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?