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Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Exercise Hardcover – May 1, 2003

2.9 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Everyone knows that exercise is a good thing. But when New York Times science reporter Kolata (Flu) set out to investigate the claims of various fitness regimens, she found that "the tiny pearls of good science are buried in mountains of junk." Much of the accepted wisdom about exercise, it turns out, is false-from the belief that endorphins cause an exertion-induced euphoria to the notion that all individuals, with sufficient effort, can become fit. An avid devotee of "spinning," a type of stationary biking that mimics actual road conditions, Kolata brings both personal enthusiasm and journalistic skepticism to her subject. She traces the history of the fitness movement from the ancient Greeks through the 18th and early 19th centuries, when feats of strength and endurance became a popular means of entertainment. By the 20th century, increasingly sedentary living prompted a new interest in fitness: the jogging fad emerged in the 1970s, followed by aerobics, weight lifting and other activities. Kolata looks at hard data about exercise, but also interviews enthusiasts and promoters, whose devotion to their regimens sometimes transcends the available facts. People exercise for different reasons, Kolata finds. For improving overall health, moderate exercise appears to be sufficient. To improve physical appearance, intense effort is required. To reach a sense of exhilaration and strength, however, one must actually love physical exertion for its own sake. The "truth" about exercise, Kolata concludes, may lie in the view of psychopharmacologist Richard Friedman, who suggests that "exercise is more often a marker of health than its cause." Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Ever since baby boomers discovered they might not live forever, health and fitness, as well as looking young and svelte, have been major national fads. Whether one wants to develop six-pack abs or simply climb a flight of stairs without wheezing, sorting through the shams and quackery of exercise claims can be a full-time job. Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times and something of an exercise authority by avocation, takes on that task with the fervor of a marathoner. She deconstructs many assertions and myths, and much of the hyperbole of exercise enthusiasts trying to make fortunes off of an unsuspecting public. She reveals the truths behind several so-called scientific studies and asks why certain people will never exercise while some will never stop. Eighty-six-year-old exercise icon Jack LaLanne admits to vanity, but most exercisers like the feeling of control exercise affords. Having researched her sources and done her homework, Kolata also comes up with seemingly sound advice about exercise, weight lifting, personal trainers, machines, pills, and potions. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374204772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374204778
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,904,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Carlston on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a primary care physician and member of the American College of Sports Medicine I am pleased to see critical examinations of exercise science aimed at the lay audience. However, Ms Kolata's book tends to create new mythologies as much or more than it elucidates.
I spend 1-3 hours daily reading peer-reviewed medical journals, many of which are sports medicine research journals. While to Ms. Kolata's credit she exposes some areas of everybody-knows-it-but-it-just-ain't-so, in many other areas (positive effects of greater exercise intensity and duration, utility of and scientific basis for heart rate traiing, fluids and performance, etc ....) she misses the mark.
Even nutrition experts seem to view exercise as more important the she does. Last weekend I attended a medical conference on nutrition with several of the most highly regarded academic experts in nutrition reasearch. Each of them echoed the crucial importance of exercise and emphasized how much better it is to be fat and exercise rather than thin and sedentary.
The historical information about exercise proponents is fun and interesting. Unfortunately Americans are getting fatter and completely sedentary in epidemic numbers. I fear this book will serve primarily as another excuse for couch potatoes eager to ignore the scientific reality of the profound benefits of regular vigorous exercise.
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Format: Hardcover
By Bill Marsano. This book. like an exercise session, has a hopeful start, a bang-up finish and plenty of tedium in-between. And there are two things you should know right away: 1., it's not going to give you a fitness program and 2, the only person searching fvcor fitness here is the authors. It's about the myths, misconception of business of the fitness field.
A science writer for The New York Times, she starts well by demonstrating her journalistic response to Heart Waves, a new fitness program pitched by a puiblicist. It's a proprietary regimen--a product. You have to pay to participate at specific places. Suspicious--these things come along about as often as diet plans--Kolata investigates.
And what she finds is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about heart waves and natural rhythms that is designed to fleece the public. The program's creator has had his medical license lifted in New York and New Jersey; he is married to the CEO of the for-profit organization that is the program's biggest promotor; and the study proclaiming amazing results is pronounced poppycock by professional statisticians.
She ends well, too, closing with interesting and occasionally (wryly) amusing details about the history of weight-lifting and body-building (and their great rivalry); food supplements (generally useless; unaccountably, she's not up to date on ephedra, recently implicated in some deaths), and the business aspect of fitness. For example, she sees her daughter become a certified personal trainer, in less than two weeks, simply by buying an American Council on Exercise home-study guide (based on a book only 160 pages long!) and passing a multiple-choice test (price: $200)--without ever having trained anyone in her life. Want to become a Spinning instructor?
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By A Customer on May 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book hoping for a well-researched look at fitness,maybe putting ideas we have today about excercise into a kind of historical context. Instead, I got a superficial look at the history of body building and waaaay too much information on the author's personal fitness routine especially in regards to spinning. This book was a waste of time.
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Format: Hardcover
Gina Kolata's considerable talents as a researcher/reporter are wasted on this self-indulgent hodgepodge. For starters, she can't seem to decide what sort of book she's writing: an expose of fitness foibles and frauds? one woman's quest for exercise-induced nirvana? a history of weightlifting (the photos focus exclusively on bodybuilding)? a comparison of different approaches to fitness?
There are a few fascinating snippets in this book (though how many times do we need to hear that Lance Armstrong wears a heart monitor?) but the reader must plow through pages of tedious detail to find them. The climactic "Mount Everest" climb is anything but exciting, and Kolata's passion for spinning does not translate into captivating prose.
Approximately 2/3 of my way through the book, I found a sentence that seemingly encapsulated Kolata's motivation for choosing her topic. "Bill [her husband] informs me that whether I know it or not, I can seem crazy, like someone who needs a drug fix, when I get around my favorite exercise equipment." By the time I skipped and hopped my way to the last page, my sense was that Kolata was trying to validate her own obsession with spinning with this book and to convince herself that it's perfectly fine to be addicted to this form of exercise.
She did not convince me.
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By A Customer on May 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you really want the "truth about exercise and health", just read the Epilogue. The rest of the book is filled with far too much detail about the history of the fitness movement and business, including the author's own experiences. In fact, one comes away with the conclusion that this woman is somewhat obsessed with exercise. What reader can relate to a person who admits that she belongs to three different gyms, two in New York and one in New Jersey? In a word, the book was boring. I only continued reading it because I kept thinking it was going to get better in terms of answering the big question, i.e., "what is the truth about exercise and health?" Little did I know that I only needed to read the last chapter to find out.
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