The Truth About Exercise & Weight Loss

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There is a false belief that the key to weight loss is exercise. While exercise is very important for your overall health and will certainly aid in weight management, the food you eat is far more impactful when it comes to losing weight. To put things into perspective, you will need to run a full (26 mile) marathon without putting any food in your mouth just to lose a single pound of body weight.

Food is Far More Important for Weight Loss Than Exercise

On average, people today are working out at the same level that they did 30 years ago. However, obesity has skyrocketed. So, what has changed? People are consuming more calories than ever before. Extra calories from food are to blame for weight gain, not lack of exercise.

People often miscalculate how calories from food excesses add up to a much bigger number than the calories burned working out. Most people will exercise just once a day. But the opportunity to make a poor nutritional choice presents itself 10-20 times a day, at least. That’s because unhealthy food is available everywhere from your kitchen, the office, the gas station, the bookstore and even your gym!

To burn off a 500-calorie burger, you will need to do 45 minutes of cardio. A single slice of pizza has about 300 calories, the equivalent of 20 minutes of running at a 9 minute-a-mile pace. A tall caramel macchiato from Starbucks has 180 calories; you will have to walk 2 miles to burn them off. To work off a 250-calorie pint of beer, you will need to do 30 minutes of weightlifting.

Another overlooked aspect of exercise is compensatory calories. On days we work out, we tend to eat more because we “earned it” and this happens to almost everyone (myself included). Who hasn’t completed a workout, only to drink a congratulatory smoothie with more calories than you just burned (my hand is raised)?

Lastly, another important point to consider. Besides weight gain, a poor diet is much more harmful to your health than the effects of physical inactivity, alcohol, and smoking combined. So even if you aren’t overweight, a nutrient poor diet can lead to adverse health effects such as hypertension and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This can also happen even if you are exercising regularly.

The More You Exercise, the Less You Burn

Your total daily energy expenditure is comprised of resting energy burn plus whatever you burn as a result of physical activity. The more you work out, the more you burn. A 30-minute run will burn 250 calories; do it for an hour, and you will burn double.

However, your resting energy burn is also affected by exercise. Scientists have measured the resting energy burn of over 300 volunteers from all over the world. They were surprised to discover that once physical activity increases above a moderate level, the body adapts and reduces its metabolism in order to conserve energy, so the more you exercise, the less you burn.

There Are So Many Reasons to Exercise

Regular workouts can help reduce the risk of disease, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some cancers. Exercise releases endorphins which are chemicals that make you feel good, naturally. Working out helps reduce stress, which is a factor that leads some people to eat unhealthy comfort food. On days we exercise, our sleep improves. Better sleep means less hangry (hungry & angry) episodes the next day and exercise may also boost the immune system. Also, the athletic ability that comes with regular exercise can also boost your self-confidence. When you exercise, your body slowly replaces fat with muscle. You may not see numbers dropping on the scale, but your dimensions may decrease, as muscle is denser than fat, so dropping a jeans size, while flat lining on the scale is definitely a thing. So, by all means, exercise as much as you can for better overall health.

The Bottom Line

So, the bottom line is that weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Even if you exercise intensely, exercise here and there or don’t exercise at all, by counting calories and eating mostly healthy, whole foods, you will shed those unwanted pounds, but on the other hand, working out regularly, but with no regard to what or how much you eat, will not lead to weight loss.

This is the last installment of my “Ways To Make Your Weight Loss New Year’s Resolution Stick” series. I hope you have gained some insight and learned a thing or two while reading my blog posts this week and I wish you the best on your weight loss journey! Until next week, be happy, healthy, and beautiful!

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