Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Exercise your right to ...

Once again, I find myself confused. I was listening to quite a number of speakers, of various backgrounds and years of experience, summarize the value of exercise in achieving weight loss.

And once again, before I continue on, I want to remind everyone that the benefits of exercise are NOT by any means measured solely in terms of changes in weight. And I will discuss this later. But for now, allow me to address the "exercise-weight loss" connection.

So, as I listened to all of these speakers, I heard over and over again that exercise does NOT help you lose weight. At best, exercise will help you maintain your lower weight once you have dieted down. But exercise alone will not help one lose weight.

And this is where I get confused. IF, as so many still argue, that a calorie is a calorie and that obesity is simply "calories in versus calories out", then how can it be that exercise does not make you lose weight?

Let's say that you are eating 1500 calories a day and your weight is stable. NOW, you join a gym and according to the counter on the treadmill/elliptical/bike/ CIA-super secret training system, you have just burned 250 calories. So you have to lose weight, right ?  Those 250 calories had to come from somewhere. Now it's true that your body might break down muscle, instead of fat, to generate those 250 calories. But this would still mean a loss of weight. And usually when you exercise, there is a stimulation of your muscles which tells your body NOT to use muscle for energy. So, if you keep up burning 250 calories extra a day, then you will eventually lose a measureable amount of weight, and at least SOME of it will have to be fat.

The only way for this NOT to happen would be for your body to burn LESS energy during the rest of the day. I have heard a psychological side to this, that people who exercise are consciously less active the rest of the day because "I already did my workout". But if this is true, from a purely weight loss point of view, you would have to be crazy to exercise. If taking off an hour, going to a gym and getting all sweaty is not going to help at all, then why do it? IF your only thought is about weight loss, then really, why do it?

Another way for exercise NOT to cause a weight loss would be for the person to eat more. This could happen because the exercise stimulates an increased appetite, or because exercising people allow themselves more food because they are "burning it off". But again, IF someone is really watching every bite that is going into their mouths, then how could exercise NOT make you lose weight. Or, if your body is going to drive you crazy to eat more because of the exercise, then why exercise ??

Here's another question. I hear lots of experts say how muscle mass burns more calories than fat. So, if someone adds muscle to their bodies (by weight lifting or similar exercises), then they need more calories to support this extra muscle. And if they do NOT eat extra calories despite working out, then how come they don't lose weight? if someone adds 5 pounds of muscle to their body, they MUST lose weight because their body needs more calories. The only explanation would be the same as above - that their body slows things down ("lowers the metabolism") or drives them to eat more. So one last time - if the only reason to exercise is to lose weight, WHY EXERCISE ??

OK, last one. Have you ever heard someone say "if he stops playing football/basketball/etc. but keeps eating as before, then sure he will gain weight". And I think it is pretty well accepted by all the "experts" that someone who used to exercise aggressively must reduce their food intake when they stop exercising. But that means that exercise affects your weight !! And if stopping exercise makes you gain weight, then starting to exercise must make you lose weight.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Yes, exercise burns calories. And yes, if you exercise enough, you will lose weight. But what happens is that many people do not burn that many calories when they do exercise. After an hour of walking, even if you build up a good sweat, you can eat back all the calories you just burned with a chocolate muffin, or a cup of ice cream. You would have to exercise alot, or add a lot of muscle. to make a significant change in the long term in your weight. So, in practice, what you need to do, is both. You need to eat properly and appropriately AND you need to exercise, to attack your excess fat from both sides.

But the real message is that exercise has many health benefits that go beyond your weight on the scale. And we will talk about these next time.

Thanks for listening

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