Move more or eat less?

One of the first things people want to do for weight loss is: exercise. Now, while exercise is an important part of a healthy life, it may not be the best catalyst for weight loss.

Weight management is about balancing Calories. When we eat fewer Calories than we burn, then we lose weight. This makes it simple to see the 2 ways to lose weight: eat fewer Calories, and/or burn more Calories. We are a “food-loving” people, so the first option does not always appeal to us; so, it makes sense that the “next best” option is exercise, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Adding exercise helps burn more Calories, but not always as many as we might guess. The type and amount of time spent exercising tell us how many Calories we burn. Higher intensity and longer duration burns more Calories; but, how many Calories are we talking?

A person weighing 205 lbs running at 6 mph for one hour will burn 930 Calories. That is a tall order, though! Especially if exercise is not currently a regular part of your lifestyle. The less you weigh, the fewer Calories you burn (you are not carrying as much weight with your body). Someone weighing 155 lbs will burn 700 Calories at 6 mph for an hour.

Most people start with walking. The same 205 lb person walking 3mph for one hour burns 305 Calories, and our 155 lb person burns 230 calories. Now, that is still in ONE HOUR. The current American College of Sports medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days per week. Cut those Calories in half and our friends burn 152 and 115 Calories.

To lose 1 pound per week, we need 500 fewer Calories PER DAY. Burning 115-150 Calories most days of the week does not give a 500 Calorie deficit. Another reason why exercise, alone, may not lead to significant weight loss is that we tend to feel hungry afterwards! And, what do we do when we feel hungry? Well…we eat! While the body is usually asking us to replace the Calories lost during exercise, we may not listen to these cues and end up eating MORE Calories than we burned!

Exercise has lots of benefits: improves cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, strengthens bones, boosts metabolism, tones muscles, and aids in weight control. The ACSM and American Heart Association recommend 30 minutes/day most days of the week for heart health; however, for weight loss, the recommendation is 60 minutes/day most days of the week. Take another look at the numbers to see why 60 minutes is more effective for weight loss. Even if you have a snack, you burn 700-900 Calories!

So, as you gradually increase exercise to the recommended 60 minutes, consider the other option: Eat less! Research shows that weight loss is 80% what we eat and 20% exercise. Both are needed for weight loss, but food may be more effective at weight loss and exercise more effective at maintaining weight.

Lifestyle change is a team effort! Support and follow-up are the most important factors in maintaining change. Contact me for personal goal setting and follow-up.


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