Anyone over here has a complicated relationship with exercise? Well, I did. I have been exercising thrice a week for the duration of 4 years (well, maybe I slacked off a few times) but my weight fluctuates even when I did everything else according to the letter. It's worth noting that, weight gain and weight loss were multifactorial. They can be influenced by various factors including diet, exercise, sleep, gender etc. For the past couple of decades, there have been thousands of books, tutorials, videos and anything related to it, which have been published or created in order to help people to either lose weight (typically for an obese or overweight individual) or gain weight (typically for a thin individual (underweight)). Did it work? Well, sometimes, it did but most of the time it didn't.
In this article, I would be explaining why focusing on exercise (alone) is a bad idea if you are planning to lose some weight.
The rationale of exercise (especially among overweight and obese people)
I think the fact that obesity has been a major global health concern can be thought as common sense already. I mean, people have never been thought as "healthy" if they exceed a certain limit on the weighing scale relative to their height. Measuring body mass index (BMI) has been a standard item for calculating the risk of an individual to be diagnosed with certain chronic diseases sometimes near the future. You name it, hypertension, diabetes mellitus type II, cardiac diseases, all of them can be attributed to people who were living a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity can be thought as a product of a sedentary lifestyle and it accounts for more than 60% of the adult population in the United State (Ogden CL, 2006).
If obesity is the major modifiable risk factors for having chronic diseases, then it posed an unnecessary medical expenditure which was spent to treat a range of diseases which can be prevented, in a way, by lifestyle modifications. Think about it, people can get a heart attack because they were genetically predisposed, some can get a high blood pressure due to unknown etiologies (primary hypertension; it can be genetics-related), some can be born with diabetes mellitus (DM) or having congenital diseases which can cause DM (Thalassemia for example) but some people just munching, sleep, never even consider to do some physical activities and they were diagnosed with all of the diseases which have been mentioned. It's important for us to treat them as equal, I mean we can never change things that have happened, but we can prevent things which may happen.
A paper which has been published in 2004 by Klein S et al have found that a clinically significant weight loss, which can be defined as losing weight more than 5% of the baseline weight, can exert a beneficial effect hence improvement in the risk factor of various diseases which are usually related to obesity. It's pretty simple, people who are lean (normal BMI) were more likely to achieve an optimal state of health compared to people who were overweight as their morbidity and mortality rate plummeted along with their weight. Of course, some studies have found that people who were lean were more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases compared to people who were obese. This phenomenon is called the obesity paradox. I have written about it a two months ago, you can click here to read it.
In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a guideline for counteracting against the ever-increasing obesity problems globally. It was found that an increase in the physical activity level, either a moderate 30 minutes physical activities for five days a week or an intense 20 minutes physical activities for 3 days a week, can reduce the risk of getting several chronic diseases (related to obesity), which can be life-threatening, significantly. The concept is quite simple, the primary objective is to treat the obesity as the main cause for most of the chronic diseases hence reducing any related health risk associated with it.
So why is it important for us to exercise to lose weight? The primary reasons for exercise among people who were overweight or obese were not just simply to lose weight and create a desirable figure (although, that was quite desirable). It was understood from various studies which were conducted in the past that the higher survival rate of people who were obese compared to the survival rate of people who lean in the obesity paradox was related to the cardiorespiratory fitness (McAuley PA, 2010). The survival rate of an individual, without considering their BMI, can be estimated based on their own cardiorespiratory fitness. If we compared between two of the people who never engage in physical activities but one being obese and another being lean, the survival rate for people who were obese were slightly higher as they were practically lifting weight all the time. Ironically, they were considered "fit" compared to the lean one who has never exercise.
Please note that even though there were many subsequent studies which have been conducted to disprove the concept related to the obesity paradox, this is still considered a grey area in medicine. Though we know that exercise or increase in physical activities is one of the most important factors that can pretty much make our chances of living a long and happy life, disease-free, much higher. I mean, it is irrelevant to live up to a 100 years old if you suffer from diseases for the 2/3 of it. The relationship between exercise and cardiorespiratory function were obviously proportional. The tricky part is to make it as much relevant as we can so that we will become motivated to make it stick to our daily routine. Afterall, consistency is the key to success (there were many keys to success, this is one of them).
Exercise and Weight Loss
Even though exercise can give you a shot at a long, happy life, it doesn't guarantee weight loss. I mean do you have a friend who went to a gym, and then when he realised he gains weight instead of losing them, they try to convince themselves saying that it's the muscle that contributes to the weight instead? Well, I have a lot of that kind of dude. I won't comment about the "muscle is much heavier than the fat" but gaining weight even after a few months of routine exercises are much commoner than you thought. Exercise is an excellent factor that can improve your health from the state it currently is but it was never designed for weight loss per se.
When people were exercising without managing their own meal, they can hit the plateau state much quicker than people who consider diet as one of the most important factors of weight loss. Sometimes, instead of burning fat, we were burning muscle instead which would result in a reduced resting energy expenditure which makes it harder to lose some weight. There were 3 ways our body will calories that were extracted from any foods that we eat:
- Resting energy expenditure (energy used while resting for body basic functioning)
- Energy used to break down food
- Energy used for physical activities
From the list above, you would notice why is it important for us to consider how we manage the key factor of weight loss which is diet. Sure, if you stick by your routine for several months/years, eventually, you resting energy expenditure will shoot up as the number of muscles in your body increases but people nowadays, want a quick result and quickest would be to focus on diet, not exercise. Exercise act as a supplement to strengthen the core of the weight loss but alone, it is quite a crappy tool. Have you ever saw someone who really has a great body shape but with a tummy fat instead? Yeah, exercise can contribute to a leaner and attractive body shape but a poor diet regime, can either hid it or destroy it (if you decide to quit exercise).
In the recent year, there has been a study which was conducted to investigate the overall energy expenditure of mice, who, some of them love to run on the wheel (which we can think is equal to exercise in humans). They were kept in a specialised chamber cage which can be used to measure metabolism by using the infrared technology. At first, it was speculated that any mice who were engaged in a strenuous activity would eat twice or thrice the normal amount to compensate for the caloric deficit caused by exercise. It turns out, they eat a normal amount of food but live the rest of the day more sedentary than the usual; caloric deficit changes their behaviour throughout the day! It's like whatever they do, the final caloric amount spent at the end of the day were the same regardless if they were exercising or not.
Comparing the attitude of those mice with humans, we can seem to find a few similarities. Sometimes, we're quite satisfied after our working out session without even realising, even if we were eating the same amount of food, we were living a sedentary life, outside the exercise hours. Sometimes, we think we deserved to eat extra calories after our "strenuous" working out session without even realising that we were actually overestimating our caloric expenditure thus we eat like there is no tomorrow. It's the other factors which make our effort at losing weight, impossible. However, I didn't say remotely that you shouldn't exercise at all. Exercise is a good thing you want to keep in your makeup bag. It makes you healthier, it makes you prettier and based on previous studies, it makes you smarter. So hold on to it, you might find its worth after a few years of being persistent sticking to your exercise routine.
- Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004.
- The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance
- Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.
- Obesity paradox and cardiorespiratory fitness in 12,417 male veterans aged 40 to 70 years.
- The Science Is In: Exercise Won’t Help You Lose Much Weight
- Why Exercise Alone May Not Be the Key to Weight Loss
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