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Exercise No Good For Weight Loss?

A couple of years ago the Cardio Free Diet introduced popular culture to the concept that exercise and weight loss were incompatible. Recently we learned that exercise doesn't boost fat-burning. Now Time magazine's new cover story investigates the seemingly detrimental relationship even further. A thumbnail sketch of the article: exercise makes you hungry, so you eat more and don't lose weight.

Should you give up the treadmill forever? Learn more.

To lose weight, we know we need a net loss of calories at the end of the day. Scientists refer to this as the energy gap, and with the obesity epidemic growing, the medical community is trying to learn how to broaden that gap. The Time article highlights a couple of studies that found exercise didn't help overweight women lose weight. The article explains three possible reasons for this. One, after working out, people tend to move around less in their daily lives so their energy gap is the same with or without exercise. Another reason is that burning calories with moderately intense exercise makes people hungrier and they eat more, or even reward themselves with a highly caloric post-workout snack. Lastly, taxing your will power to stay on the treadmill for 60 minutes depletes your sense of self control for the next challenging encounter, which quite possibly will involve food choices — so you opt for an ice cream sundae instead of an apple.

Is this the end of exercise? No way. There are countless health benefits to working out. It lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Exercise, specifically intervals, promotes fat loss in the abdominal region — which is particularly dangerous. Other studies not mentioned in Time's article have found that exercise, both cardio and cardio combined with weight training, increases hormones that decrease appetite.

Compared to other species, humans are not designed to lose weight. We evolved to hold onto fat and calories should a famine arise, which used to be quite common. Being sedentary and just counting calories is no way to lose weight. Here is some uplifting news on exercise and weight loss from Time:

Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. "You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles," says Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, a neurobiologist at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center who has studied nutrition for 20 years. "The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don't have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day."

Next time you see a staircase, take it. Bike to your dinner destination. Take a walk at lunch and for your coffee breaks. Remember that regular exercise, which includes walking, helps the brain function and prevents cognitive decline. It also fights stress, the nemesis of weight loss. I will be setting my alarm for 6 a.m. tomorrow and running. Which I will follow with a sensible breakfast of complex carbs, protein, and fiber. Am I trying to lose weight? No. I am trying to hold it steady. How about you?

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Join The Conversation
tylergrl33 tylergrl33 6 years
Yeah OK Time, I am going to eat cupcakes for dinner b/c I went for a run. So stupid. You can be thin if you have a strict diet, but you will also have a flat butt and no tone. Working out changes your body completely-everyone knows that.
idawson idawson 6 years
exercise makes me feel good so i will not stop. but my biggest problem is food. i really really need to keep track of what i eat. the calorie equation works for me just fine.
Modus-Vivendi Modus-Vivendi 6 years
It's amazing that the weight loss industry continues to churn away how it does. It's just calories in vs. calories out.
ella1978 ella1978 6 years
For me, I've never been able to lose weight w/o exercise. I need to exercise, and exercise a lot to lose weight. Unfortunately, as you get to be an adult, you have less time to dedicate to working out. So now I do about an hour a day. Makes me feel better, makes my legs look better & wakes me up in the AM. I think that this article could be harmful for some overweight people who are looking for an excuse not to exercise (well Time magazine told me not to...). It's benefits far "outweigh" - pardon the pun - the notes sighted in this article. If you want to lose weight, you have to have will power. Last week I was confronted with Apple Pie, Brownies, Cakes about 6 times. You just have to say no. I worked out, but I didn't let myself splurge. I splurge on Fridays, but I work out more on Fridays. It balances out. Plus I keep a food and exercise journal, so I know that I'm not overdoing it.
a-million-suns a-million-suns 6 years
It's true that eating right is the sine qua non of weight loss. However, exercise is good for overall health and can end up helping with weight loss. Like Fit said, exercise helps reduce stress, which in turn can help you lose weight.
alxxxmx alxxxmx 6 years
i believe in this article.
nia0nia nia0nia 6 years
the sensationalised headline is really irresponsible, but behind the sensation the message of the article is - Don't Binge, neither binge excercising in a lifestyle that's otherwise completely sedentary nor binge eating to reward the binge excercise. We've evolved moving around all day and running on a treadmill a few times a week is no substitute for that. I try to follow a evolutionary approach to excercise: walking everywhere, occassionally sprinting (as our ancestors did to escape predaters) and lifting heavy things. It sounds simplistic, but works. I live in a town where it's possible to walk to and from work and everywhere else I go - I understand most people in the US don't and that's a major factor in the obesity epidemic i think
stoopeed stoopeed 6 years
I think the only part I agree with is that sustained moderate exercise is better than short bursts of intense workouts. And that if you binge after exercising, you will not lose weight. But I didn't need a study to tell me this.
angelfromlsu angelfromlsu 6 years
*sundaygreen* Walking to and from work is very unrealistic to a lot of Americans. I am working on trying to get relocated to a city where I won't need a car and can walk everywhere.
Angelica Angelica 6 years
I am with y'all! I will never stop exercising. The benefits of stress relief and endorphins make up for whatever my impulse control can't. It's all math.
MandeeLei MandeeLei 6 years
I will just say the biggest changes I have seen in my body and also in how I feel has been by eating clean and lifting weights. Doing cardio is like "icing" on the fat loss cake (bad analogy I know). It shouldn't be used as the sole means for fat loss and I think that is the major point of this article.
darc5204 darc5204 6 years
This article says nothing new or surprising, but they say it in a bad, negative, and unhelpful way. Obviously, calories in is easier than calories out, so it's more essential to weight loss. Both parts are still essential to good health, though.
HolidayHoney HolidayHoney 6 years
Since beginning a pretty solid and regular workout regimen about a year ago, I do feel that my appetite has been absoluteley ravenous. I agree with the part that exercise can tax your willpower, making you more susceptible to overeating. I'm going to try and do some lighter, more enjoyable workouts, like yoga and walking, rather than forcing myself to run (which I despise). I have gained about 10 lbs. since I started exercising, mostly fat. I'm NOT happy about it. I was so thin before, and completely in control of my appetite. Interesting.... I do want to continue to be active however, for the benefits other then weightloss.
rivrchild rivrchild 6 years
I think it's misleading to say that exercise could make you gain weight. I would say that it's not the exercise that's the problem but WHAT and HOW MUCH you are choosing to eat afterwards, and I wish they had stressed this more. Of course a workout is going to make you hungry afterwards. But that doesn't mean you get to eat fries and pizza. Eat a banana, an apple, yogurt. You can't expect to keep all those unhealthy habits and lose weight, even if you are getting exercise. I do think there is plenty of merit to the idea that being more regularly active during the day (biking/walking to work, taking stairs, etc) helps you to lose weight and be more healthy overall. But jogging, treadmill, elliptical, and vigorous workouts are not a problem. It's keeping all of the other unhealthy habits and thinking that exercise alone is going to work. And just as a side note, I for one am not craving pizza or fries after a work out. If anything, a nice jog or cardio session makes me want to eat healthier. It reinforces the OTHER healthy habits that I've had to take on in order to lose 25 lbs.
Chrstne Chrstne 6 years
You don't need to exercise to lose weight, per se...but it helps with burning fat, boosting your metabolism, and in general making you healthier. My brother, for instance, lost like 100 lbs without exercise, just diet. No loose skin or anything, and it was awesome. For some people, exercise seems to help them shed faster. Exercise is not what makes you lose all that weight (unless you ate the way you do now, and create a deficit by exercise)...Diet is like 95%. Exercise because it improves your health. Not because it's the key to weight loss.
sundaygreen sundaygreen 6 years
I think the point of the article (if you read it), wasn't to BASH exercise - but rather HOW we're doing it. It all comes down to the fact that before we became a nation of gym rats, people used to move more during the day - whether it was walking/biking to work, or for leisure or whatever the case may be (this, certainly, is true of my parent's generation). You can still see the example being set in most of Europe as well as in more third world countries (think Africa) - where people still do a lot more walking and low-level activity all through the day. Instead of 1 hour "sessions" in the gym being literally the only activity you get, why not walk to and from work? Anyway, makes complete sense to me.
bluepuppybites bluepuppybites 6 years
I have worked in a physically demanding job since I've been able to work, serving tables and being on my feet for 8 to 10 hours at a time. Well I still gained weight or else never took it off. It wasn't until I started exercising and changed my diet that I started to look and feel better. I was never fat just flabby, but still I could walk and carry things all day long and nothing happens.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 6 years
My mom is overweight and is in the exercise makes me bigger, starving myself makes me thinner group. It drives me crazy! She only eats a meal when my dad is home (and he's a truck driver so he's not home every day) and other than that she snacks on cheez-its while watching 3-4 hours of soaps a day. She gets no exercise whatsoever and doesn't really eat much of anything outside of cheez-its. Guess what - she's not losing weight, even with starving herself. You have to be smart about working out and eating healthy. I often want to eat a meal right after I workout (I workout for an 60-90 minutes at a time) and I make myself shower and take about a half hour before I decide do I really want to eat. Usually by then the hunger urge has left. Neither exercise nor diet alone will make you lose weight permanently. You have to work at both and it's a lifelong effort, not a 6 weeks before bikini season effort. I think we need to stop stressing weight and start stressing fitness in this country.
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