We are living in the era of evidenced based fitness, and evidenced based medicine…you could even say it’s an era of evidenced based health advice. So what does this really mean?
Health care practitioners use a combination of the best evidence that science has produced so far combined with their clinical experience and expertise to provide you with their best estimation and advice for your health and well being concerns.
We can’t predict the result of your actions with 100% accuracy but rather we can only give you a probability of what is ‘likely’ to happen to ‘most’ people who are similar to you. Your specific results may vary from this average, and this is where the personal aspect of health and fitness comes into play.
With most human physiological systems we can easily put everyone into predictable categories and pools based on age, height, gender, exercise experience, geographic location, socioeconomic status etc. With an understanding of these variables and a brief medical history it’s not hard for a trained health professional to make some general assumptions and recommendations about your best course of action if you want to ‘get in shape’ and improve your ‘health’.
After that it’s up to you to follow through on these recommendations and see how they worked. Even if these recommendations have been studied and shown to have a ‘average’ effect of 10lbs of weight loss over 10 weeks and a lowering of blood pressure and an increase in muscle mass and strength we can never know for sure how it will affect you specifically.
Enter the Snowflake Paradox
During any weight loss study, or muscle building study or any research in any health related field the results are usually presented as an average. You will hear claims like “subjects lost an average of 15lbs in 4 months”…or “subjects gained an average of 5lbs of lean mass in 12 weeks”…or “on average cholesterol lowering medication will cause a 10-15% reduction in circulating cholesterol after 3 months” etc.
The key word to notice is AVERAGE. Data collected from a group of people will be presented as an average, but this doesn’t mean that even one single person actually had that exact result. There will be outliers on both the high end and the low end.
If a weight loss study showed an average of 15lbs weight loss in 4 months, there could easily be some people who only lost 2lbs and others who lost 25lbs. And here is the Paradox of wanting to be the snowflake…anyone with a significant amount of weight to lose will want to be the outlier or ‘snowflake’ who displays atypical results that benefit them…in other words, you will only want to be the snowflake if it means you get to lose 25lbs and not the poor sucker who only lost 2lbs in this study.
The kick in the butt is that you don’t get to choose which snowflake you are. Your genetic predisposition and a myriad of other and likely unknown factors will determine if you are average, or above average or below average. The only way for you to know where you will be is to go through the program and find out for yourself.
In today’s podcast, I talk to Bryan Chung about evidenced based medicine and fitness and how to understand what fitness claims really mean.
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