The Exercise Myth – Why exercise alone will not help us lose weight

A question many dieters ask is ‘how will exercise contribute to their goal progress?’ and the answer is more complicated than many expect. Exercise is absolutely essential for a healthy lifestyle, a non-negotiable, but for weight loss, not so much. But surely if we move more and eat less we lose weight. Right? Almost. Eating fewer calories is certainly the way forward when dieting but a slight decrease in calories and a slight increase in activity probably won’t get you very far – no one said this was going to be fair. And here’s why. Or at least here is part of a very complicated picture.

Imagine you weigh in at 90 Kilos and now subtract a few tasty calories. You also take a step, literally, forward with regards your activity and exercise and start to get in an extra few thousand steps a day. We at Waetugo applaud you. But you probably won’t lose weight because subtracting those calories and increasing your energy expenditure might be doing little more than getting you into a static weight state – keeping you at 90 KGs. In the remake of the movie Cape Fear, the evil villain Max Cady suggests that for each year of his life ‘most men gain a pound’. You can let us know if Max also says this in the original! And Max certainly looks the part. But he’s been in a prison cell for years with nothing much to do except grind out press ups and cut back on prison gruel. The reality is that you probably weren’t going to stay at 90 with your lifestyle the way it was but were probably slowly growing in all the wrong places – the new efforts just slow, or if you are lucky, halt this decline. That’s good, but it’s not what you signed up for.

So you add a bit more exercise. The good news is you are now getting much healthier in a myriad of ways that make this effort worthwhile – exercise is great for us – but exercise, unless very intensive and for extremely prolonged periods of time just doesn’t cut the mustard (or the fat).

sitting

Humans are built, believe it or not, for very active lifestyles where sitting down is not an option. What are you doing as you are reading this article? Comfy sofa? Desk chair? Lying in bed or sitting on the bus? Well you probably find reading easier when still but chairs and comfy beds don’t build lean physiques, so exercising for a few sweaty sessions a week doesn’t make a difference to the stored fat. You might cycle or walk to work, visit the gym twice in the week and once at the weekend but this does not compensate for eight hours a day of sedentary immobility. It’s a great thing to do if doing nothing at all is the alternative and, as we’ve said does us plenty of good, but it doesn’t replace the hours and hours of movement that humans need to maintain a lithe and muscular appearance free of love handles and cuddly bits. The lovely machines in the gym that target your pecs or biceps might well begin to change your shape but they aren’t engaging countless supporting muscles that wrestling with antelope or running through forests far from the beaten track will do for us. The exercise bike will target some leg muscles and more importantly your heart so please do it but it is nothing compared to jogging up a hill or mountain track where muscles even your body had forgotten about need to engage just to keep you upright and running in a straight line. The upshot is your body needs to move a lot in vigorous ways for long periods of time or with incredible intensity for exercise to significantly trim you down.

exercise-running

So, should we give up on exercise? Absolutely not. Can exercise help at all? Absolutely yes. But we need to be realistic about what it can and won’t do for us and our waist lines.

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