IT DOESN’T WORK!
That is the long and short of it. This, of course, might be a surprise to an entire industry that relies on selling exercise for weight loss. I am going to explain this in two ways: 1) the actual role of exercise; and, 2) the research that backs up what I am saying here.
Role of Exercise
In the overall view of health, exercise (i.e., physical activity) is certainly an important component of fitness. In the jargon of researchers, however, exercise is a dependent variable. In a simplistic way, this just means that the results of exercise depend on other variables (e.g., diet, health status, age, gender, weight, fat composition, lean body mass, genetics, basal metabolic rate, etc.).
The best way to understand my comments may be to take a look at one of the biggest myths regarding exercise and weight loss. It goes like this: You can lose weight by exercising to burn more calories than you take in from your diet. This concept treats the body like a furnace: calories in, calories out. Accordingly, if you drink a 300-calorie beer, all you have to do to cancel out its effects on your weight is to do some kind of exercise that burns up 300 or more calories.
No, no, and NO! The concept would be fine if you were a furnace. However, you have a complicated array of biochemical processes. There is no way that the calories burned by exercise can ever get to the calories from something that you just ate or drank.
The role of exercise, therefore, is to get you to a level of fitness for whatever exercise you do. And the consequence of being in better shape from exercise is to increase your basal metabolic rate – i.e., the need for more food. In other words, exercise creates demand for more calories, so you have to eat more to give your body what it needs to stay in shape by exercise. See how these two variables depend on one other?
By the way, the converse is also true. If you eat less, as during a restricted-calorie diet, you will slow your metabolism and reduce your ability to exercise. This is why calorie-restriction diets can never work for healthy weight loss.
Before I delve into this section, I want to point out that all of the best research on weight management over the past 200 years is explained in the best book that I ever read on the topic: “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” by Gary Taubes. It is heavy duty book, not a froo-froo diet book. You can probably get it at a good price at Amazon.
On page 298 of Taubes’ book, he cites the history of concepts known as “multiple metabolic control mechanisms” and the “set point hypothesis” for understanding why neither calorie-restricted diets nor exercise would lead to long-term weight loss. These ideas started in the mid-1960s at Harvard University and the University of Geneva. This thinking actually originated in the 19th century, based on research with laboratory animals.
The bottom line is that exercise causes the body to compensate by demanding more food, which shows up as hunger. The good news is that, since long-term weight loss does not depend on exercise, the opposite is also true. You do not get fat from lack of exercise.
Gazillions of nutritionists, trainers, doctors, fitness gurus, etc., might be outraged at what I am saying here. My recommendation is that they dig into the research for themselves. They will discover the same that I have discovered: Weight loss myths and dogma undermine serious and thoughtful exchange of ideas about how to lose fat. There is good reason why exercising for weight loss is a hard way to get results. It doesn’t work!
All the best for fat loss,
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