How to Look at Exercise and Weight Loss for Success

How to Look at Exercise and Weight Loss for Success

In the past, I have touched on the importance of calorie restriction and diet control for a healthy life, eating less but better quality food, and also on ways to increase your non-exercise activity (NEAT) to help with weight loss. Today I wanted to briefly touch on the role of exercise in a healthy weight control program.

Many times, people who are trying to get a handle on their weight, see the amount of exercise required to lose a few pounds and lose heart. It takes about 4 hours of running or 16 hours of walking to lose a single pound. It can certainly be discouraging if you have the wrong perspective, especially if you are seriously overweight. So here's my perspective on it, for what it's worth.

The benefits from exercise are not just a matter of caloric usage.

Firstly, don't look at the weight you are losing as a one-to-one reward just for that session. Think of it as a cumulative accretion over time. When we looked at NEAT, it was easy to say initially that the caloric usage was so small, how could it help? But when all these small activities are added up, they represent significant impacts over time. Exercise benefits us the same way. Even though you might only burn a pound or less at a time, when added up over a year, that can really make a big difference.

And even if you cannot do 4 hours of running, and twenty minutes is your limit, that effort on a regular basis will still reap you serious results. Then you can build over time. Best of all, the body continues to burn calories for hours after you exercise, so the benefits are not just derived from the period of activity alone. One study concluded that this increased metabolic rate after exercise can result in a five pound weight loss over a year. So like NEAT, there are many smaller incremental benefits.

Furthermore, the benefits are not limited to mere caloric usage. If you are practicing caloric restriction to any degree, that will improve your health, but it will also impact your physique. In the early 20th century, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that a full 25% of weight loss from dietary restriction is from muscle tissue. Exercise is essential to offsetting this loss. Studies also show that if you lose muscle as a result from dieting, any weight gains in the future from caloric intake will be entirely fat, meaning you are doomed to worse weight gains and ultimate failure.

Not only does exercise keep you from this predicament and keep your muscle tone, but it will help normalize your metabolism so you keep the weight control as you move forward. In every way it becomes easier. Exercise, by mobilizing fat into the bloodstream where it is used by muscles instead of sugars, helps normalize blood sugar levels, which also means you will get less hungry naturally.

Bear in mind that because exercise essentially converts fat into energy and builds muscle, you will actually lose inches of your tough areas before you actually get lighter (muscle weighs more than fat.) Some people can drop three or four sizes without losing any weight, but that is good news.

Now I haven't even touched upon all the many, obvious benefits from exercise and increased blood flow like cardiovascular and cerebral health. Not to mention the effects on mood and how that can help decrease appetite and improve motivation (the AMA reported that many people eat to stave off depression and that happier people tend to eat less.) The point is to show that if you look at exercise as a part of a complete program, valuable even in smaller, regular amounts, and in many varied ways, it will be easier to embrace as a lifestyle than if you simply look at it for what it does in terms of calories burned for time spent.

So rather than feel deflated that so much effort is required for such a little numerical reward, look at it with the broader perspective that comes from the broad range of benefits to be had from an active lifestyle. Like NEAT, embrace movement as a core value, happy in the knowledge that you will see the results in time. This is my key to success. So, if you are struggling with reaching your ideal weight goals, or frustrated at the effort it takes, remember to take the long view. Every journey is comprised of many small steps.

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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