A couple months ago, there was an article in Time Magazine discounting the role of exercise in weight loss. Apparently this is the story that just won’t die. Gretchen Reynolds wrote a post for the NY Times Well blog last week on the same issue. So let’s analyze the information.
1. Exercising doesn’t burn that many calories. Well, duh. Whether you are running a mile or walking a mile, you burn about 100 calories. When losing weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn. So you can either eat less, burn more or do a combination. Since we know it would require lots of time and energy to burn enough calories to lose significant weight, the majority of these reduced calories come from restricting intake. But considering that burning 200-300 calories during a workout is not an unreasonable amount, you could either exercise this much or further cut back your already restricted food intake. As a person who likes to eat, I’ll take the extra 200-300 calories in food, thanks.
2. Exercise makes you a healthier person. This fact was never in dispute. Since being overweight is associated with so many illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, joint degeneration, etc. and regular exercise is associated with lowering blood glucose levels, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, increasing muscle mass and tone, the benefits of exercise for combating the ill-effects of overweight are obvious.
3. Exercise is important for keeping weight off once it is lost. This may be the biggest benefit of exercise for people trying to lose weight. It appears that regular exercise, at least in formerly overweight lab rats, resets some metabolic pathways. In humans, one thing shared by most people who have managed to keep off the weight they have lost is that they all exercise regularly. While some people find that they eat more when they are more physically active, many people find that exercise helps to keep their appetite in check. Eating healthier food can also be easier when you exercise regularly. If you are training for a 5K, that sluggish feeling that comes after eating a bunch of fries becomes a lot less appealing, right?
As with most things in nutrition and fitness, it really comes down to common sense. Just because exercise by itself doesn’t lead to weight loss, that certainly doesn’t mean that you should set aside exercise combined with an eating plan you can maintain for the long term in favor of a crash diet that is impossible to maintain. In fact, one of my favorite parts of this blog entry is the author’s response to one of the comments where she encourages people to seek the help of a Registered Dietitian to find a plan to help them lose weight and maintain their loss as well as exercise regularly. Now that’s something I can endorse!