Exercise alone won’t help you lose weight

Saravanan "Sharu" Hariram

July 9, 2019

You’ve been hitting the gym 6 days a week but aren’t losing any weight. Why are you going around in circles when it comes to weight loss?

Relax for there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing.

A new study conducted at the City University of New York and published in the journal Current Biology has shown that there is a limit to how many calories we can burn through exercise. The study was conducted on a group of 332 adults in the United States, Jamaica and Africa. The researchers used an accelerometer, a device similar to the many wearables on the market, to measure their activity level for seven days and kept track of the number of calories the participants burned over the week.

The results were not so encouraging for those who’ve been ramping up their exercise dose in the hope of weight loss.

The study found that participants who moved more burned more calories but only up to a point. After a while, even the most active people hit a plateau and did not burn any more calories than their sedentary peers. What this essentially means is that the human body adapts to increased activity and stops burning as many calories as it did when you started.

Herman Pontzer, one of the co-authors of the study, said: “The most physically active people expended the same amount of calories each day as people who were only moderately active.” Clearly, there can be a “sweet spot” for physical activity. Too little exercise and we’re unhealthy, too much and the body tends to adapt to avoid calorie overburn.
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The study seems to set aside the regular message that we grow up hearing: Exercise more to lose weight.

But only exercising won’t help you rev up your weight loss routine.

The researchers clarify that exercise is really important for good health. “There is tons of evidence that exercise is important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy, and this work does nothing to change that message. What our work adds is that we also need to focus on diet, particularly when it comes to managing our weight and preventing or reversing unhealthy weight gain.

“We would say that ‘If you want to lose weight, you probably ought to focus on changing your diet and watching how much you eat.’ Exercise can help and it’s really important [for health in general], but they are two different tools,” Pontzer said.

The research revealed that every person “probably maxes out at a slightly different calorie-burning plateau”. Apart from body fat, this depends on metabolism, muscle mass, hormone levels and genetic differences.

But you can try spiking your calorie burn by mixing things up with your workouts. If you run all the time, try biking or spinning; if you cycle, try running or swimming. Using different muscles can increase your energy expenditure. Interval training can also help you torch more calories and push you off the weight loss plateau.

About the Author

Saravanan “Sharu” Hariram is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer with a passion for bodybuilding. Combining his love for fitness with his career, Sharu did his certification in Sports Nutrition, and Rehabilitation and Healing Nutrition. Currently a Master Trainer with HealthifyMe, he specializes in Weight Management, Marathon Training, and Physical Rehabilitation. In his 20+ years of experience, Sharu has always maintained that one’s mind must have control over their body in order to lead a healthy life. At HealthifyMe, he continues to follow his passion while helping those around him realise their fitness goals.

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