By Lisa Ziegel:
You’ve seen them on TV, those infomercials on late at night touting the one thing you need to help you get into the shape of your life. Or maybe on QVC, or on YouTube. In any case, ever since structured exercise has been popular, gadgets have come and gone, and the ones that work are naturally still around.
If there were a museum for useless gadgets, it could be filled with things that were produced, hawked, bought, used maybe once and then promptly stashed in a closet or a garage. These are items like weights that shake, or devices that target a single body part, such as the thighs, along with countless tools to whittle the waist and firm the abdominals. Perhaps it’s not the products so much as the claims the manufacturers make about what they can do that fitness professionals have a problem with, because anything (just about) that gets a person to be active can’t be all bad. The inaccuracies promoted as truths contained in most of these ads should be but are not always regulated so the buyer really needs to beware.
Below are common elements found in misleading advertisements and how to conduct your own reality check before spending your money:
A. The advertised product will enable the user to lose weight and body fat in a very short time, or that duration of time needed to use it is very short (i.e., makers of the weights that shake promote a six-minute exercise regimen to achieve claimed results).
Reality check: According to a variety of reputable sources (The American College of Sports Medicine, Centers for Disease Control, etc.), losing weight and body fat requires a concerted effort. Long-term, healthy results are gained from following a consistent cardiovascular exercise program (150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity for basic-level fitness). Participants are encouraged to use a variety of modes of activity to get the best results (i.e. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) as well as a resistance-training program involving major muscle groups performed at least two times per week. Weight loss occurs when energy output is greater than energy input (food intake). It takes about 3,500 calories for one pound body mass to change. Most exercise expends very little in one session. Furthermore, when muscle mass is gained, metabolism and calorie-burning may increase. Gaining muscle mass depends on the stress placed on the skeletal muscles, but this effect is limited if the resistance is not challenging enough or progressive. So it usually takes more time and a bit more effort than these products would have you believe or then they can provide. Let’s not forget that healthful eating habits and appropriate calorie intake is important too!
B. The product will enable the user to spot reduce in a specific area of the body.
Reality check: Spot-reducing exercises are still not recognized as being effective to reduce fat in a specific area of the body. Muscle toning may occur, but if an individual still carries a certain amount of body fat overall, concentrating on exercising one body part will probably not help reduce this. In fact, overuse of one muscle group can be detrimental to other muscle groups and result in imbalances that can lead to injury. For example, exercising the inner thighs can create a predominance of strength in these muscles to the detriment of opposing muscle groups (such as the gluteus maximus or the outer hip muscles).
C. The product is endorsed by a celebrity who “uses” the product.
Reality Check: Celebrities are very careful about their appearance and usually employ a host of professionals to maintain their images. Maybe they do use the product they are promoting, but chances are they also have dietitians, personal trainers, stylists and make-up artists on hand to complete the look. Plus they are being paid to appear in these ads.
D. The product is endorsed by experts or doctors or results are “clinically proven.”
Reality check: Questions one might ask: Are these credible experts? And what is their field of expertise? You would want someone in the field of health and fitness to express their opinion about a fitness product, not a psychologist or someone in an unrelated profession. What type of doctors are giving their endorsement? Medical doctors or a Ph.D in physics? (and hopefully not a “TV” doctor!) And about clinical research, where are the studies available for the public to review? Were the studies well-designed clinical trials? Who sponsored the trial? In other words, did someone have a vested interest in the outcome? How large of a population was studied? Results gathered from a small group of subjects may not be applicable to the general public. Are there any confounding factors that could be responsible for the results besides the product that was reviewed? Any reliable, reputable research study should be peer reviewed and if one does not want to read the entire research paper (which can be long and difficult for the layperson to understand, and are often only available for a fee), usually conclusions or “abstracts” are readily available to anyone.
There are a lot of great products out there to assist you in your pursuit of health and fitness. The proven ones have been around for a long time, like stability balls, resistance bands, kettlebells, and more. Used properly and in conjunction with healthy eating, you will see results over time. In general, if someone is trying to sell something that gives you fast results with very little effort and no proof to back their claims, sadly, it is probably not true. Save your time and money for what really works – follow the guidelines mentioned above and enjoy a healthier life with long-term benefits!