How Much Exercise Do You Need To SuperPower Your Health?

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6 Responses

  1. I work as a registered dietitian and Personal Trainer and have an exercise Physiology masters. In my program, we were shown the research that exercise is not an effective way to lose weight. Having worked with individuals both on the training side (strength training) and nutrition side, It baffles me that exercise is listed as a means to weight loss. One, why don’t super active people waste away then? Their weight doesn’t change. Second I find that people who exercise too much cannot lose weight because they are telling their body to lay down muscle when it is in a caloric deficit. You can’t do both at the same time so it slows down either process (muscle gain AND weight loss). There are meta analyses that show exercise doesn’t increase the amount of weight lost in a set period of time over diet alone nor does it preserve lean mass. So telling people who need to lose weight to exercise rather than focus on a diet is setting them up for failure. Exercise is great for all the things listed in this article, but I strongly disagree with the weight loss impact of exercise. Weight maintenance however is different and exercise is great at promoting weight maintenance after you are done losing weight.

    • says:

      Thanks, Joey, for your thoughtful comments. This is a complicated issue. Here’s how I understand it.

      In principle, people who exercise CAN lose weight from exercise. That’s because of 3 primary factors:
      1. You burn more calories during exercise than when not exercising
      2. Regular, considerable exercise speeds up metabolism, so you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising
      3. Strength training (not discussed in this piece) helps burn even more calories

      However, you are correct that many people do not lose weight when they exercise. Why? Among the reasons:
      1. Exercise makes them hungry, so they eat a lot, and the number of calories they consume is more than the calories they lost when exercising
      2. Exercise makes them feel like they deserve a reward, hence more eating above and beyond the calories they lost when exercising
      3. Exercise machines give false calorie readings; they include the calories people would have lost just by staying alive, so people think they have more calories to spend than they do.

      In The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How To Make Yours Work, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, one of the world’s weight management experts, points out that with weight loss, dietary choices are responsible for 70% - 80%, and exercise 20% - 30%.

      So in principle, and especially for people who are very disciplined about both exercise and diet, exercise will help weight loss. There have been many studies showing that exercise helps weight loss, and that’s likely why. For obese people, the research shows that strength training works even better than aerobics: Also, weight loss with exercise is also quite different for people who are overweight and those who are underweight. It is much harder to lose weight when you are underweight, because the body’s natural life-preservation mechanisms kick in to prevent wasting away.

      • I understand your points, but respectfully, I still STRONGLY disagree based on my experience strength training obese people weekly over a 3.5 year period and working with those who do lots of exercise as well as the research shown to me in my master’s program. The article linked discusses body composition parameters from strength training--not weight loss. These are completely different topics. If you are at an appropriate body weight, adding strength training can increase lean mass and decrease body fat, drastically changing your body fat percentage. However, you probably will GAIN weight (especially if eating to fuel strength training, which requires a caloric surplus; I have measured my clients sets, reps and weight and have seen those who are restricters and those who are not). If you are overweight or obese, the muscle gain will not be as noticeable in your body composition because you still have X pounds way over your frame size in body fat to lose, which just doesn’t disappear with more time in the gym.

        Coming from an athletic background of overtraining (swimming, 2x/day 6 days a week division 1 + strength training 3x/week), not only did I get worse at my sport from overtraining, I also did not lose weight from it even when, at the time, I was eating «too healthy» (ie no «bad» foods, not enough calories for what I was doing due to too «healthy» choices). The only way I have ever lost weight in my life was from not eating as much food (fewer calories) and not working out hardcore. The purpose of exercise is not to lose weight but to gain fitness. You will lose reps and strength through the weight loss process through physics alone (mass moves mass)--I've experienced this twice going from 100 lb dumbbells to 90 lb dumbbells at 90% my 1 rep maximum when going from 180 to 165 lbs. If it didn’t work that way, we would be able to look like superheroes naturally. If someone has never done anything in their life in terms of exercise, then it is likely you are not capable of breaking yourself down enough to interfere with weight loss (working on balance, stability, flexibility, coordination, and light to moderate non exhaustive or intense exercise, which is where everyone should start who has never worked out before), but you will have a lot more weight on your joints increasing the risk of injury and limiting your capacity to do exercise at all nor has it been shown that it significantly increases weight loss over diet alone (again, we are talking weight loss, not body composition, which can still be achieved after you are done losing weight if you follow a goal-oriented program).

        You are arguing psychological mechanisms for people to have exercise not work as a means to weight loss, but I also experiment on myself and highly do not recommend trying to exercise more while on a caloric deficit. It just doesn’t work and predisposes you to injury. I’ve been there.

        • says:

          Thanks, Joey. I would add 2 comments to my perspectives above:
          1. Moderation is very important. Extremes in exercise, dieting, etc. can be harmful and certainly predispose you to injury. Slow and steady wins the race.
          2. Whenever/however you’re engaged in a program of significant weight loss, it’s important to do strength training so as not to lose muscle mass simultaneously.

  2. Ayush says:

    Marvellous article! So nice of you.

  1. November 25, 2015

    […] There are other squat benefits too: improved posture, finer muscle tone, "Doing squats will train every one of the lower body muscle groups." the ability to lift more weight. Over time, these will lead to greater bone density for osteoporosis prevention, increased metabolism, and a better body composition, which typically improves health-related biomarkers and overall health. […]

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