Exercise for Weight Loss Under Attack
January is not only a time for the diet industry to be in full swing. The fitness industry wants a piece, too. I love exercise and I’m a sucker to try the latest workout. But I also cringe when I see gyms and boutique fitness ads flaunting images of six-pack abs, promising you can “lengthen” your body (ugh - I’m almost 5’4” with a short torso, you cannot LENGTHEN me), or suggesting we need to be close to killing ourselves with workouts that have us one burpee away from a major injury.
Why do you exercise? Stress relief, health issues, build muscle, strengthen bones, overall good vibes? The biggest reason most people are sweating it out is WEIGHT LOSS. A recent article popped up in one of my feeds, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Lose Weight (cnn.com), and it challenges the concept of exercise for weight loss.
I know…. WHAT?!? This could really help us all stop throwing money to monthly membership fees!
Let’s think about this. First, a look at how our body uses energy (calories burned):
Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) accounts for 60-80% of our total energy expenditure, or the total amount of calories we burn up in a day. BMR is energy used to carry out basic activities keeping our bodies alive, e.g., pumping blood, breathing.
We also burn approximately 10% of total daily calories through the act of digestion.
This leaves about 10-30% of calories burned through physical activity. This can be a purposeful workout, but also energy used to walk around the grocery store, walk up and down stairs, and other daily movement. A gym workout is accounting for a small part of that 10-30% of calories burned from physical activity. For example, if you burn 10% of total calories from physical activity, 3% could be from a spin class while the other 7% could be from all other forms of movement you participate in throughout the day.
Here’s more from the article:
“Even a vigorous cycling class, which can burn more than 700 calories, can be completely canceled out with just a few mixed drinks or a piece of cake.”
This can seem discouraging if the main reason you hit the gym is for weight loss. Especially if you’re not really into the exercise class you signed up for and are only doing it in hopes the scale will budge. This can get old quickly, cause burn-out, and eventually you give up.
“….. those who were dissatisfied with their bodies in general were more likely to exercise for appearance-related reasons, and went on to record the worst results for post-exercise wellbeing.”
The press release goes on to state,
“Associate Professor Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz said a possible explanation for this effect is that if people were doing exercise for appearance reasons they might tend to have unreasonable expectations for weight loss.” (Deakin University, 2019)
Ok…. Please don’t go and ditch exercise. Here are reasons you SHOULD still keep at it and find an exercise you’re really into:
#1: Strength training builds muscle. We naturally lose muscle as we age. Muscle increases your metabolic rate.
#2: Losing weight WITHOUT exercise means muscle LOSS. This is because your body views a diet as starvation and starts breaking down muscle (protein), which is then turned to glucose in our body to give us energy (via gluconeogenesis - forming glucose from a non-glucose source). Remember a decrease in muscle means a decrease in metabolism. Yet another reason we hear that chronic dieting can slow metabolism.
#3: Exercise can help relieve stress. Stress is a major cause of inflammation in the body that can lead to health problems including heart disease and diabetes. Relieving stress can also help with depression and anxiety. That’s why many people say exercise is their “antidepressant” of choice. Turning to the high of endorphin release is a better option than turning to wine, smoking, or emotional eating as a way to deal with stress. (Note: I am NOT suggesting you give up wine.)
#4: Flexibility. Yoga and basic stretching are important to keep us flexible as we age. Not to mention if we are engaging in hard core workouts that leave us sore and beaten up, stretching regularly can help prevent injuries. No one wants to be sidelined.
#5: Exercise gives us energy!! Once you get your heart and blood pumping, energy levels will rise. The opposite of this is when people over-exercise or athletes overtrain, which can cause irritability and fatigue.
#6: Health. It is proven that exercise can decrease blood pressure, increase your good cholesterol (HDL), and prevent or delay cognitive decline associated with aging. (Chaput et al. 2011)
Keep in mind, exercise SHOULD NOT be a form of punishment from eating that sleeve of cookies and downing a few glasses of wine!!! (eh-hem)
If you’ve read this far then I’ll be completely honest. I am not immune to any of the “wrong” reasons we exercise. I have definitely worked out in hopes of weight loss. I have tortured myself with workouts that I either wasn’t loving, too sore or too damn tired to be doing, all because I had to squeeze that extra workout in for some unknown reason. I have worked out when I was sick and knew I shouldn’t be (try doing a spin workout when you haven’t been able to breathe normally from bad asthma …. insane). I have worked out with injuries that I was supposed to be healing. I have set unrealistic workout expectations of myself, compared myself to others, and pushed, pushed, pushed.
I’ve slowly been changing my attitude about exercise. Now, I like to wake up in the morning and ask myself what I FEEL like doing for movement rather than tell myself, “You better go for a run after the way you ate this weekend!” Some mornings I know I’m just not feeling it and I take a rest day. It’s what I like to call a “get sh** done day” because without the time suck of driving to a workout, working out, showering…. I actually get sh** done! Other days I may be in the mood for some heavy weights or cardio, sometimes yoga.
Bottom line here, I DON’T think we should be ditching exercise. I think we need to be sure we are exercising for the RIGHT reasons. Adjust our thinking and ask ourselves what we would LIKE to be doing for exercise and WHY. Stop torturous exercise. Stop exercising in hopes of some unrealistic, magical thing to happen to our bodies. There are many reasons to fit exercise into your life. If you’re doing activities you love, not injuring yourself, and not doing it for the sole purpose of weight loss, there is much to be gained!
Chaput, J. P., Klingenberg, L., Rosenkilde, M., Gilbert, J. A., Tremblay, A., & Sjödin, A. (2010). Physical activity plays an important role in body weight regulation. Journal of obesity, 2011, 360257.
Deakin University. (2019, January 7). Study shows exercising for appearance's sake a blow to body image. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from http://www.deakin.edu.au/
Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M., Dias, S., Krug, I., Richardson, B., Fassnacht, D. Motive‐ and appearance awareness‐based explanations for body (dis)satisfaction following exercise in daily life. British Journal of Health Psychology, 2018 Nov; 23(4):982-999.