For More Weight Loss, Exercise Less?

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As with so many other things in life, exercise may work best if you follow the Goldilocks rule: exercise neither too little nor too much, if your goal is to shed extra weight, a new study finds.

Previous research has shown that exercise alone doesn’t reliably lead to weight loss — without accompanying restrictions in diet — a dismaying fact that many hopeful weight-losers know firsthand. But a recent Danish study suggests that physical activity can indeed help shrink your pants size, so long as you hit the sweet spot — perhaps somewhere around a half-hour a day, at least for young men.

For the study, researchers at the University of Copenhagen recruited 61 sedentary and moderately overweight men, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, and randomly assigned them to one of three groups: a control group that remained sedentary with no changes to diet or activity; another group that took up a 30-minutes-a-day routine of moderate exercise like jogging or biking (each participant worked out for either half an hour or until he burned 300 calories); or a third group that exercised more vigorously, for an hour a day or until they burned 600 calories.

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Before launching into the 13-week exercise regimen, all the men underwent a baseline checkup to gauge their overall health and fitness: all were overweight but not obese, and they were metabolically healthy. During the 13 weeks, the men were instructed not to make any purposeful changes to their eating habits; they also kept food diaries that the researchers checked later, and on certain days they wore motion sensors to track how much activity they were engaging in outside of their exercise routines.

By the end of the 13 weeks, the results were both expected and unexpected, the researchers reported. Not surprisingly, the sedentary group saw no changes in their weight. The men in the high-intensity exercise group lost an average of 5 lbs., but while weight loss was expected, the researchers said these men lost about 20% less than they would have anticipated, given how many extra calories they were burning. Even more surprising were the results from the moderate exercise group: these men lost an average of 7 lbs. each, 83% more than what the researchers would have guessed based on calorie expenditure alone.

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So, what happened? It’s not entirely clear from the study, but lead researcher Mads Rosenkilde had some theories, according to the New York Times. First, the intense exercisers were probably compensating for their extra activity by eating more food. Although the added consumption noted in their food diaries wasn’t enough to explain their smaller-than-expected weight loss, Rosenkilde thinks they were likely eating more food than they jotted down. In addition, data from the motion sensors showed that the men who exercised the most were sedentary when they weren’t working out; they spent most of their free time sitting, probably because they were tired, Rosenkilde said.

In contrast, the men who exercised for 30 minutes at at time became more active throughout the day, probably opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator, for instance, and moving more in general, Rosenkilde said. “It was little things, but they add up,” Rosenkilde told the Times.

Overall, Rosenkilde concluded, people who exercise less may end up burning just enough calories to lose weight, but not enough to feel compelled to replace them, either by eating more or remaining sedentary otherwise. Those who exercise a lot, on the other hand, may feel more drained, which prompts them to compensate.

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The findings are intriguing, but it’s hard to say how generalizable they are to groups other than young, healthy men. It’s also not known how exercise may impact weight loss over the long term. The Times reports:

The study also was short-term, and the results might shift over the course of, say, a year of continued exercise, Mr. Rosenkilde says. The men working out for 60 minutes were, after all, packing on some muscle, while the 30-minute exercisers were not. That extra muscle offset some of the vigorous exercisers’ weight loss in the short term — they sloughed off fat but added muscle, decreasing their net loss — but over the longer term it could amp up their metabolism, aiding in weight control.

You can read more about the study, published in the American Journal of Physiology — Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, in the Times article here.

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21 comments
townsend
townsend

What so many of these studies show to me is that each person is different. There is no one size fits all for people either in love, career choice, or, how much to exercise or not exercise. Personally, I can eat and drink to my hearts desire as long as I walk at least thirty minutes four times a week. However, that might not work for the next gal but it works for me. People just need to listen to their bodies and start the process to be more health conscious and motivated towards exercising to stay fit.

weightlossandfasting
weightlossandfasting

Ah, what an interesting article.  I have exercised for years to maintain my weight and to stay fit and healthy.  I think it's all about balance for a healthy life full of wellness.  

weightloss777
weightloss777

Weight loss starts in your mind. It has also to do with your energy status. I have seen very good results with 1500 calories (4 meals) + brain entrainment audios listening before going to bed + about 20 minutes training titled PACE.

Personal Trainer Kensington
Personal Trainer Kensington

As I always say to clients its actually nothing to do with the length of time that you exercise for. A 30 minute workout if done the right way can burn more calories than a 60 minute workout! The calories burned issue is a difficult one too as there is no mention of how this was actually measured. Many cardio machine that include calorie counters are very unaccurate. What is important for long term weight loss is actually making exercise sustainable. 30 minute sessions are more sustainable for many people and therefore over the longer term may well result in increased weight loss. 

Personal Trainer London
Personal Trainer London

In actuality I think it has less to do with how long you exercise for and more to do with the level of 'intensity' with which you train that makes a difference. As a personal trainer we know that weight loss can be achieved with just 10 minutes of exercise a day if done intensively. I would imagine that the experiment was not fully controlled  especially with regard to exercise intensity and calories consumed from food.  How was the number of calories burned through exercise calculated? From the exercise bike display in the gym...if so, a very unreliable measure.

I think the basis of the experiment is simply exercise in moderation. Most people can spare 30 minutes a day which means that keeping the program going is more likely.  A longer term study would have been interesting to see how many of the target group stuck with their exercise regime in both exercise groups and how many kept the weight off.

velda p.
velda p.

I learned this the hard way over the years.

velda p.
velda p.

Yeah, I already learned this the hard way over the years.

Chris Mourning
Chris Mourning

I've gained a few pounds since we had Abby, ive tried everything. Does anyone know if these pills work? Looks like they get alot of good reviews. http://phen375pills.org/

breindrein
breindrein

45 minutes weight or cardio or mix per day will make you lose wait. Naturally eating pizza all day wont work. so eat 4-6 small meals (complex carbs, high quality protein, low fat) per day, exercise 5 times a week and you are basically guaranteed to lose weight and increase your energy levels.  One day per week is cheat day where you dont exercise and stuff your face with whatever you want. I found that the Body For Life program is good for anyone that need good eating/exercise guidelines, but dont know where to start.

davee44
davee44

There is no need for exercise to loss weight(Although it can help in moderation)

The problem is the food in the USA. 

The food was changed in the USA, UK and Australia 30 years ago when dangerous food chemicals from the USA was allowed into European. The food today causes stubborn insulin If you have stubborn insulin you hold fat and have a hard time losing weight. You can eat very little and the weight still does not come off. Stubborn insulin will hold fat and diets won't work. When researchers used a specialized diabetes diet on overweight people all lost weight even those who did not have diabetes. just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

Talendria
Talendria

Processed foods are bad for two reasons.  First, as you said, they turn our bodies into a chemistry experiment, and no one can predict how an individual's metabolism will react to all that junk.  Second, it's made eating too convenient.  When we had to cook for ourselves, the work involved was a deterrent to snacking.  Now we just grab a bag of Doritos.

Jenn Bing
Jenn Bing

Yes, I think one of the main problems in America is that the media portrays skinny people everywhere, yet unhealthy food is readily available everywhere and at all times.

As a runner, I know there are countless benefits to exercise and by focusing on exercise, you will want to eat food that gives you energy and won't make you feel bloated. The truth is: you need good nutrition and excercise in order to be healthy and strong, which will give you a new appreciation for your body that you never had before. That is a reward all on its own.

Talendria
Talendria

Agreed. When celebrities talk about their diets, I figure they're lying or describing a regimen they've recently started. I suspect most skinny celebrities achieved their physique through odd eating rituals like fasting, purging, or liquid meals, and most of them smoke to curb food cravings. Just another reason why our media obsession is unhealthy.

I also think our culture should place a higher premium on sports you can do when you're old. As a kid I favored high impact sports like basketball, volleyball, and football, and you don't see a lot of old people doing those sports because they'd get hurt. Sports like running, tennis, golf, rowing are much better in the long run because you can continue to do them into your 70s or 80s if you're careful.

IMO888
IMO888

Bottom line:  it's more about what you eat than anything else.  While exercising may help you initially lose some weight, YOU WILL hit a wall and the only way to continue losing is to change your eating habits.  Cut out processed, packaged foods, high fructose corn syrup (read labels-it's in EVERYTHING practically), and hydrogenated oil.  Replace these with water, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  Quit counting calories just eat as many fruits and veggies as you can and the wight will melt off of you.  Read "Eat To Live" and /or "UntraMetabolism".  I was by no means that overweight-just wanted to slim down some and I've lost about 15 lbs in the past 13 weeks.  I hit my goal a few lbs ago but I'm still losing even though I'm not trying.  I just eat right and I'm never hungry!  Don't torture yourself-it's really not that hard.

MYusuf Advani
MYusuf Advani

As Mr.Ridge Briar commented about" young man doing vigorous activities to lose weigh,and he ended up getting so hungry that he ate  more than he normally would" this is 100% relevant, what the crazy people are adopting;-instead loosing weight they are more obessed. A internationally famed Yoga guru in India says-Yoga is about breaking your habits,not the body. Hence,want to loose your weight cultivate Yoga which is nota t all violent.

NStat
NStat

losing that fat and building muscle isnt a bad thing

Ridge Briar
Ridge Briar

My experience over the years and what I have observed in others ... is that reducing calories is the key to weight loss.  If you exercise a little to go along with it, great - but for myself and those close to me, it wasn't necessary.  

I remember years ago hearing an active young man comment that every time he engaged in vigorous activity to lose weight, he ended up getting so hungry that he ate more than he normally would and his diet attempts would fail ... which I think happens to quite a few people.  

Sometimes it takes every ounce of effort just to cut back on eating ... without feeling forced to also take on a lot of exercising at the same time.  Anyway - for me, the most successful diets I have had, never required adding exercise - just learning to change eating habits and adapting to the change,  was the most effective. 

Littleroo27
Littleroo27

I was just diagnosed as pre-diabetic and asked my doctor what I could do to reverse it.  She said, of course, eat well and exercise.  Knowing that the last time I tried to exercise moderately (recumbent bike and slow walking on a padded track) I ended up having foot surgery, I wasn't thrilled about that plan.

I've been watching what I eat and trying to eat less processed foods, and the results have been slow weight loss and a much quicker reduction in my glucose (sugar) levels.  I haven't felt starved or denied or like I'm punishing myself, which are the usual things that have me falling off the wagon so quickly.

Yeah, exercise is important, but start slow and work up to the point where you feel comfortable adding in physical activity without undoing all the hard work you've put in to adjust your eating habits.  If you try to change your diet and add in exercise all at once, you're more likely to decide it's just too hard and you just can't do it and give up entirely.

NagiT
NagiT

Tomorrow I might see something like "Drink more cola to lose weight"

Charles Miske
Charles Miske

Sorry HIIT folks - maybe it really doesn't work?