Why Working Out is Like Taking Birth Control Pills

birth control pills

Dr. Joseph Mercola, a well-known health advocate, has an interesting take on exercise.

He believes that it should be prescribed, like any other medication, in daily doses.

“The simple act of writing out a prescription for exercise is an excellent approach to being proactive in regard to your health. It’s also far more logical, inexpensive and actually radically reduces your risk of most every chronic disease known to man. A daily exercise routine is one of the main factors in achieving optimal wellness.”

Now, I don’t always agree with Dr. Mercola, and in this case I do agree about the idea of thinking about a “dose” of exercise. I like the idea of thinking about it scientifically, and in terms of what is optimal. In fact, this is very important.

What’s Wong With This…

I strongly disagree with the idea that the optimal dose is daily.. .I disagree with the *daily* dose because of evidence that suggests that the greatest benefits come from higher intensity exercise that should be done no more than once or twice per week.

For an engaging presentation of this evidence, I refer you to Dr. Doug McGuff’s book Body by Science. He even explicitly outlines the optimal dose and frequency of exercise, and devotes a whole chapter of the book to explaining what a “dose” of exercise is.

But Dr. Mercola is right that we should think of exercise as needing a prescription. We should take it that seriously.

Now, most people have trouble being consistent at anything that is not every single day.

This is one reason why people who exercise every day often can have better results than people who don’t…because the people who don’t lose their consistency, or maybe stop altogether.

So, even if once a week would get more results than once a day, once a day still gets more results than never, or once every 3 weeks.

The “Birth Control Pill Solution”

Now, the pharmaceutical industry has found a way to solve this sort of problem with birth control pills:

If you’re familiar with birth control pills, then you probably know that these pills are to be taken every day, but because it’s actually necessary to have days where the pills are not taken, some of the pills in a monthly packet are placebos.

Well, if we extended this to exercise, in each week of doses, we’d need 6 placebo doses (during which your body was meant to recover from the one really good workout) and 1 real dose of exercise.

This would be consistent with what the evidence I’ve seen suggests is the optimal dosage of exercise, and it is exactly what I follow, personally.

How To Make it Work for Your Exercise Routine

Now, exercise isn’t quite a simple as taking a pill (don’t we all wish!), so you can’t simply get a bunch of placebo pills and mix them in a stack of “exercise pills.”

That might be a start, but it would mean going to the gym and working out on the days when you hit an exercise pill, which is a very different behavior from taking a placebo pill.

One thing you could do is to set a time every day where you do some moderate physical activity (like walking) for 45 minutes, and on your “workout pill” day, use your 45 minutes to drive to the gym, do an optimal, intense workout for 15-20 minutes, and drive back home.

If you want to know why activities like walking aren’t exercise, I refer you to my past video blogs and newsletter, and also to Body by Science.

Or, you could simply benefit from understanding the *concept* of needing 6 placebo pills per week, without actually doing something those days. But you might schedule a firm appointment at the same time every week to do a super high-quality workout.

This last is what I do, personally (and as a personal trainer in Los Angeles).

Maybe thinking about it in this way will inspire you to come up with another good creative solution to getting in your consistent high-intensity workouts at weekly intervals. If you do, please post what you think of below.

And whatever you do, decide right now how you’re going to make sure that you do not miss your one day of intense exercise this week. The greatest journeys are all made one step at a time. Take a step forward this week, no matter what.


P.S. I haven’t addressed in this article what an optimal workout does consist of, so if you’re not clear on that, please check out my past writings and video blogs. The strategy I discuss here only applies to an optimal workout.

One Response to “Why Working Out is Like Taking Birth Control Pills”

  1. Tabitha

    On the days you are not doing the quality workout, other things could potentially be done in preperation such as..
    Day 1: G (Gym)
    Day 2: T (Tan…fake!)
    Day 3: L (Laundry)
    Day 4: Jacuzzi
    Day 5: Body Scrub/beauty treatments
    Day 6: Food plan
    Day 7: Grocery Shopping

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