Do I Need to Exercise to Lose Weight?
What role does exercise play in weight loss? It may surprise many people to learn that they are not actually burning as many calories with exercise as they may think.
For example: Running at a moderate pace for 30 minutes would only burn 300-400 calories for a 185 lbs person. Therefore in order to lose less than 1 lbs per week, you would have to go for a 30 minute run EVERY. DAY. (assuming you didn’t take any additional calories away from your diet) in order to lose 1 pound per week.
From another perspective: You go for your 30 minute run. You’re feeling great, Day 1 of your new healthy weight loss journey has begun. When you get home from your run you reach for a healthy protein bar to replenish yourself - plus that run did work up an appetite..
Well you probably unknowingly just ate back all of the calories (perhaps even more) that you just burned with all that effort. Bummer.
Therefore, it is very important not to think you get to ‘eat more because I exercised more’. This mindset if a recipe for failure, frustration, and can nullify all the healthy dietary habits that would otherwise result in weight loss.
So, what if any role does exercise play in a weight loss plan? Actually, a key one. You see, while exercise may not ‘burn’ as much fat as we think, it does have many other benefits which indirectly aid in weight loss and long-term weight management.
First of all, exercise improves muscular strength and conditioning, which is important in improving blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol, and improving mobility and energy.
When we say we want to ‘lose weight’ what we really mean is that we want to lose FAT. By engaging in regular exercise, a stimulus is given to the body to preserve lean muscle. Therefore, if we are exercising regularly (ideally daily, and ideally some sort of resistance exercise that focuses on muscular output) AND losing weight, we can be fairly confident that we are losing mostly fat, which is exactly what we want!
Second of all exercise improves mental health, increases feeling of wellbeing and lowers stress. All super important in a weight loss journey.
Thirdly, exercise prevents weight re-gain. Studies show that while the dietary changes are more important in losing weight, exercise is highly associated with the ability to keep weight off in the long term.
Overall, it is easy to recognize based on scientific studies, and experience that people who exercise regularly are generally healthier that those who do not.
My approach to weight loss and weight management focuses on GAINING health, with weight loss as a happy side effect of healthy dietary and lifestyle behaviors and habits. While it’s entirely possible to lose weight without doing an ounce of exercise (essentially starving yourself), the weight lost will most likely not be healthy (or at least as healthy as it could be), and will be much more prone to the dreaded REBOUND phenomenon, where the fat that was lost comes back – often times with friends.
How much or what types of exercise is best? – Stay tuned.
Dr. Sheldon Bjorgaard, BSc., ND