You may have read one of many articles suggesting exercise is ineffective as a weight loss tool. A quick Google search yields hundreds of results, including headlines such as, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,” from sources like CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times and other publications. This is surely distressing for anyone trying to drop a few pounds (not to mention, for public health officials trying to motivate a sedentary population to adopt exercise practices).
Why exercise is only part of the equation
The bad news is that exercise alone probably won’t be the easiest way to drop weight. Even the widely accepted “calories-in versus calories-out” concept of weight regulation (if you eat fewer calories than your body burns throughout the day, you will lose weight; if you eat more calories than your body burns, you will gain weight) has been called into question. Hormones, genetics and environmental factors all play into an individual’s metabolic rate and ability to maintain and lose weight. In other words, some people may inherit genes that make their body more prone to gaining weight and less likely to losing it. Just as our mothers told us, some people are simply “big boned.”
Once you get past the headlines, you’ll see the recommendation is to use exercise in conjunction with a healthy, somewhat calorie-restricted diet to create a caloric deficit. For example, if a person requires 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight and they skip a roll at dinner (saving 125 calories) and walk a mile and a half at a medium pace (burning 125 calories), they will have a deficit of 250 calories that day. Their body will have to tap into its own fat stores to make up the difference, and over time that will result in pounds lost.
A challenge in losing weight through diet and exercise is that people regularly overestimate how many calories they burn through exercise and underestimate the calories they consume. It is much easier to eat 300 calories (3/4 of a blueberry muffin) than it is to burn 300 calories (45 minutes of low-impact aerobics).Fitness trackers like pedometers and Fitbits® may help make users more aware of their activity levels and promote active behaviors throughout the day. Likewise, there are many website and smartphone apps that help record food intake and estimate caloric needs. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) & USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) have an excellent tracker at www.supertracker.usda.gov.
The danger of the headlines mentioned above is they may discourage people from exercising. The potential for weight loss is often the reason people begin an exercise regime, but the real benefits of exercise far outweigh the promise of a smaller size of jeans. Regular exercise may help prevent heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and more. Exercise can help to treat and manage arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, sarcopenia, and depression, among other conditions and diseases. Exercise makes daily activities such as lifting, bending, holding, carrying, standing, etc., easier to accomplish. It releases endorphins and makes you feel good! Regular exercise is the closest thing we have to a panacea.
Contributed by Kaitlyn Eckstrom, Director of Fitness and Aquatics, The Willows at Worcester