Exercising to Lose Weight? Stop. It Doesn’t Work!
Sorry Ladies, despite the title of the article, this column is not a hall pass to sit on the couch and be sedentary. Instead, I hope it encourages you to get off your tush and move frequently but for reasons other than weight loss.
Exercise is imperative to our health, especially as we age. Consider it the fountain of youth if you will. It protects us against most ailments and illnesses that plague women over 50 namely heart disease, type II diabetes, certain cancers and even cognitive decline. Staying active also relieves pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, improves bone density, wards off depression and anxiety, fights fatigue and helps us maintain our weight.
So stay physically active or if you’re inactive please consult with your doctor and start an exercise routine immediately. Our bodies were meant to move. Sitting takes years off our lives. As I say to my clients, some exercise is good, more is better and everything counts including gardening, walking, cleaning house, dancing, golfing, skiing, paddle boarding, running etc. Research continues to support, for continued good health especially later in life, we must keep moving throughout the day.
That said, increasing your aerobic exercise or starting an exercise program isn’t an efficient way to lose weight. To regain that girlish figure of yesteryear, and ward off those unwanted pounds following menopause, you’re far better off putting your time and energy into eating properly than exercising more. Why?
Roughly 70% of your body composition is determined by the food you consume not by the number of hours you log “working out.”
How can this be? For years we’ve been told, in order to lose weight, we need to eat less and exercise more. And while this strategy will work over a short period of time as long as you burn more calories than you consume, for anyone that has tried it, it is a miserable and often unsustainable way to drop pounds. Following such advice often leaves us hungry, tired, frustrated and feeling deprived and hopeless. All too frequently we abandon our weight loss efforts, go back to our old diet and lifestyle habits and gain back the weight we’ve lost “dieting.” Sound familiar?
So why doesn’t increasing aerobic exercise lead to desired weight loss? A couple of reasons:
In general, the more you exercise, the hungrier you are. Working out requires our body to expend more energy and as a result our body wants to refill this expended energy with more fuel (food.) Unfortunately, when we refuel most of us typically:
- Overestimate the number of calories we’ve burned sweating
- Underestimate the number of extra calories we eat as a result of added physical activity and
- Reward ourselves with “treats” and larger portions because we’ve gone to the gym.
The hard truth is exercising doesn’t burn that many more calories than sitting around. Take for example, a 150lb woman, who adds an extra 30 minutes of walking to her day at 3MPH. She’ll burn about 80 calories per mile or an extra 120 calories. (To calculate how many calories you burn walking, click here.)
Instead of eating something for snack she grabs a non-fat grande latte, unsweetened of course, and knowingly or not consumes 130 calories. While fixing dinner, she decides she can splurge on 1 average size cheese and cracker (roughly 100 calories) and a mere 5 ounces of wine – a splash more than a half a cup, 125 calories. (Let’s face it, who stops at 5 ounces of wine or just 1 cheese and cracker?) At dinner she enjoys 2 extra ounces of chicken because she’s hungrier than normal and knows women over 50 need more protein (approx. 75 -100 calories). These seemingly innocuous choices add a minimum of 425 extra calories to her day. That’s 305 more calories than she burned exercising. OUCH! Yes, as you probably know, it is far easier to eat calories than to burn them.
Not convinced, consider this:
- Prior to the 1970s, high endurance aerobic exercise really didn’t exist and the percentage of obese people in the world was dramatically lower;
- Physical activity increased between 2001 – 2009 but so did the rate of obesity;
- According to data The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected from over 68,000 people, on average, active manual laborers are far heavier than inactive desk workers.
So if you’re looking to lose weight, what should you do?
Stay active or get active – exercise can prevent weight gain and improve overall health. As my favorite shirt says, “Hills hurt, couches kill.” Keep moving!
Strength train: Resistance training slows the natural, age-related progression of muscle to fat. Muscle protects our bones, maintains our metabolism and helps our body burn more calories. Read more on this subject.
Most importantly though, mind your diet and follow these guidelines. What you put in your mouth each day will have a much greater impact on your weight than exercising.
- Remove added sugar, flour and processed foods from your diet. This includes fruited yogurt, cereal bars, energy bars, most breakfast cereals, granola, crackers, pretzels, chips, pastas, most breads, baked goods, sweetened drinks, frozen desserts, dried fruit, and our beloved generous glass or two of daily wine. These calories increase blood sugar and insulin levels and convert to fat very quickly in our bodies. They increase our risk of chronic disease, and wreak havoc on our energy, mood, and hunger.
- Make non-starchy veggies the volume of your meals. If you’re not eating 6-10 servings of veggies a day, start. Make this midlife miracle meal a staple in your diet.
- Do NOT consider fruit and veggies equal. 1-2 pieces of fruit daily is ample.
- Eat a dose of healthy protein at each meal (fish, seafood, eggs, non-fat or low-fat unsweetened dairy, beans and legumes, skinless poultry.)
- Eat a small amount of healthy fat with each meal (1/4 of an avocado, 8-12 almonds or other nut equivalent, 1 Tbsp. of a nut butter, 2 tsp. of olive oil)
- Eat 1-2 servings of whole grains a day, preferably before 3PM – a ½ cup of unsweetened oatmeal, quinoa, or other whole intact grain or a slice of whole wheat or whole grain bread is a serving.
- Rediscover your kitchen – restaurant meals contain more sugar, salt, fat and an estimated 200-500 more calories than a typical home cooked meal. Limit dining out to special occasions and when you do go out, follow these waist-friendly tips.
This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.