Time and time again, we hear that we have to move more in order to lose weight. Increased physical activity and exercise supposedly melt away belly fat as well as fat on the hips. Nonetheless experience seems show just the opposite: People are becoming more and more fat, in spite of participating in more physical activity. Is this really true, and if it is, what is the reason?
People looking to lose weight often receive the same advice, i.e. get more physical activity or take up a sport. The idea is that you use up calories and burn fat, which consequently leads to weight loss. Sport and other forms of physical activity do not in fact automatically lead to weight loss or lower body fat in general. Just the opposite is true: A study conducted in 2014 shows that precisely those who take up a sport in order to lose weight are the ones who actually tend to gain weight.
Study shows that moderate physical activity does not lead to weight loss
Scientists at Arizona State University (US) had women between the ages of 25 and 40 train three days per week on a treadmill for 30 minutes for a total of three months. All of the study participants were very overweight (i.e. obese) and had never exercised. The women were instructed to not change their diets in any way.
The authors of the study assumed that the women who had the highest body fat percentages would lose the most fat. That was not the case though, as 55 of the 81 women who took part actually gained weight…and moreover their body fat increased.
The calories used during exercise are often overestimated
The reasons for the outcome were not investigated as part of this study, although experts have determined some reasons for weight gain in spite of physical training:
- People tend to overestimate the amount of calories used through physical activity, and then they eat more. The 30 minutes of treadmill training in the study resulted in a maximum of 350 extra calories being burned. That's approximately the calorie content of a small chocolate bar.
- People who have never done any exercise are lacking in muscle mass, which means that they burn fewer calories when they exercise.
- Moderate levels of physical activity do little to encourage weight loss – higher intensity activity is better for weight loss.
- Without any change in one's diet, exercising will not lead to weight loss as the appetite increases. After exercising, one simply takes in more calories by eating more.
Moderate exercise without eating better does not lead to long-term weight loss success
It's our belief that exercise indeed supports weight loss and reduced body fat, but attempting to lose weight through exercise alone will rarely lead to success. In combination with a better diet, physical activity will nonetheless quickly lead to positive results. Moreover, depending on your fitness level and health status, you should increase the intensity slowly over time. Move your body and work up a good sweat several times per week.
Source: Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona (US): Predictors of Fat Mass Changes in Response to Aerobic Exercise Training in Women, 2014
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