After a recent discussion on a friend's Facebook page regarding a new research study, I thought it might be a good idea to share my thoughts on current research for the uninitiated as it relates to health, fitness, and training. The study that prompted the discussion was from researchers at Duke University who published in Journal of Applied Physiology, December 15, 2012. The general conclusion they reached was that aerobic activity is more effective for weight loss in obese individuals compared to weight training or aerobic activity and weight training combined. Having only read news articles and the study's abstract, I cannot comment on the quality of the research. However, I do have several questions that prevent me from giving the study much credence. My fear is that people will read or hear about this study from popular news outlets and take the conclusion as fact--that everyone who wants to lose weight should do only aerobic exercise; that aerobic activity is the magical solution to all weight loss. Instead of ranting about it with my friends and colleagues, I am choosing to educate people.
First, let me say that I believe research to be very important to justify what we do and learn ways to do it better--that is intentionally vague. However, many challenges exist regarding the usefulness of any individual study.
Any one study can have faults, thus it must be replicated to be sure that the results were accurate. Hopefully, subsequent studies can improve upon the original study as well.
The environment studied in research is not real life. To get any information at all from the study, you have to control the environment, limiting variables that can change. So, the results can be helpful, but are limited, certainly not definitive when considered alone.
Analysis of the same statistics can yield multiple results or conclusions. Also, in therapy, we frequently talk about clinical significance versus statistical significance. That is, while a research article concludes that a particular treatment does not work, we may see in the clinic with a particular patient that it does help.
Just because it is on the news, doesn't make it true. One study can be reported through multiple outlets, potentially leading people to believe that it must be true because they heard it or read it several times.
Here is my advice for reading and considering information in research studies or news articles. Keep in mind I am referring specifically to topics related to health, fitness, and training.
Consider the source of the information. Look at the credentials and experience of the person. Should they know about the topic? Are they trying to sell you something? Are they promising you anything?
Experiment. If you read something that you think may help you, a new product, a novel exercise. Try it. See if it helps. Maybe it will. Also, keep in mind that just because it works for Ryan Hall for example, does not mean it is appropriate for everyone.
Consult an expert. If you have questions, find someone to answer them for you. Get clarification.
Educate yourself. Look for supporting or contradictory evidence. Read, read, read. Knowledge is power. (Look here for some good resources.)
By the way, there is no magical remedy for obesity. Nor is there one perfect training program. There is not a simple answer. The real solution is a comprehensive, individualized program including good nutrition and physical activity leading to lifestyle change.
Side note: for a little motivation, read Brenda's story.