What if I were to tell you that exercise is fairly useless for losing weight?
Now before you accuse me of heresy, let me explain. There’s no doubt that exercise is one of the best things in the world you can do for your health. It improves mood- in some studies as well as antidepressants- and it’s great for your heart. Recent research shows that it even helps you grow new brain cells. And people who exercise on a regular basis have lower risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
But weight loss? Not so much.
Does that seem contrary to everything you’ve heard? Of course it does- but don’t shoot the messenger.
Here’s the truth: the exercise/ weight-loss equation is way more complicated than we’ve been led to believe.
Let’s start with calories. Most people overestimate calories burned during exercise (by a long shot) just as they typically underestimate daily calorie consumption (ditto!) Forget what the computer readout on the Stairclimbers and treadmills at the gym say– according to the Mayo Clinic, even high-impact aerobics only uses up about 511 calories an hour; walking at a pace of 3.5 mph barely uses 300. You can wipe that out with one medium meal at McDonalds–heck, you can wipe it out with a one big “low-fat” muffin from Starbucks!
Then there’s the appetite factor. Exercise makes people hungry and people often compensate for exercise by eating more. I’ve seen people at the gym scarf down “energy” drinks that contain the calorie equivalent of two days worth of workouts.
Plus, there’s good old garden-variety self-deception. Ever told yourself, “I can indulge with a Krispy Kreme today cause I just worked out”?. Sorry. That’s like saying you saved some money by buying milk at Target so you might as well go to dinner at the Four Seasons. The math just doesn’t work out.
Interestingly, the research is very clear that it’s next to impossible to keep weight off unless you exercise regularly. But using exercise alone as a weight-loss strategy is- forgive the bad pun- an exercise in futility.
That’s why the best trainers have a saying: “You can’t out-train a bad diet“.