Exercising to Lose Weight Won’t Make You Thin

An increasing body of research from both the UK and the US tells us that exercising to lose weight is simply not enough. While there is no argument that exercise is a great addition to your health regimen, it is actually misleading to claim that exercise would be the primary cause of shedding weight. The Mayo Clinic, a highly-respected, not-for-profit medical research establishment in the US, has reported their studies, “…have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone…” and that, “…an exercise regimen…is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss beyond what is achieved with dietary change”. Here are six suggestions to lose weight according to The Mayo Clinic.

Most of us think we have a pretty good idea of the principles of weight loss.  We take energy into our bodies in the form of calories contained in the foods we eat. Our bodies use the energy to power both voluntary and involuntary movements throughout our active days and largely inactive nights. The calories that aren’t used up by movement throughout the day is then stored in the body as fat. “In theory, it’s possible that you can burn more calories than you eat,” says Dr. Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council. “But you have to do an awful lot more exercise than most people realize. To burn off an extra five hundred calories is typically an extra two hours of cycling”.

Exercising to lose weight without making any other lifestyle changes will never be enough for a regular person, unless he or she has the dedication and stamina of an Olympic athlete. “It’s simple math.” says Professor Paul Gately of the Carnegie Weight Management Institution in Leeds, UK. “If you want to lose a pound of body fat, then that requires you to run from Leeds to Nottingham, but if you want to do it through diet, you just have to skip a meal for seven days.” Jebb and Gately are both keen to emphasize that exercise can add considerable value to a diet. “It certainly does maximize the amount you lose as fat rather than (muscle) tissue,” Jebb points out. Paul Gately sums it up stating “Most people, offered the choice, are going to go for the diet, because it’s easier to achieve.”

Dr. Timothy Church, of the University of Louisiana, put several hundred overweight, menopausal women on closely-observed exercise regimes for six months. He separated them into four groups. Some worked out for 72 minutes each week, some for 136 minutes and some for 194 minutes. A fourth group kept to their normal daily exercise routine. At the end of the study, there was no observable difference in weight loss between those who had exercised a little for several days a week and those who had not. Some of the women in the study actually gained weight. This was because many of the women who exercised compensated for any potential weight loss by eating more as a self-reward for their workout achievement. As a celebration, they might treat themselves to a pastry, thus cancelling out the benefits of their calorie-burning efforts.

Dr. Church’s findings are backed up by a paper on childhood obesity published in 2008 by Boston academics Steven Gortmaker and Kendrin Sonneville. The pair conducted an eighteen-month study to investigate what they called “The Energy Gap” – the daily imbalance between energy taken in and energy burned up. When the children in the study exercised, just like the women in Dr Church’s study, they rewarded themselves with high-calorie foods. Some of them consumed ten or twenty times as many calories as the calories they had burned. “Although physical activity is thought of as an energy-deficit activity,” they wrote, “our estimates do not support this hypothesis.”

In the 1950s, a French-American nutritionist named Jean Mayer was one of the first to introduce the link between exercise and weight loss. His studies indicated that an inactive body was more likely to gain weight. He established these findings using lab rats and babies. The conclusions drawn from these studies led to the belief that exercising was the way to “keep fit”. After Mayer’s study, we saw the conception of the fitness craze, which started in the 1960s and 70s. Prior to that, in the 1930s, a leading specialist had argued that weight loss was more easily achieved with bed rest, and the greater scientific community believed that physical activity with the aim of losing weight was just unfashionable.  However, can there be any doubt that exercise is part of a healthier lifestyle? Of course not, and we also know that regular exercise can help maintain a leaner, meaner body.

In the past, Type II Diabetes was an illness that usually developed in the later decades of life. Now, it’s the fastest-growing chronic disorder being treated in pediatric clinics. Terry Wilkin, Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Peninsula School in Plymouth, UK, has released his latest results of his research into childhood obesity. The premise of the project is “Fatness leads to inactivity, but inactivity does not lead to fatness”. Wilkin conducted an eleven-year study on childhood obesity, in which he monitored the health, weight and activity of his subjects. They were surprised to find that there was essentially no difference in the body fat or body mass between the more active and less active children. Likewise, there was no discernible or significant effect on the overall growth rate and size of the participants. That being said, exercise helps make children healthier in other ways.

So it seems apparent that obesity figures are not going to magically change through well-meaning but misguided government programs that focus mainly on promoting exercise, while the food industry’s efforts to push high calorie junk foods on adults and children continues unabated. Considering that most people who try dieting alone to lose weight often end up gaining it back, it seems more and more obvious that the best answer to obesity would be a good combination of balanced, inclusive diet and moderate exercise. There are few diets that people actually enjoy without feeling deprived, so the key seems to be harmony between good food and exercise. If something feels like a chore, human nature often means that we compensate ourselves for it and most often, it seems to not reveal itself in the most beneficial ways.

“What we want to avoid is people thinking they can control their weight simply by dieting,” states Susan Jebb. An unrealistic relationship with food can lead to anorexia and bulimia in teenage girls, who are faced with almost unbearable expectations for them to maintain a slim and pretty physique. So simply restricting your diet is far from being the healthiest way to live. The benefits of exercise have to be a factor, although exercise alone does not lead to weight loss, it can help in preventing weight gain. Of course, it’s much easier to exercise when you are not overweight in the first place. A slender body fed with a moderate and nutritious diet is able to do more exercise and stay healthy for longer. Good education about the main tenets of a healthy regimen of moderate exercise and a good diet would have widespread benefits to public health. When it comes to exercise, a nice walk offers the body more benefits than a high-intensity workout in a gym because you burn a reasonable amount of calories and the walk may be more enjoyable. Regardless of the exercise regimen you choose to participate in, remember that there is no need to reward oneself with sugary or carbohydrate-loaded treats once you are finished.

It’s no coincidence that the thriving, multi-billion dollar weight loss industry markets mostly to women. Research has proven that it is harder for women to lose weight than it is for men. Women’s bodies are better at storing fat. In a side-by-side study that monitored both men and women walking on treadmills, it was noted that women’s appetite hormones increased, prompting hunger, while their insulin levels decreased. There was no such change in men. The frustration of women finding it harder to lose weight makes them easier to sell weight-loss products to, as there is so much pressure to look young and slender. Few women can tune out the constant marketing that tells them that they are not perfect but could be better if they use a certain product.

If you are looking to add an exercise program into your week, check out this revolutionary approach to working out designed by Pete Cerqua.


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