No Quick Fixes for 'Ab' Flab
Check Out Fitness Ads
The exercise-and-eat-right formula may sound simple, but
"the vast majority of Americans have a hard time sticking with that
regimen," says Nieman.
Two years ago, Nieman helped ACE examine another get-fit-quick
claim, this time promoted by the manufacturers of Time Works, a combination
step climber and upper body-twisting machine. According to the ads, Time Works
gave users "full-body fitness in just four minutes a day." The ads went
on to say the machine combined an aerobic workout with strength and flexibility
After testing 28 moderately active college students who used
the machine for four minutes, Nieman found that the study participants burned
only eight calories per minute, and their metabolisms returned to normal within
15 minutes after stopping the exercise. "It was roughly like half an
apple's worth of energy," says Nieman, whose study was published in the
March/April 1997 issue of FitnessMatters.
Manufacturers of yet another device, the electrical muscle
stimulator (EMS), say it can take the place of "normal exercise" by
stimulating muscle contractions using electronic
impulses administered through wires and electrode pads. The ads appeal to those
who want the benefits of exercising while "resting, reading, net surfing,
or watching TV." Spend 45 minutes attached to these stimulators, one
Canadian manufacturer says, and you've done the equivalent of 880 sit-ups.
EMS devices have been used successfully in physical
rehabilitation settings to reduce muscle atrophy in bed-ridden patients, but no
studies thus far have shown that EMS can help people lose weight or reduce body
"They are catering to this get-fit-quick mentality,"
says John Porcari, PhD, a professor of exercise and sports science at the
University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Porcari conducted a study of the devices
for ACE, published in the May/June 2000 issue of Fitness Matters. He
found no significant differences in weight, body-fat percentage, strength, or
overall appearance between study participants who received EMS treatments for
eight weeks and a control group that was hooked up to machines modified to
deliver no electrical current.
That's not to say home exercise equipment cannot play a
valuable role in a well-rounded fitness program -- so long as
users are realistic about what they can achieve. Connie Leibowitz, a
51-year-old mother and artist in Wilmette, Illinois, is a believer in home
fitness devices. Some of the equipment that has graced her home includes a
treadmill, stationary bike, stair climber, Pilates Performer, and a Torso
Track. Two months ago, she "ran to the phone" to order the Ultra Track
after she saw an ad on TV.