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Study Shows That Exercise Won't Aid in Weight Loss

Why Exercise Won't Help You Lose Weight . . . Sort Of

There have been a lot of reports in the last year confirming that contrary to popular belief, not all exercise leads to significant weight loss. If you want to shed pounds, it mostly comes down to diet. It’s no surprise that changing your diet can help you lose weight, but for decades, many people believed that exercise was the best pathway to a slimmer, fitter you.

Today the New York Times added to the news that exercise doesn’t significantly aid in weight loss by reporting the results of an exercise and obesity study. The study followed a group of 58 obese individual who underwent three months of supervised aerobic activity but didn’t change their diets at all. And while the group lost an average of seven pounds, many participants barely lost three.

I admit that when all of these studies started coming up I was a little shocked, but it turns out that high intensity workouts mainly burn carbs, not just fat.


To hear what type of exercise may maximize fat loss,


The article explains: "'The message of our work is really simple,' although not agreeable to hear, said Edward Melanson, PhD, the lead author of the study. 'It all comes down to energy balance,' or, as you might have guessed, calories in and calories out. People 'are only burning 200 or 300 calories' in a typical 30-minute exercise session, Melanson points out. 'You replace that with one bottle of Gatorade.'"

Fat loss can be maximized, but it’s a matter of how you approach your workout. To do this, work out at a lower intensity in your fat-burning zone, which is 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. For most people this zone falls between 105-134 beats per minute. Melanson’s study also found that once weight is lost from reduced calorie intake, exercise might prevent it from coming back by resetting metabolic pathways that stop the body from wanting to store fat.

The research is interesting, but should not dissuade any of us from our fitness goals. The benefits of exercise reach far beyond weight loss — it helps the brain function better, reduces stress, creates a toned body, and is important for healthy heart function.

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
Trainerpack Trainerpack 7 years
This article is right but it's title is obviously bull! Its just written that way to be catchy. It's actually bad to do so because it automatically forces a negative thought regarding exercise Is there really a need to do that? I am a personal trainer and if anything I always encourage my clients to do ANY exercise. For all of you ladies out there, any exercise you do - is a benefit! So keep doing what you are doing. If you want some tips from me check out my site Trainerpack.
biarose biarose 7 years
So what if I'm eating a highish calorie diet, but exercising so much that there is still a deficit? Will I still not lose weight?? Doesn't make much sense..
abbymeatsix abbymeatsix 7 years
Gee. What ever happened to diets being a temporary weight lost thing? :( sigh. well at least i can cut off some of that excercise now.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
AWESOME explanation, Spectra! Thank you so much!!!!
Spectra Spectra 7 years
Here's what people don't realize/aren't taking into consideration: the metabolic pathways in exercisers are changed so they become less prone to store fat. See, when you work out often, you're body realizes that your muscles are going to be needing glycogen soon to fuel them, so your body starts storing the food you eat in your muscles for easy access. Glycogen carries a lot of water with it, so it can make you hang onto water weight; that's a big reason why people who work out a lot have fluctuating weights. My own weight can fluctuate greatly depending on the time of day and how much glycogen my body is hanging onto. This study is focusing solely on weight, but exercise generally targets your body's fat stores/energy stores, which will lead to a better LOOKING body, even if it's not much lighter.
sourcherry sourcherry 7 years
This is completely true for me. A week of cutting back on certain foods shows results, but a week of exercising everyday (and maintaining my diet, not treating myself with donuts just because I hit the gym) does practically nothing. But I agree that a healthy body is a body that exercises, not to mention that it's a more attractive body as well!
ella1978 ella1978 7 years
Wait a minute.. doesn't just having a lot of muscle tone burn fat? And doesn't it take working out to gain muscle tone? Doesn't that fact alone contradict this story? Just curious.
Zulkey Zulkey 7 years
when it comes to weight loss it IS all diet. I think when it comes to weight maintenance however exercise plays a much bigger role. The thing that was most valuable to me when I started losing weight was that actually my therapist had me quit exercising for a bit so I could stop combining my eating with my exercise emotionally (IE if I didn't work out I ate like a pig since I was lazy anyway so "might as well"), etc. That helped me a lot even though some people found it horrifying.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
Anonymous rhetoric speaks for itself. "dumb" and "crap" are adjectives indicative of this level of thinking... I apologize for feeding into it. For the rest of you, thanks for the more valuable comments. I like flyowsley's personal testimony.
Vanonymous Vanonymous 7 years
@Ekstor - Thanks for the explanation. It makes more sense to me when you put it like that. I'm thinking I should invest in a heart rate monitor...and maybe i should also not justify eating Ben & Jerry's just because I did a kickboxing class. :)
flyowsley flyowsley 7 years
I've discovered - through many times of getting back on the exercise wagon - that just exercising and not changing your diet does not help me lose the pounds. I certainly feel better and my body definitely looks toner, but I stay at the same weight. To lose the weight I have to be very careful as to what I am eating. It has taken me many times to face this fact, but it very true.
ekstor ekstor 7 years
@vanonymous Fat can't metabolize quickly enough to fuel your muscles when you're working out at higher intensities. Your body instead relies upon a higher percentage of carbs. On top of that, the higher intensities translate to shorter workout times because of fatigue. At slower tempo, your body is able to use more fat as its energy reserve. Combine that with a longer workout time and that translates to higher amounts of fat burned compared to the shorter more intense workout.
mek123 mek123 7 years
For me, it is a combination of diet and exercise to lose weight and stay toned. I think it is more diet driven but I agree with above posters that these studies make me crazy and confused. Do this, don't do that...I'll stick with the weight watchers eating plan and moderate exercise to stay in shape.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
Anonymous comments are loads of crap.
amfonta amfonta 7 years
I have to join the ranks of the confused here. I'm vegan, eat extremely healthy food, consume no more than 1300 calories a day on average, but I cannot seem to get rid of those extra inches and flabby layers. I did just start exercising regularly, but I haven't seen much of a difference. Admittedly it's only been a couple of weeks, so I didn't expect to see a difference. But my question is: How can I eat healthier and less at this point? It doesn't sound healthy to me. There has to be another way to lose weight - like exercise...
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
FitSugar wrote, "Keep in mind that the benefits of exercise reach far beyond weight loss — it helps the brain function better, reduces stress, and is important for healthy heart function." Exactly. But this study is just talking about WEIGHT LOSS. Just take it for what it is.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
I AGREE with this study, and as a matter of fact, I just commented something very similar here on FitSugar a few weeks ago. Yes, you will LOOK better if you exercise, but that is not what this study is addressing. WEIGHT LOSS will come from reducing caloric intake. 99% of people will not exercise enough during a given week to burn the drastic number of calories needed to make weight loss happen. You HAVE to take in a lower number of calories through eating less/smarter. Especially given the assumed lifestyle/eating habits of people who are obese... they CANNOT go on eating like they are used to doing.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
I personally would rather lose weight by exercise and diet than by diet alone. Being thin and flabby is disgusting (imo) - that was me in highschool. I'd much rather be toned and the only way to build muscles and be toned is through exercise. I would rather be a few pounds heavier but with toned muscles rather than a few pounds lighter with no muscle tone and flabby arms and legs. (I keep thinking of that Ally McBeal episode with the jiggle of the underarm skin - yuck! Maybe this study applies more for people looking to lose a lot of weight, say 20+ pounds rather than people only looking to lose say 5 or 10 pounds. The fastest way to lose significant poundage is probably through diet/calorie intake, but for those last few pounds, I think exercise is the way to go. Even if you don't lose it, you'll look leaner.
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