David's Blog | Don't Count On Exercise To Lose Weight
David's Blog
There is only one success--to be able to spend your life in your own way.-Christopher Morley
Don't Count On Exercise To Lose Weight
By David
Posted October 6, 2009

Those of you who know me, are probably aware that yours truly is no stranger to the gym.

I'm not currently overweight and have no illnesses, but I am focused on preventative care. Maybe my focus is as a result of a family history of heart disease and diabetes, and maybe it's as a result of being a slightly older parent. I want to be able to play with my children without getting winded. I love carrying my children on my shoulder and they are no longer light or small. And I also would like to increase my chances of sticking around long enough to enjoy more milestones in my children's lives. There is a bar- and bat-mitzvah to attend, high-school and college graduations, weddings, and the birth of grandchildren ahead.

For the past 15 years, my weight has somewhat fluctuated, and so I'm always careful about consuming too much fat, sugar, and too many calories. I don't subscribe to any particular diet, but I'm careful to keep track of my food intake.

These days, I work out at the gym three times a week. Each time, I run close to two miles on the elliptical, and then lift weights.

I should really add that I basically hate exercising and dieting. I'm not naturally inclined to be a gym rat, nor a health nut. On the contrary, I love eating unhealthy food and I much prefer a sedentary lifestyle. Given the choice, I'd always choose a movie over the shoulder press and a steak over salad. But somehow that hasn't derailed my much dreaded exercise routine and careful diet.

Exercise isn
Exercise isn't the way to lose weight?

All in all, I've lost about ten pounds in the past year. But I've been exercising regularly for the past three years. So, why haven't I lost weight sooner?

Because, contrary to popular belief, exercise does not directly help with weight loss. In fact, when I get home after working out at the gym, I'm basically starving like at no other time of the day or night. It's very difficult not to over-eat at that point and regain not only all the calories I burn at the gym, but a whole bunch more.

As it turns out, I'm not alone with this challenge. Here's an interesting article from New York Magazine:

Let us begin with a short quiz: a few questions to ponder during the 30 (or 60 or 90) minutes a day you spend burning off excess calories at the gym, or perhaps while feeling guilty because you’re not so engaged. If lean people are more physically active than fat people -- one fact in the often-murky science of weight control that’s been established beyond reasonable doubt -- does that mean that working out will make a fat person lean? Does it mean that sitting around will make a lean person fat? How about a mathematical variation on these questions: Let’s say we go to the gym and burn off 3,500 calories every week—that’s 700 calories a session, five times a week. Since a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories, does that mean we’ll be a pound slimmer for every week we exercise? And will we continue to slim down at this pace for as long as we continue to exercise?
Considering the ubiquity of the message, the hold it has on our lives, and the elegant simplicity of the notion—burn calories, lose weight—wouldn't it be nice to believe it were true? The catch is that science suggests it's not, and so the answer to all of the above quiz questions is "no."

Having exercised and dieted for years, my conclusion is that exercise is effective for stress reduction, lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as improving muscle tone and strength. But apparently exercise is not very effective for losing weight. Strange but true.

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