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What’s the Single Best Exercise?

April 29, 2011 • Other • Larry Benz

Dear New York Times Magazine:

I am a huge fan of your magazine.  In fact, reading it is part of my Sunday ritual.  I was particularly excited a few weeks ago about your Health and Wellness 2011 edition.   I immediately went to Gretchen Reynolds’ short  article entitled:  What’s the Single Best Exercise? After reading it, I have a much better answer than the multinational experts you asked, including the MD, PhD dude.

A great point was made …ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is the best and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies…  This reminded me that if you asked a bunch of morbidly obese folks what’s their favorite snack, you would also likely get “wildly divergent replies” as well.    I thought about implementing the experts advice in one of our physical therapy clinics the next day.   Wonder if 68 year old Granny would have obliged the kinesiology experts advice to do the “old fashioned burpee“? I don’t think the problem would be her lack of “enjoying it” or “sticking to it for long” and I would highly doubt that it would do the reported job of building muscles or endurance.  I wonder how high she would have been able to “leap” after she was instructed to  “pull your feet back in” after she dropped to the ground and got her “feet out behind”.

It was impressive that you cited the meta-analysis of walking briskly for 30 minutes’ impact in decreasing premature death by 20%.  Unfortunately, sedentary people don’t read many meta-analyses.  In fact, without clear examination and appropriate heart monitoring the advise for an initial “brisk walk” might just get these folks the statistic that you don’t want.

I am also confident that Dr. Phillips, the professor of kineseology at McMaster, is a hoot at parties where he tells folks to do “the squat” because of its simplicity.  Gibala’s high-intensity interval training (H.I.T.) suggestion, particularly the sound adage that to be “effective H.I.T. must hurt” affirms my confidence in a  long, steady pipleline of  future patients in an orthopedic physical therapy clinic.  It is apparent that a lot of folks doing Insanity, plyometrics, and the newly revolutionized Jazzercise appear to be followers of those experts.

The real answer is of course no answer or the proverbial “it depends”.   The best answer to what is the single best exercise question would be for the patient to access their personal physical therapist who can examine and provide a customized exercise prescription including appropriate monitoring, goals, and instruction in technique.

But, that would have been too short of an article.

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Any other answers to “What’s the Single Best Exercise?”

Larry Benz

Dr. Larry Benz, DPT, OCS, MBA, MAPP, is the President/CEO of Confluent Health. He is nationally recognized for his expertise in private practice physical therapy and occupational medicine. Dr. Benz’s current areas of interest include conducting research and integrating empathy, compassion, and positive psychology interventions within physical therapy. He released a book on September 15,...

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