Thursday, 13 August 2009

Why exercise doesn't make you thin...

If I had to choose between eating anything I wanted and exercising every day, or not exercising at all and eating an extremely healthy diet, I’d choose the latter every time. I feel healthy if I eat healthily and sluggish if I eat processed, fatty foods, even if I exercise to burn it off. Having said that, I was surprised to read in Time magazine an article entitled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” and you can read it here.

The article starts by explaining that the concept of exercise being essential to lose weight is relatively new. In fact pre-1960, rigorous exercise was not recommended, particularly for older people who might injure themselves. Yet now, doctors encourage even their oldest patients to exercise because of other potential benefits of staying active, such as maintaining cognitive function.

It seems the reason why relying on exercise as a means to lose weight will not work is that the more calories we burn, the more we eat to compensate for the calories lost. To prove this, a control experiment was carried out with four groups of overweight women each undergoing different intensities of exercise. The control group did no more than their usual routine and the results concluded that the groups who exercised did not lose significantly more weight than the control group, some even gained weight. The reason behind this apparently is that whether exercise made these women more hungry than usual and so they ate more, or if a snack was eaten in reward for completing the exercise, more calories had been consumed in compensation and since we’re not designed to dispose of excess calories, it quickly turns to fat. It seems like the solution is simple, we just need to have more willpower, but the article counteracts this with a theory of evolution that we can’t for very long maintain willpower, the more we try the harder it is. Perhaps this is the reason behind so many yo-yo dieters.

None of this sounds very promising, but what I can gather from this article, is that there’s not much evidence to suggest that we need to do vigorous exercise, but simply keeping active throughout the day is enough. Another reason why strenuous exercising does not really help us to lose weight is the idea that if you were to go to the gym for an hour one day, you are more likely to remain sedentary for the rest of that day, and again another study supports this.
This is something I found easy to comprehend. I for one am guilty of eating more than usual after exercising. Does that mean I lack all self control? For me exercising is not about losing weight, it’s about keeping fit. I feel like the more I do, the more I want to do, and while I could just do simple things throughout the day like taking the stairs instead of the lift, I like the rush of endorphins I get after exercise and as long as it’s done safely, i.e. properly warm down the muscles afterwards, then I don’t see how my body is being put under too much stress. I certainly feel healthier if I’ve been for a jog and surely that’s important in actually being healthy? I thought the article over simplified the complex nature of humans and the fact that we’re all different. I know personally of people who have exercised, successfully lost weight and kept it off. I know changing their diet helped immensely but I doubt that simply walking more would be as effective as doing more vigorous cardiovascular exercise at shedding those extra pounds. Perhaps the key is to reward yourself with something healthy rather than calorific.

I did agree with the fundamental argument of the article and that was that we’ve moved away from leisure activities like walking and gardening, which used to be a big part of our lives. The point is we live in a world where it’s all too easy to not be active and have everything done for us. The most important thing is to remain active and enjoy what leisure activities you do. As long as shopping exists I think I’m pretty safe in keeping active.


Cris said...

"As long as shopping exists I think I’m pretty safe in keeping active."

Brilliant :). Lol, so true.

Marisa said...

I agree... Since I was 14 years old, I was always trying new things like running, aerobics, extreme cardio etc, and I would never lose any weight. I've lost 22 pounds in these past 6 months, not because I would go to the gym or whatever, actually I wasn't doing any kind of exercise regime... BUT since I went to college I became more active and eating healthy became a habit.I'm on vacation, and I still don't do cardio, only some pilates for my back problems (three times a month ahaha), and I actually lost some weight because I'm still eating healthy everyday and became more conscious of what my body needed. Thanks for sharing with us that article (: I was thinking of posting a fitness post and you completed my ideas with this (:

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