How exercise DOES help with weight loss

mouseResearchers released results today of a study that helps explain why it’s so hard to lose weight by exercise alone. Turns out that when we increase our activity level, our bodies adjust our metabolism to compensate. Those “calories burned” estimates in our fitness trackers or on the treadmills at the gym? Wishful thinking, apparently.

How Exercise Sabotages Weight Loss

There are  other ways that exercise doesn’t help with weight loss.  Exercising can make you hungrier, leading you to eat extra calories. Even worse, exercising can lull you into a false sense of security: You figure you can get away with a second (or third) cookie, because of all the calories you’re burning at the gym.

And if you think all your new muscle is increasing your calorie needs, you might want to temper your enthusiasm. Although we constantly hear that “muscle burns more calories than fat,” the impact is tinier than any of us want to believe.

How Exercise Can Help

But I think there are ways that exercise helps with weight loss. They don’t have much to do with the calories we (or our muscles) are burning due to our workouts. For me, it has more to do with helping me stay in touch with my body…and with reality.

Regular exercise also reinforces my self-image as someone who takes good care of their health.  I may be a bit hungrier when I exercise, but I’m also more motivated to make healthy food choices.  One healthy habit reinforces the other.

What have you found? Does exercising make it harder or easier for you to maintain your weight or follow your healthy eating plan?

10 thoughts on “How exercise DOES help with weight loss

  1. Hi, I agree – but I think all all anyone has to do to avoid chrystalising the risks mentioned is to count calories – just honestly record what you eat, and have a good idea of how many calories you need and science’s latest “problem” is resolved.

    The best tool to know how many calories your body needs is free and found at NIDDK here

    I hope my caveat makes sense, I completely agree with downside that the latest science highlights, but as long as you are an honest regular food logger, ie a calorie counter, and you have a good idea of how many calories your body needs exercise must be a win?!


  2. I do find that when I exercise regularly, and I eat healthfully, the two reinforce each other. I get a feeling of well-being that is truly palpable.

  3. Hi, I do most of the time, but having been overweight I know I have used exercise as an excuse make poor food choices – logging helps to keep me honest 🙂

  4. First of all, I think that study is a little sketchy. The study only covered seven days. Compliance with the accelerometers may have been a problem. The raw data was truly tortured before the conclusion was reached. The lead author (a primate researcher) was already invested in the conclusion he reached.

    I am quite certain that both higher levels of general activity and intentional exercise burn extra calories. When I am training for a long race I eat a lot more calories and still lose weight. When I take a break from really vigorous exercise, I eat less and gain weight anyway.

    Exercise is primarily for fitness and the good health that comes with it. It is a pretty ineffective weight loss tool if not paired with the much more powerful effects of calorie reduction. I find that the two complement each other nicely. Learning to will yourself to run another mile strengthens the same mental muscles that will enable you pass on that extra piece of birthday cake.

  5. Yep nicely put, going back to the article, cannot comment on its robustness as a piece science, but I do think there is a grain of truth to the idea it proposes, and that people who do not have a healthy exercise habit may accidentally off-set any benefit by having an ill judged reward for the extra effort made.

    Ultimately horses for courses, perhaps with a dollop of “do I really want need that treat” or “yay I am step closer to leaving the risk of diabetes behind me”.

  6. There is another way to look at it Ilisidi. I track my calorie consumption in MFP and my activity and intentional exercise with a boat load of Garmin devices. When I do desire a whole bag of smarties or an extra adult beverage or two, I earn them first with extra intentional exercise. As long as you are keeping careful tabs on both what goes in and how much gets burned up there is no reason to let a little exercise lead to a lot of over consumption—especially when you know a quart of Chunky Monkey is going to cost you 20 miles at a 10 minute pace. Puts pain and pleasure in a whole new perspective :). If I can’t exercise, I fast. Either way there is a price to pay and it is not going to be the price of getting chubby again.

  7. Hi, we are saying the same thing in different ways 🙂 I agree and am doing pretty much the same thing myself.

    I just have a streak of caution a mile wide.


    1. If you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in, it’ll reduce your body fat stores–including tummy fat. So to the extent that running is increasing the number of calories you are burning (and you’re not compensating by eating more), it should help.

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