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  • Writer's pictureDr. Doug Pooley

Exercising for Weight Loss: Good Luck!

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

Eat clean, stay fit and have a burger to stay sane. ~ Gigi Hadid

I’ll just do a few more sit-ups to lose my belly--- Nope!

My sister-in-law Jody is a beautiful girl in every sense of the word. She is intelligent, energetic, a little crazy and most of all hilarious. She is very image conscious, and staying fit is a big part of her life. Although she has a great shape, she is also in her middle fifties and, like the rest of us at this stage, finds “figure control” a little more challenging than it once was. A little while ago, after taking a long look in the mirror, she decided that a few sit-ups would be good to tighten her tummy. So, down she went to her workout area to do some core on the ab roller. Before starting, she put on the TV to catch up on her favourite soap while training. She said that she started to do her sit-up work while watching the tube and the next thing she remembers was hearing her husband coming down the stairs to see why she was gone for so long. As it turns out, she had fallen asleep in the ab roller while doing sit-ups.

“As soon as I heard him coming down those stairs, I realized what had happened,” she said. “Wow … was I just sleeping? I immediately powered into those crunches. There was no way I was going to let him know that I was down there sleeping. He was so proud of me doing forty-five minutes of ab training.”

Will this type of training flatten your mid-section? You will get stronger abdominals and that is good, but it will do little to make you smaller or leaner.

Let’s deal with this misleading idea that you can exercise yourself lean right now. Despite the relentless advertising linking weight loss and exercise, it is important to realize we cannot exercise our way to leaner bodies. OK, it is technically possible with exceptional effort and time under load (a way of calculating the total amount of work you place on a muscle; it refers to the total time a muscle resists weight during each set), but I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone over the age of fifty-five who is not already conditioned to exercise strenuously. It is potentially dangerous, and I am going to present you with a far more effective strategy for losing weight if that is your goal.

Although there are tremendous health advantages to exercise, weight loss is not one of them. For all the calories you may take in during a day, you can only burn between 10 to 30 percent of them with physical training. As mentioned previously in the book, activity does set off a cascade of biochemical events in the body which can influence everything from appetite to blood sugar levels. But most recent studies fail to reveal any consistent weight loss advantages from exercise alone. The science indicates that total daily caloric expenditure doesn’t just include physical activity but also the myriad of energy requirements necessary to power the infinite number of functions that keep us alive. The Cochrane Review, which is internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care, demonstrated that physical activity alone provided only modest weight loss changes on average.

Where the science does demonstrate real value is in the case where you have already lost weight and want to keep it off. Consistent exercise will be of benefit here by helping to burn up some of the excess calories. There is no doubt that a sound exercise regime should be part of any health reclamation process, but the evidence suggests the following as a more effective strategy:

  1. Food management and caloric restriction for weight loss.

  2. Exercise for ramping up metabolism, building strength, energy, endurance, and tone.

Kevin Hall from the National Institute of Health created a model to show just how little weight loss was influenced by exercise. In the study, his test subject is a 200-pound male who runs at a moderate pace for sixty minutes, four days per week for thirty days. If the subject were to maintain his current caloric intake, he would lose five pounds in the thirty-day period, but if he were to increase his food intake or rest times during that same period, the weight loss could be less. Hall goes on to explain that exercise can, in fact, undermine weight loss goals. He logically notes that exercise make us hungry, stimulating us to consume more food and thereby offset the loss—or worse—contribute to weight gain.

Research done by Dr. Herman Pontzer for his work “Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and the Evolutionary Biology of Energy Balance” looked at energy expenditure as related to activity and compared the caloric consumption of three groups of individuals who were sedentary, moderately active and who exercised vigorously daily. The study revealed that energy consumption was proportionally greater among the lower threshold participants (those who were moderately active) than among those exercising vigorously each day.[1] In fact, it appeared that the energy consumed among the vigorous group appeared to plateau over time even though intensity may have increased. Pontzer refers to this as the “constrained model” of energy expenditure, an approach which reveals that the effects of increased physical activity are not linear despite what the manufacturers of fitness trackers profess. To boil this down, it means that more activity does not necessarily equate to more caloric output and weight loss.

The evidence is both logical and unequivocal: Exercise is critical for health but should never be held up as an equal to food management in the fight against obesity. Purposeful movement, as we will demonstrate in the formal program portion of the book, will lay out an activity schedule designed to maximize metabolic activity (support weight loss), improve mobility, and stimulate healing.

Moving forward, let’s take a close look at the other pillars, starting with Functional Breathing and its importance to life and health.

[1] Pontzer, Herman “Constrained Total Energy Expenditure & The Evolutionary Biology of Energy Balance” Published PubMed 2015.

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