sedentary is the real issue. Your father's mail-carrying colleagues were probably at lower risk of heart attack than the post master who sat in the P.O. all day (all other factors being equal, of course).

Guest's picture

It depends entirely on the gym. My family is going to be joining the Y because - along with being a member at five different gyms for one price - we are provided child care. As our boy grows up we get discounts on the youth programs that aren't entirely free, and there are work out areas that will be designed for both of us to participate in.

Not to mention the access to the pool, indoor track and basketball/volleyball courts, as well as the access to adult classes that include anything from cooking to working out to music, as well as discounts at camps.

If all you want to do is pay money for a weight room and some exercise machines, I agree its not worth the money. You can work out at home for free, of course, and get the same beneficial workout through calisthenics and online videos. But you can't substitute the supportive community you find at some gyms, which often include free trainers and dieticians to help facilitate weight loss.

This article really reads like a person who has never belonged to a gym or never taken the time to take advantage of all the services such an establishment offers.

Guest's picture

Carrie - I have to agree with a lot of this. I spent the first 5 months of this year working out an hour a day, 3-4-5 times a week and lost maybe a pound. I started using the LoseIt! app on my iphone in June and have lost 13 pounds in 3 months. I still exercise 1-2 times a week but the key for me is that I can see exactly how many calories I have consumed in a day or week. It's simple. No gimmicks. No restrictions. Just an honest accounting of calories.

Guest's picture

This article is absolutely ridiculous. Is this really what people tell themselves to get out of exercise? Of course people that work out won't lose as much weight. The reason is because they put on (or don't lose) MUSCLE. You can lose 5 lbs of fat and gain 5 lbs of muscle and still drop down a size or two. Muscle is much more dense than fat so it weighs more. If your goal is to look better, then weight training is essential. The problem with the Time article is that it implied that the main goal is simply a lower number on the scale when nearly everyone's real goal is to look better and be healthier.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Thanks for all the comments, especially to those few of you who actually read my whole post before responding.
I don't blame people for responding to this information with shock and even anger; the Time magazine article contains from surprising information to those of us who have always accepted that strenuous workouts have tons of health benefits including being the best way to lose weight.

It reminds me of when I first read "The Case Against Breastfeeding" in the Atlantic. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/04/the-case-against-bre...) At first I was shocked and angry. After the emotion wore off, I realized that although I still felt comfortable with my personal choices, the author was right that the benefits of breastfeeding had been oversold and the hype goes far beyond the breastfeedings research-proven benefits.

The same goes for working out. No one's saying it might not have some benefits, but the benefits are not nearly what it has been given credit for.

I urge those who have not read the Time article -- most people who commented, judging from the confused nature of most of the comments here -- to read it carefully. The biggest point I got from it was not that it's healthy to be sedentary, but that we can glean most of the benefits attributed to working out simply by moving around. It's not necessarily about finding a way to work out cheaply at home; it's about doing physical activity that makes sense for your life and that you enjoy.

To those who downplayed the importance of losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight vs. overall fitness, overweight is the main health problem in the United States today. Experts quoted in the article specifically address diabetes -- working out has not shown to prevent it. Maintaining a healthy weight has.

If someone is overweight, it seems that encouraging them to focus on "overall fitness" and cardiovascular fitness as a first priority would be dangerous and outmoded. People who are facing very real health risks due to overweight need the straight facts about what will help them lose it.

Guest's picture

This is akin to saying, "If you want to become financially independent and retire early, then attempting to double your income is a waste of time and effort. Research shows that when people get a raise they simply increase their spending along with it."

Well, OK, but that's fairly misleading. If you had the discipline to avoid lifestyle inflation then doubling your income would sure help toward achieving financial independence.

Exercise works the same way. By itself exercise has some benefits, but the benefits may not be immediately apparent (probably just better mobility and health as you age). Combined with the discipline to count calories and eat a balanced diet, exercise will make you to look and perform better than you ever imagined. Just dieting might keep your from being obese, but it will not make you look like the models or athletes on magazine covers. However, eating AND exercising like a professional athlete or model (i.e. doing more than just walking around) WILL have a seriously dramatic effect. Even if looking like a magazine cover is not your goal, this is still the fastest route to simply being "not fat."

That said, I agree that you don't need to shell out for a gym membership to do this. Most gyms are overpriced and don't really offer much value. You could do better by just running around a high school track and finding a place to do things like pull-ups and dips. When you can run a 6-minute mile and do 20 pull-ups you'll look better than 99% of Americans, no gym membership required.

Guest's picture

Wow, this post (and this reply) is one of the most simplistic and uninformed posts I've seen on this website. It's a good example of how Wise Bread posters often seem to think that their "saving money" mantra justifies their uninformed opinions abut other topics (e.g. exercise, travel, art). Please don't ignore the negative comments--there's a reason they outnumber and are more articulate than the positive ones.

Guest's picture

Being healthy physically is often likened to being healthy financially, and I think the analogy holds here as well. Dieting is like paying off your debt and exercising is like saving. Yes, if you're drowning in debt (or are obese) then that is your primary (though not singular) concern. You need to loose the weight and drop the debt. But you will never be financially healthy if you don't eventually learn to save.

In the beginning, you may focus solely on paying off high interest debt, but as you work your way down to your student loans and second mortgage, you generally start to save money alongside your debt repayment. This is partially because it is as much a habit as anything and the sooner you can form that habit the better. The same is true for your physical health. Diet is always very important, but you will never be healthy if you don't get out and move. It doesn't have to be a gym, obviously, but parking far away and taking the stairs isn't going to cut it either.

Someone above said that this article was sophist, and I have to agree. No one is telling overweight people "You should exercise and then eat whatever you want." The advice is proper diet and exercise for good health. This study shows that if you exercise and then eat more you won't lose weight. Duh. Did anyone really need a study to know that? Exercise AND watch your diet. Its not glamorous or contrarian, but it is healthy, safe, and effective.

(And as far as injuries go, exercise increases bone strength which decreases risk of injury later in life, especially for women. That section was especially specious.)

Guest's picture

I realize you're trying to spread information about health and frugality here, but telling people that the gym is "a waste of time, money and resources" is a little irresponsible and over-simplified. All you're trying to say is that exercise is over-rated, and diet is more important... I think.

There are other benefits to exercise on top of physical health. Increased self esteem, socializing, inner peace/reflection, etc.

And there are plenty of inexpensive options: running, home workouts/aerobics, jump rope, chin-up bar, bicycling, basketball, soccer, yoga, used weight sets, etc.

I think that investing in your health and well-being is just that; a good investment. It can be cheap, and is by no means a waste of time or money.

Good for you for at least sparking up this conversation.

Guest's picture

I remember reading the Time article and thinking that it missed some major benefits of exercising. This guy from msn actually looked at the researched used in the Time article.

Guest's picture

While workout out is about much more than weight loss -- aerobic and resistance training is good for the heart, bones, muscles, joints, etc. -- your points are spot on. I too often wondered about overweight athletes. Surely even baseball players were getting more exercise and burning more calories than the average guy. So how come we have fat pitchers and designated hitters? The first time I ever saw a clubhouse spread (ridiculous amounts of food), I realized calories consumed might be overtaking calories expended.

Great blog. Lots of great ideas here.

Guest's picture

I have to totally disagree with this article. I'm a big proponent of exercise and the numerous health benefits it has to offer - including weight loss. From personal experience, every time I start working out again after being in a rut I notice definite improvements in my weight, muscle tone, energy level, and mental attitude.

The trick is to not look at exercise as simply a means to lose weight, but as a means to boost your physical and mental health. Exercise makes me feel better physically, and can also be a great way to bring me into the present and lower my anxiety. If you only equate exercise with weight management and not with physical and mental wellbeing, you're missing a big part of the picture. And I don't think you can put a price on wellbeing.

Guest's picture

In life there are lies, d*nm lies, and Statistics.

The quoted study is a good example of this statement.

Guest's picture

No physical changes will happen even with intense working out -unless the diet is revolutionized. This means - no fatty foods- no cooking with oil- no fried stuff. It also means turning to powerful classic foods like rice, oatmeal, tofu, egg whites, wheat bread. Staying away from chips. Knowing the basics of counting your daily calories in terms of Proteins, fats, carbs. Not eating much salt.

Guest's picture

Did they mention that working out will add muscle (weight) as you are losing weight (fat). You may weigh the same, but you will look/feel a hell of alot better!

Guest's picture

Still, you forget (?) that muscle weighs more than fat. In our lab what we have seen is that women exercising changed their body composition more than they changed their weight when allowed to continue the same diet
ie less%fat and more %muscle in the same volume = more weight for the same body 'size'.
That is why you may not believe a woman who clearly is a size 10 when she tells you she weighs the same with another of the same height who is a size 14 and vice versa.
Moreover, having muscle not only requires energy to maintain (food) but is also revs up metabolism, especially resting metabolism (which is practically 'slow' fat burning). Thus a resting person with a high % of muscle 'burns' more calories than a resting person (of same height and size) whose body has a smaller muscle mass %.
Last but not least, because BMI has created many 'misconceptions', it's better to be a muscled and exercise trained 'overweight' person than a 'thin' looking (but really fat in terms of % body composition) sedentary person. The latter has double the risk for cardiometabolic syndrome than the former (see many studies from Steven Blair's lab). Thus any time or money 'saved' by not exercising will be paid to doctors and treatments later in life.

Guest's picture

The conclusions this article seems to point to are ridiculous. Anyone who's trying to loose weight should know to count their calories. That means you count the ones going in and the ones going out...it gets amazingly more complex when you go into personal metabolism. All they've done is point out that anyone thinking that "just going to the gym" will result in weight loss is foolish. Umm..duh.

Additionally, the entire tone of the article tries to shift the blame away from the person putting too much food in their mouth onto the gym. How about we take some personal responsibility for our own choices, shall we?

Guest's picture
Dolu Delgado

The 10 dollars I pay for the gym is DEFINITELY worth it. While it looks like money is being WASTED or whatever it is, joining the gym or rec center DEFINITELY helps with gaining weight or being FAT and helps with longetivity...

Of course there are some gyms that charge arm and leg for membership BUT rec center charge 10 to 15 dollars or even have membership like 110 for the year. The earlier the society take charge of their health, the better it will be for everyone!

Guest's picture

People have the misconception that they want to lose weight. They don't. What they really want to do is lose FAT. Comparing (volume wise), the same amount of muscle is heavier than the same amount of fat. The group of fat people that were put on an exercise program most likely lost fat and increased muscle. Yes, they may weight about the same, but they lost fat while gaining muscle. This is a GOOD thing. And injuries? Really? You can get into an accident driving a car, but you don't stop driving do you? It's about proper form and knowing your limits.

Guest's picture
Blocky b

Haha great advice, :-/ agreed diet is the major factor in losing weight but the term "losing weight" is where many people are misled a 60kg women with 12% body fat or a 50kg women with 20% body fat, I know which one I prefer and which is in overall better condition, I see the point there making but the bigger picture is being missed in this article by a long shot..

Guest's picture
Van Colombo

Points to ponder, great article. I thought the same for many years, I'm 5'8 tall just 5kg over my required BMI. Never set foot in a Gym. From what i believe it's all about right food in right quantity. Simple as that. Bit of walk to and from office is all i got now.

Why do you have to burn any calories if you do not have anything in excess to burn?

I read most comments in this article but non of the comments which disagree the article has not mentioned that they are qualified to disagree. I would love to see a Dr perspective on this.

Going to to gym to get away from home, have some time for your own or to feel positive that your doing something good etc makes perfect sense. However doing it for sake of diet is absurd.


Guest's picture
Andrew Smith

Gyms are great if you are going to actually use them, if not get a set of cheap dumbells or a kettlebell and use free online videos to develop a routine that suites you. This article is about as much use as gym equipment sitting in the shed collecting cobwebs.

Guest's picture

No one disputes that exercise - weight, cardio etc. is good for you, but if you're on a budget, it's defintely worth asking yourself whether it's strictly necessary to go to the gym or not. The hidden costs really add up - travelling time, fuel, getting changed, chatting time, purchasing drinks and snacks, stopping off at the shop afterwards, little indulgences to reward yourself etc.

Guest's picture

I agree with this post Americans are so brainwashed now about gyms since we are a population that is mostly overweight, the alternative to make money in this marketing world is to sell the idea to lose weight. Like you said- it is understandable for people to go when they are training for an event or to lift weights but running outside is much better for the body than running on a treadmill. If anyone has comcast there are many different workouts you can utilize on there. I've been to several gyms in the past and found it a waste of time money and energy!

Guest's picture

why don't you start lifting weights(and challenging yourself aka not using 2 lb dumbbells). The extra calories that will be consumed will be also used to build muscle to you end up eating more (which is great and delicious) and you end up with a better body shape. Too bad women think they will get muscular huge and manly.... this does not occur. Not enough testosterone in women for it too occur. It is hard enough to get big as a man.