Exercise for weight loss : It simply doesn’t help

“Eat what you want, you can burn it off later” . Almost everyone who is trying to lose weight has encountered such an advice. Unfortunately it couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientific research suggests that exercise will not help you lose weight. However that being said exercise is still needed for a good health especially for cognitive abilities. Just not for weight loss.

Have you felt ravenously hungry after working out and were tempted to gorge as a reward for “burning calories”? Perhaps you have seen some highly active people who were expert dancers sweating all day having visceral fat in their abdominal area. Maybe you have experienced or seen people workout heavily for a few days lose weight only to gain it back? If these sound familiar to you then read on.

Is Sedentary lifestyle a problem?

When anthropologist Herman Pontzer from Hunter College New York went to Tanzania to study one of the world’s oldest hunter gatherer tribes(Hazda) he was in for a rude shock. He expected to find calorie burning machines far away from the mundane desk jobs. However despite their high level of physical activity he found out the energy expenditure was not significantly different from the average American or European. Pretty shocking! Researchers have long known that calories are burnt in a number of different human activities not physical activity alone. While the Hazda tribe burnt calories during physical activity they conserved elsewhere indicating that the amount of energy burnt by humans does not depend on physical activity. Yet this myth is perpetuated endlessly that you must workout to lose weight. Our foods are labeled with calories, however we are not effectively calculating our calorie expenditure in various body processes. With a rising obesity problem, scientists started taking a closer look at the diet . Poor diet has become the leading cause of deaths among humans.

From personal experience when I had become severely overweight, there was not a single day I didn’t exercise. In fact I exercised far more than I do today, however the weight never seemed to leave to body and would gain back if my diet went astray for a few days. Now having lost 30 kgs in two years time, I have successfully maintained my weight for the past 1.5 years. I do not fret even if my diet goes astray for a few days , neither do I start running to lose the weight. For me it’s far easier to lose weight now that it was ten years earlier when I was younger. So much for the “it becomes harder to lose weight as you age” theory.

Calorie deficit Paradox

So logically speaking if I ate more, then wouldn’t burning more calories than what I eat create a deficit? In theory yes. However it makes sense only if calories in and calories out are independent variables. They are not. If you reduce your calories your body will work hard to change its metabolism to prevent you from being burnt out. Had the calories out been constant then humans would have become extinct by now. Also excessive exercise increases appetite leading you to eat more. The phrase “working up an appetite” exists for a reason. Eating more will not lead to weight loss. Our body tends to adapt itself to conserve the energy we spend. If we all were calorie burning machines then we simply would vanish into thin air. It is a part of our survival mechanism . 

Exercise is good for health but not weight loss

Let me be clear about one thing, this article is not to shed a negative light on exercise.  The focus is on exercise for weight loss. There are many health benefits of exercise. Just because exercise doesn’t aid in weight loss we should ignore it.  It reduces your risk of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and has been proven to improve cognitive health. Exercise actually is more important for your brain’s health than solving cross word puzzles and sudo ku. Exercise will also help you maintain your weight once you have lost it. However contrary to what the fitness industry will tell you, you do not need a lot of it to stay fit and healthy. So save your money, unless your aim is to be a pro bodybuilder you do not need to lift weights to lose weight or even maintain your lost weight. You simply need to eat better and lesser.

By Prateek Dasgupta

Founder of Rebel Health and Fitness Solutions, combat sports enthusiast, history and culture nerd and lifelong seeker of knowledge

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