Is Excessive Moderation the Key to Fitness?

Get-Fit-Guy's guest, Tom Holland, embraces the philosophy of “excessive moderation.” Could it be the key to undoing the damage of our overly sedentary lifestyles?

Brock Armstrong
10-minute read
Episode #482
The Quick And Dirty
  • Don't place too much importance on "dedicated exercise time." Instead, focus on the other parts of the movement day. 
  • Breaking exercise time up into small chunks throughout the day is an effective way to get fit. 
  • It is possible to be fit and healthy without ever hitting the gym, but our lifestyles and jobs may not support that.
  • True sustained and long-term success comes from doing a little bit of everything frequently, or as Tom puts it "excessive moderation."

Part of my job as a fitness and movement writer and podcaster is to stay up-to-date with sports science and research. The other part of my job is to keep my finger on the pulse of what other people like me are writing, preaching, and teaching. Which is why I have a love-hate relationship with my job. I love the science but I often hate the way it gets presented, packaged, and sold to the public. 

So when I come across people who not only align with my philosophy but also really have the public’s best fitness interests in mind, I latch on to them. (Honestly, that is one of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to join the team here at Quick and Dirty Tips. I was a fan for many years before I became a team member.)

About my guest, Tom Holland

Tom Holland is one of those people who not only aligns with my many of my philosophies and ideals but also has a robust background and education that I can trust. 

Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN is an internationally recognized exercise physiologist and certified sports nutritionist with over three decades of experience in the industry. Tom works with individuals, companies, and organizations in need of targeted expertise in exercise science and sports nutrition as the CEO and founder of TeamHolland, LLC, a fitness consulting company. 

Tom is also the author of six books including Beat the Gym, Swim, Bike, Run – Eat and The Micro Workout Plan. He's a frequent fitness expert on TV including The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and QVC, and his fitness advice appears regularly in national newspapers and magazines. He also the hosts a new iHeartRadio podcast, Fitness Disrupted.

Every day, all day movement

Choosing a topic to chat with Tom about was tricky since our lives and expertise overlap in so many areas. But when I discovered Tom’s passion for what he refers to as “excessive moderation” (don’t worry he will explain that later), I just had to pick his brain about the importance of the movement we do outside of the gym and how we can get more of it and more out of it. 

This is a transcript of my conversation with Tom, but as always I encourage you to listen to the podcast audio so you don’t miss any of the nuance and fun. 

The first thing that I wanted to dive into here is explaining the difference between everyday movements and our dedicated exercise time. I mean, those are two very distinct ideas, but they both really play a big role in our overall fitness, wellness, and our health. 

Most of us know that we should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise done per day, but then what? What about the rest of the day? So, we need to keep moving then, too?

The difference between movement during the day and dedicated exercise, I would argue that we should really be flipping that. Sure, we want to get in those 30 minutes or 60 minutes, go to the gym or do it at home. But, historically speaking, people didn't go to the gym. So, we do that to counteract the negative effects of the society we live in now, which is sitting for 10 hours a day and crazy things like that. 

Historically speaking, people didn't go to the gym. So, we do that to counteract the negative effects of the society we live in now.

So, ideally, I think we need to make that paradigm shift over to working movement into our day—all day. And then yes, as an adjunct, going to the gym. But almost changing the focus into what we do during the day being more important, over time, than going to the gym or even working out at home.

I recently wrote a little piece at my personal coaching website, BrockArmstrong.com, all about how recently we humans starting using gyms. It's not that long ago—it's within our lifetimes!

And you actually just answered my next question. Actually, you know what? I'm going to delve a little bit here. Now, I've done a lot of marathons, but you have done a lot more marathons than I have.

I have bigger problems.

Bigger problems you're trying to run away from?

Absolutely, a hundred percent.

So, even though you're training for these long endurance efforts, you are still putting a focus on getting more movement throughout the day? What are the issues that you see, even with people like you and me who trained for these long efforts, does that give us a pass to go and put our feet up and hit the couch for the rest of the day?

You would think and you would hope. But I just turned 51. I hit that 50 last year. And I was doing a lot of the endurance races when I was younger and I've seen the body change. So, for me, I have found that I need to make that shift in both mentally and physically to say, "Hey, I can't go out and do what I used to do and I just have to do less of it." And I have to be more focused, on the shorter workouts, on making darn sure that I'm doing all five components of fitness so that I can still enjoy, if and when I decide to go train for another marathon. 

But we have to be smarter as we get older. And it plays into what we're talking about that the shorter workouts done throughout the day, being consistent with the balance is essential as we get older to being healthy and injury-free.

So, those shorter efforts that you're talking about right now, do you mean—I'm playing devil's advocate here a little bit—but do you mean that you should be grabbing some dumbbells and curling those during commercial breaks on TV or getting up from your desk and doing 10-20 burpees every hour? Or is it more simple than that?

That's pretty simple and I think you're right on the money. It's mixing it up. It's cross-training. And people always say, "what is that?" Basically doing anything other than what you really enjoy doing and do most frequently. 

The number one reason people have for not exercising is lack of time. So, when you tell them that science says you can break it up, that's great news for most people.

I always talk about, I became a triathlete, not because I don't even consider myself a triathlete. I just realized how smart it was from a cross-training perspective. I'm going to bike, which is so complementary to running. I'm going to swim, which is so complementary to biking and running. And I'm going to do some strength training. So, doing a little bit of all of those things and five minutes of core exercises in the morning. And then as you said, maybe some burpees in the afternoon, spreading it out, because the number one reason people have for not exercising is lack of time. So, when you tell them that science says you can break it up, that's great news for most people.

And speaking of lack of time and finding ways to get more movement into your day, you recently did an episode over at your podcast, Fitness Disrupted, about NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and also about using a standing workstation, which I'm guessing you're standing at your desk right now. I know I am.

I am. Yeah, absolutely.

So, how do those play into exactly what we're talking about here? Like not having to schedule that time to go to the gym or go to the yoga class, or even change your clothes  to get a workout in.

So, when we're talking fitness and weight loss, we want to be moving all day long. Because if you go to the gym and you get on the elliptical, let's say for a half-hour or even an hour, you might burn from 300 to 500, 600 calories if you're lucky. All right? So, the true weight loss and the true co-work expenditure comes from what we do all day. And I'm standing and I'm always moving. 

And it's that person that I talked about in the podcast who people often say, "oh, that person can eat whatever they want." Well, no, that person moves all day long. If you actually watched that type of person, they are burning calories, oftentimes hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of calories per day more than the person who's not.

And, I think you preach this as well—that it is really easy to sell this idea short and boil this all down to just focusing on burning calories, and only focus on weight loss. But what we are talking about really does go well beyond that in terms of the benefits we can get. Right?

Oh my gosh, yeah. I always say that, sure, we want to be a healthy weight. And that's super important. But the benefits of exercise are dozens, and dozens more mentally, as well.

I got my master's degree in exercise science and sports psychology because I realized how important the mind was and just love that aspect of it. So, you can go to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and things like that, energy levels, your just cognitive function, your mood, your depression. Exercise, the benefits far outweigh, I often say, what we see on a scale or what we see in the mirror. 

With exercise, the benefits far outweigh what we see on a scale or what we see in the mirror.

So, you don't judge whether or not your exercise program is working just because the scale is not moving. Every single workout matters and all movement matters, and it all adds up.

There is a reason why this podcast is called the Get-Fit Guy and not called the Get-Skinny Guy or the Get-Ripped Guy.

Love that. Exactly.

I like to dig in and focus on true fitness and maintaining the ability to do the things that you would love to do. So I guess then the next question would be, if we can do all this stuff and get that non-exercise activity thermogenesis by fidgeting and staying active throughout the day, is it actually possible to be, quote-unquote, “fit” without doing any actual dedicated exercise time like going to the gym, or a yoga class, or whatever?

The short answer is yes. The short answer is absolutely yes. I love books like The Blue Zones and things like that where, again, the people who live to be over a hundred in those six different areas, they're not going to the gym. Right, Brock?


Instead, they're eating well. They have meaningful social connections, they have moderation (portion control), they're drinking wine, their stress levels are low, they have purpose. 

So, the more you move throughout the day, I would say, the less you need to go to the gym.

So, when you talk about fitness and get fit, as you're saying, there's that mind-body connection.I would say, though, because so many people are so sedentary, we kind of do need that little bit extra for many people just to offset the lack of movement throughout the day. So, the more you move throughout the day, I would say, the less you need to go to the gym.

Right. Yeah. Doing that dedicated exercise time is almost the antidote to what we have created through a sedentary lifestyle and things like ergonomics (which allow us to do unnatural and unhealthy things like stay in one position for hours and hours on end), which is a whole other podcast I think the two of us could probably go really deep on.

Exactly. Yeah.

I like to give my listeners—especially when I have somebody like you on the show that is so knowledgeable and so experienced in coaching—I like to give my listeners some actionable things that they can take away and start doing right away. So, can you give us three ways that we can use that exercise time that's outside of the dedicated gym trip or whatever it happens to be to get more active and stay more mobile during the day?

Yeah, I think first and foremost, if you have a home, you have a home gym, Brock. And you need no equipment (and I work for a lot of different gym manufacturers and have over the years). But I've been doing push-ups since I was 14 years old. Doing body-weight exercises, Brock, in your home and throughout the day, that is one. It's so simple yet so effective, squats and push-ups and lunges and planks, and they're modifiable for everybody. So, that is one great way to work on your training. 

if you have a home, you have a home gym

Then, I know we read about it all the time, but they say park farther away, take the stairs, all those things. And I used to give those recommendations to the media, Brock, and they'd say, "oh, come on, give us something else." But no one does it. No one does it!

I know. We all know it, but we don't do it!

We don't do it. 

When you exercise, you tend to make better food choices. And when you make better food choices, you're probably going to feel better about yourself and be more likely to exercise.

And then finally, I always talk about controlling what we can. And so, on days where you maybe can't get in that exercise and that movement, just be a little more cognizant of what you're putting in your mouth. So, when we're talking about weight and calories and being healthy, making those healthier food choices, it's all connected. When you exercise, you tend to make better food choices. And when you make better food choices, you're probably going to feel better about yourself and be more likely to exercise. So, it's all connected.

Absolutely. We often get confused or turned off by simplicity, but what you're saying right there, it's the simple stuff that is the most effective.

Yeah. And the term I use is “excessive moderation.” Most people—and I was one way back when—do a lot a little bit, whether it's eating healthy or exercise. And the true sustained long-term success comes from doing a little bit a lot, doing a little bit of everything frequently. That's where, again, true balance, true health, and true happiness comes from, because you're not changing any one thing drastically in your life. You're changing a bunch of things a little bit and that's sustainable.

That is an excellent, excellent way to wrap this all up in a nice, neat little package. So, thank you so much for coming on the Get-Fit Guy podcast. It was a great opportunity for me to get to meet you, as well as have my listeners get a chance to learn from your wisdom. 

Speaking of sharing your wisdom, where can my listeners find you?

Just go to TeamHolland.com and everything's right there. And thank you so much for having me on. It's such a pleasure, and it's great to talk to someone else who is helping people help themselves. We are in the best business there is, Brock, in my opinion.

Couldn't agree more. Thanks again, Tom.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.