One of the most widely accepted assumptions in our culture is that if you push yourself to exercise more, you will lose weight. And yet, often this is not the case. Obesity research shows that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated. In fact, exercise can actually contribute to weight gain; or at least not result in the body fat loss you might expect. Surprised? Let me explain.
It turns out that many people who engage in vigorous exercise are often more sedentary during the rest of the day. They frequently feel hungrier and end up eating more. And because they exercised, they have a greater sense of entitlement to treat themselves – maybe by grabbing a Starbucks muffin (350 calories) and flavored latte (250 calories) after the gym. The calories in the latte alone far outweigh the calories expended during a 30 minute work-out as is often the case with a food reward. All in all, the exercisers end up eating more calories than they burned and fail to lose weight as a result.
So, does this mean that you should give up on exercise? Absolutely not! It’s a well-known fact that exercise offers many significant health benefits. People who do regular exercise are at significantly lower risk for all types of diseases – cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other illnesses. Physical activity promotes better sleep, builds self-esteem and improves body image. It stimulates various brain chemicals that result in feeling happier and more relaxed. And who doesn’t want that?
It’s obvious that being physically active is a no-brainer. But perhaps it’s not a gym membership we need as much as simply moving more – the way we did back in the 1980s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our leisure-time physical activity (including things like golfing, gardening and walking) has decreased since the late 1980s, right around the time the gym boom really exploded and the weight of our nation started to climb.
Research suggests that we can reap the same benefits we gain from the sweaty, exhausting, hunger-producing activity we do at a 5 AM Boot Camp Class that we would by engaging in physical leisure activities. So, the answer is not giving up on exercise, it’s redefining it. Very frequent, low-level physical activity – the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the power mower was invented – may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise we get at the gym.
By all means, if you enjoy going to the gym and it’s working for you, keep it up. However, if you’re looking for something different, check out these tips to get you moving more on a day-to-day basis.
- Put one foot in front of the other. Make a point to use your feet for transportation whenever possible. Park the car farther away from stores when shopping; take the stairs instead of the elevator; get off the subway a few stops earlier; walk around the airport while you’re waiting to board a plane. Be creative and think outside the box. Rather than sitting on the bleachers at your child’s next sporting event, watch the game as you walk up and down the sideline.
- Wear a pedometer. Track your movement and strive to increase your total number of steps each week. Every 2,000 steps represent about a mile, and (for adults) an average of about 100 calories burned. So, call a friend, leash up the dog, or put on your head phones and get out there and walk around the block – twice – if that’s what it takes.
- Make time to play. Enjoy Frisbee, Ping-Pong, or Hula Hoop with the kids. Learn to salsa dance with your partner. Join a hiking club and meet new friends while enjoying the great outdoors. Make exercise a social activity. Do it with others and have fun. You’ll reap the health benefits and it won’t feel like drudgery.
Bottom Line: Although it offers many significant health benefits, exercise alone is not going to get you to your personal best weight. Day-by-day, it’s easier to lose weight with smart food choices and healthy eating habits paired with an active lifestyle.
If you want to achieve your personal best weight and are ready to get started, I can help. Check out my free introductory consultation at https://njnutritionist.com/freeconsult
Until next time, eat and be well!
Lorraine Matthews-Antosiewicz, MS RD