exercise and weight loss revisited

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A short while ago a client gave me a copy of a feature article that appeared in the August 17, 2009 issue of
Time magazine. It was entitled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.” The author’s conclusion was that
exercise is worthless or, possibly even detrimental, to weight loss. Somewhat dismaying that in a country
in which only about 5% of the adult population gets the nationally recommended amount of exercise a
major publication was discouraging people from exercising.

In the article, the author made several assertions that run counter to current scientific beliefs regarding the
exercise-weight loss connection. He states that exercise results in increased appetite and that exercisers
“compensate” for the energy expended during exercising by consuming at least as many extra calories as
they used up exercising. The research, however, generally shows that participants in moderate exercise
programs consume about the same or a bit more than they would if they didn’t exercise. A recent study
shows that appetite is actually suppressed for 60-90 minutes following vigorous exercise.

Another of the author’s contentions was that exercisers may also “compensate” by reducing their other
activities. The majority of studies tend to show that this does not occur. In fact, results of a study done at
Duke University and published at about the same time as the Time article showed that daily exercise did
not lead to a lessening of activity the rest of the day.

I am glad to have since read two articles refuting the ideas put forth by the Time feature. Cedric X. Bryant,
Ph.D., Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise addresses the issues in his editorial
appearing in the September/October issue of Fitness Matters. And in a press release by the Pennington
Biomedical Research Center, whose researcher was quoted in the Time article, Claude Bouchard, Ph.D.,
Executive Director for the Center wrote “… I feel compelled to offer a correction to a story that drifted off
course to the conclusion that exercise is not useful for weight loss and weight management.”

There is no doubt that weight loss is a very complex issue. Statistics say, and I tell my clients who are
interested in losing weight, that it is naïve to expect to achieve their weight goals through the addition of
exercise alone. It takes more activity than most of us are able to achieve to yield a significant enough
calorie deficit without also making dietary changes. On the other hand, and I also relate this statistic to my
clients, according to the National Weight Control Registry, participating in a regular exercise program is
the single best predictor of long-term weight maintenance. And, of course, apart from the weight issue
there are numerous, scientifically supported positive health benefits associated with regular exercise.

So, a couple of sane conclusions: First, for its great many benefits, make exercise a habit! Second, and at
least as important, commit to optimizing your nutrition, whether or not weight loss is one of your goals.
Regular physical activity and quality fuel are two of the requirements for a healthy lifestyle.