In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless..
Exercise isn’t as important in helping people lose weight as you hear so regularly in gym advertisements.
The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued.
Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.
After we exercise, we often crave sugary calories like those in muffins or in “sports” drinks like Gatorade. A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories. If you’re hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it’s easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash. From a weight-loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.
If you’re more physically active, you’re going to get hungry and eat more. This explains the playgrounds at fast-food restaurants. Why would they build those? If a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000.
Something far simpler: regularly moving during our waking hours. We all need to move more — Our leisure-time physical activity (including things like golfing, gardening and walking) has decreased since the late 1980s, right around the time the gym boom really exploded. But do we need to stress our bodies at the gym?
Could pushing people to exercise more actually be contributing to our obesity problem? In some respects, yes.
Because exercise depletes not just the body’s muscles but the brain’s self-control “muscle” as well, many of us will feel greater entitlement to eat a bag of chips during that lazy time after we get back from the gym. This explains why exercise could make you heavier — or at least why even my wretched four hours of exercise a week aren’t eliminating all my fat. It’s likely that I am more sedentary during my nonexercise hours than I would be if I didn’t exercise with such Puritan fury. If I exercised less, I might feel like walking more instead of hopping into a cab; I might have enough energy to shop for food, cook and then clean instead of ordering a satisfyingly greasy burrito.
Very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles.
The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don’t have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day. Overweight people actually expend significantly more calories every day than people of normal weight — 3,064 vs. 2,080.
In short, it’s what you eat, not how hard you try to work it off, that matters more in losing weight. You should exercise to improve your health, but be warned: fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain.
I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber — and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual postexercise reward.