Study: If You’re Not Seeing Results From Exercise, You Probably Just Need to Try Harder

Here’s the thing about exercise guidelines: they’re too meek.

Sure, 150 minutes a week might be satisfactory in combating things like premature death caused by a medley of health risks, but that sure as hell won’t get you the body you’re looking for.

The problem is, too many people think 20 minutes on an elliptical three times a week starting March is going to turn them into Angelina Jolie by beach season. Unless you’re a super specimen, that is highly unlikely – and it’s probably causing you a great deal of unnecessary frustration.

This phenomenon is explored in a 2012 documentary called ‘The Truth About Exercise’ by BBC journalist Dr. Michael Mosley, who labels those who work out and don’t see any results as “non-responders.” They’re essentially the type of people who say, “I just don’t have the body type.” Now, it’s completely reasonable and accurate to recognize that people’s bodies react differently to exercise and a once-size-fits-all approach to fitness isn’t optimal (this is the focus of Dr. Mosley’s film), but a new study suggests non-responders simply aren’t pushing themselves hard enough either.

This finding was put into practice by Dr. Robert Ross and his colleagues from the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University, who compared the results of three different 24-week exercise programs on 121 sedentary, obese adults – “low-amount, low-intensity,” “high-amount, low-intensity,” and “high-amount, high-intensity.”

The number of non-responders in all three groups declined as the study progressed over the first four weeks. After just eight weeks, however, the low-amount, low-intensity group saw their results plateau. More than a third failed to progress at all after the 24-week duration. The high-amount, low-intensity participants, meanwhile, saw an 18 per cent non-responder rate.

And then the result health guidelines undermine and we all pretty much know but forget three weeks after signing up for the gym: the high-intensity group featured zero non-responders by the end of 24 weeks.

“It’s just not enough to move the needle on a number of people,” Ross says. “I mean, [a non-response rate of] 30 per cent is not a trivial number.”

There are certainly a few flaws in the experiment (highlighted here), but the key takeaway seems to be that physical results are as much dependent on mental will as physical ability. The biggest improvements may in fact be invisible, so let’s chalk these findings up to vanity’s sake.

And hey, why not have top health and a fit bod to match?