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Monday, 30 December 2013 17:52

Exercise and Weight Loss - Debunking The Myth

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The old year is winding down. We're preparing for a new year. This is a time of year when many dieters will fall off the wagon because of tempting holiday treats. Dieters commit (or recommit) themselves to losing weight in January. It's also a time for new fad diets and plain old misinformation. One of the biggest sources of confusion is the discussion about exercise and weight loss. So let's look at the facts.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, "At its most basic ... obesity results when someone regularly takes in more calories than needed." In an excellent article for the Washington Post, Deborah Cohen of the Rand Corp. discusses five myths about obesity. Here's what Ms. Cohen has to say about physical activity and weight loss:


There is compelling evidence that the increase in calories consumed explains the rise in obesity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination found that people take in, on average, more than 500 more calories per day now than they did in the late 1970s, before obesity rates accelerated.That’s like having Christmas dinner twice a week or more. It wouldn’t be a problem if we stuffed ourselves only once a year, but all-you-can-eat feasts are now available all the time. It’s nearly impossible for most of us to exercise enough to burn off these excess calories.


This calorie-burner chart from the USDA illustrates the problem of trying to lose weight through exercise. It would require almost two hours per day of walking or bicycling (moderate physical activity), or more than an hour a day of strenuous activity (like chopping wood), in order to offset an extra 500 calories. In an article about childhood obesity, the New England Journal of Medicine agrees, calling the importance of physical activity for weight loss "a myth."


Physical education, as typically provided, has not been shown to reduce or prevent obesity. Findings in three studies that focused on expanded time in physical education indicated that even though there was an increase in the number of days children attended physical-education classes, the effects on body-mass index (BMI) were inconsistent across sexes and age groups. Two meta-analyses showed that even specialized school-based programs that promoted physical activity were ineffective in reducing BMI or the incidence or prevalence of obesity.


In an article for PubMed, the American Dietetic Association further explodes the myth of physical activity and weight loss: "Although exercise does increase energy output during and after exercise and can expend energy from fat for many overweight persons, excessive caloric expenditure has limited implications for substantially reducing body weight independent of nutritional modifications."

The bottom line is that obesity is a numbers game. Calories in, calories out. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less, you will lose weight. While exercise in fact does burn calories, it is not a good method for weight control, if you are suffering from obesity. I mention this because so many people are put off by the idea of losing weight, if they think it requires hours a day at the gym. That is not true. Healthy diet choices, which is something we can all control (cut down on fat, sugar, and processed foods), are the most important factor in treating obesity. Physical activity (exercise) comes in a distant second.

Of course moderate physical activity and exercise should be part of a healthy lifestyle. California Medical Weight Management's physician-supervised, three-step weight loss program provides you with the diet tools you need to make healthy lifestyle choices, including an exercise program tailored to your personal needs. In the "long run," proper diet and nutrition are the best approach to weight loss. Overeating, then trying to burn off extra calories by spending hours at the gym, is an unworkable solution.

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