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First, a disclaimer, I exercise fairly regularly – and, I enjoy it! I think that everyone should exercise as well. Exercise can help with depression, lower risk for heart disease and cancer, and reduce the risk and complications of diabetes. It can even help grow new brain cells! What exercise doesn’t do (at least not effectively) is cause you to lose weight.
Although the benefits of exercise are many and well-documented, the fact is that most people exercise for vanity reasons, not primarily for health. Weight control and looks top the list of almost every person who frequently visits the gym, and the unfortunate reality is this: it’s horribly difficult to lose a significant amount of weight through exercise alone.
Of course, there are tons of exceptions, and you’ll see them in the “before” and “after” pictures in infomercials and print ads for weight-loss products and supplements…..of course, they are often followed by the words “results not typical”. And that is the point; those results are really NOT TYPICAL. For every person we have seen on the “Biggest Loser” who sheds 100+ pounds, there are thousands more who lose, regain, lose again, regain….and eventually give up and accept the fact that they look essentially the same year in and year out. If exercising alone could produce weight loss, we would be a lot skinnier as a nation and those “success” stories would be much more common. As Todd Miller, professor in the Department of Exercise Science at George Washington University says:
“People don’t understand that it is very difficult to exercise enough to lose weight. If that is why you are doing it, you are going to fail.” The idea that exercise causes weight loss is really embedded in our consciousness and is accepted as a basic truth even by people who don’t exercise. The primary reason that people believe this is due to the widely accepted theory that weight loss is all about calories.
First, you don’t burn a ton of calories during exercise, unless you are an Olympian or a marathon runner! In fact, you only burn about 300 calories per half-hour, if that – and a “calorie deficit” that is almost immediately wiped out by a couple of Gatorades, let alone a mocha low-fat latte. Remember, to lose a pound of fat, you have to burn 3500 calories more than you consume (that is the definition of a calorie deficit). So, you can see how hard it is to exercise your way through a poor diet. Instead, you have to change your diet AND exercise. Of course exercise does have a relationship to weight. Exercise can be critical to keeping the weight off once you’ve lost it. In fact, the findings of the National Weight Control Registry reported that 90 percent of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off exercise on average for an hour a day. So, if not through exercise, then what should we do to lose body fat?