How much will exercise affect your weight?
By Bryce Hastings for Fit Planet
If you’re starting a new exercise regime with visions of dramatically dropping dress sizes, we don’t want you to be disappointed. So here’s the truth: adding exercise to your life won’t lead to a sudden shedding of pounds – but that doesn't mean exercise won’t help you achieve your weight loss goals.
You simply need to have realistic expectations, while celebrating the many and varied ways that exercise will change your body and your life.
The remarkable ability to control our energy output is what helps our body function consistently, but it is also what can make exercise frustratingly ineffective when it comes to shedding weight.
Energy use vs diet
Quite simply, the most effective approach for weight loss is to balance energy usage with diet. Reducing the amount of calories we ingest and improving the quality of food we eat has far greater effect on our body mass than exercise alone.
Please hear me on this – exercise is REALLY good for you! I exercise six days a week and will continue to do so because it provides so many physical, mental, and emotional benefits. And, although exercise doesn’t significantly alter the amount of energy you burn each day, it drastically changes the way you spend your calories.
When energy is scarce – like when we burn extra during exercise – non-essential metabolic processes reduce. The first of these is inflammation. Acute bursts of inflammation are an essential part of our repair and immunity response. However, prolonged chronic inflammatory responses contribute to allergies, arthritis, arterial diseases, and other metabolic disorders. Exercise means we have less energy to spend on overzealous, harmful inflammatory processes and that is a huge win.
Secondly, spending energy on exercise dampens overactive stress responses. Again – a short burst of stress hormones during a crisis is good, but prolonged overproduction is harmful. Some reproductive hormonal activity can also be suppressed. That might not sound like a good idea – but too much activity in these areas is thought to contribute to reproductive cancers such as prostate and breast cancer.
Being sedentary can cause us harm
Thirdly, numerous investigations have demonstrated that being sedentary causes us significant harm. The amount of time we spend sitting each day is a strong predictor of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a range of other serious health problems. Although exercise alone may not result in significant weight loss, it definitely reduces the impact of our sedentary lifestyles.
Lose weight and keep it off
And finally, people who lose weight through dieting are far more likely to keep it off if they exercise. One study on obese policemen assigned participants to dietary restrictions alone or diet plus exercise for two months. At the end of the study, there was no difference in the amount of weight lost across the groups (as we should now expect). But once the intervention was over, only those who exercised maintained their weight loss.
We know weight loss is one of the main reasons people take action to improve their fitness. It’s understandable, for many years we’ve been led to believe that simply adding exercise is the secret to shedding those unwanted pounds. But the evidence doesn't really support this.
There’s no doubt that a desire to lose weight can be a great initial motivator, but if success is measured by what’s happening on the scale it is easy for motivation to quickly wane. This is backed up by new findings* showing that when weight loss is the primary motivator we are less likely to stick with exercise but when enjoyment is the key motivator we exercise more often and for a longer-term. With this in mind, it’s important that we seek exercise options that we enjoy, have realistic expectations and celebrate the real benefits and changes to our bodies and lives due to exercise. These remarkable benefits can be much more life-changing than shedding a few pounds.
In a nutshell:
- The most effective way to lose weight is to balance energy usage with diet
- Exercise helps us maintain long-term weight loss
- If you start exercising to lose weight you will soon discover many other benefits
- Exercise can reduce harmful inflammatory responses (like allergies, arthritis, arterial diseases)
- Exercise dampens overactive stress responses and lessens the risk of prostate and breast cancer
- Exercise reduces sedentary living and its associated serious health issues (heart disease, diabetes, cancer)
- Exercise alleviates stress and helps us become mentally stronger and more resilient
- And of course, exercise makes us fit, strong, agile, and able.
*Motivational drivers of exercise: an analysis of the 2018 Global Consumer Survey (Hastings, Gottschall and Lee)