Recently I was asked by one of our beginner runners why she hadn’t lost any weight whilst she definitely had increased the amount of physical activity she was doing. This is not uncommon; in fact I don’t believe the role of exercise in helping us lose weight is quite as good as our gym advertisements often claim.
The principle for weight loss hasn’t changed; in order to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume. In America a survey from 1980 showed 47% of respondents said they exercised – this increased to 57% in 2000. However, the obesity figures for the same years have increased dramatically. So, what is going on here?
A couple of suggestions; firstly it is not a myth that muscle is denser than fat. When you start a new exercise routine you hope to tone up and therefore this may contribute to an overall weight gain. However, your body fat percentage will have decreased which will mean you will lose inches and your clothes will fit better.
Secondly exercise can stimulate hunger; you may have been increasing your calorie intake inadvertently. In order to lose just one pound you have to burn around 3,500 calories. If you expect to do this through exercise alone you would need to do around an hour’s walk every day for a week. Unfortunately, the post exercise hunger is easily allayed by whatever snack is available – sometimes empty calories rather than a nutritious food.
Although there is no doubt than exercise is good for our health it may not actually help us lose weight. The best way to lose weight is to combine a good healthy diet with an exercise programme.