A 57-year-old Wichita man lost 223 pounds in a year and, to maintain his loss, spends 1.5 hours at the gym in the morning and adds another walk at lunch. According to the USA Today story, he eats 1800 calories “or more” a day. He is 5-foot 8 and-inches and now weighs 170 pounds.

This story was meant to be inspiration, as part of USA Today’s Annual Weight-Loss Challenge.

I think it backfires.

I mean 1.5 hours a day at the gym? Who does that? Who CAN do that? He apparently is a mortgage banker with his own business, so he has latitude in his schedule. But so do I and I cannot imagine spending that amount of time a day at the gym.

Messages like this, which are supposed to inspire, just make readers sigh and say, “I can’t do that, so why even try?”

I suspect the writer got caught up in some Rah Rah Journalism and didn’t think through the fact that using somebody whose exercise is, frankly, a little excessive, sends the wrong message. What’s more, I would challenge this impressive man—I mean, losing 223 pounds in a year is remarkable no matter how you cut it—whether he really does spend 1.5 every day actually exercising at the gym. I suspect he does not, and that his real pattern might be more like 3-4 days for an hour a so. This is still a serious commitment, but a little more accessible for the average person.

No doubt he needed that level of exercise and low calorie counts to lose the weight to begin with, but not to maintain it.

At 5-foot-8, he could consume 2000 calories a day and still maintain his weight, with moderate exercise, according to Web MD’s online fitness planner. Moderate exercise is 30 minutes a day walking at 3 miles an hour.

I don’t want to discourage anybody who has the time, energy, and commitment to handle this level of exercise. I do want to make the point that you don’t need to do so much to actually make a difference.

You do need some activity, as studies regularly show that physical activity can be a cancer-fighter.

Twenty minutes a day will help a great deal. The more the better. And once you start, you might keep going and increase your level to an hour or more. But research shows that people get discouraged easily when they set their sights too high. Be honest with what you can do, and do at least something. One step at a time.

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