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Exercise is the panacea of weight loss - 24 concluding thoughts

Thomas Secrest's picture
Exercise is good for weight loss

In this, the last installment of a 16 part series on Weight loss and dieting, we are going to examine the benefits of exercise and why it is so important to add it to your weight loss plan.

To this point we have taken a detailed look at dieting with the idea that knowledge is power. The more you understand how your body deals with weight loss the easier it will be to work within the limitations set by your body.

Your body can be a cruel task master and the reason most diets fail is that people try to lose weight too quickly and their body will simply have nothing to do with it. Once your body and mind decide your diet is over -- it is OVER! No matter how guilty you feel, you will eat and your body will reward you with feelings that aren’t all that different than the ones you would get from opium.

We’ve all been there – diets that started like gangbusters and ended in despair and reduced self-esteem. There are people who, in essence, spend years on short-lived diets, one after another, and weigh now, pretty much what they did when they started dieting, 5 or 10 years ago. If they had spent 2 years losing weight slowly that would have reached their goal and spent the other years enjoying their new weight, health and vitality.

That’s what this series has been about. It’s about making small changes that your body will accept and that you can easily live with and then staying the course until you reach your goal.

In the past several articles we’ve looked at little things you can do to (1) reduce your caloric intake below baseline, (2) help manage hunger and (3) improve our fat burning efficiency.

Links to all previous articles are at the bottom of the page.

In this article we are going to focus on exercise and how it affects the last two items. You may recall the 3 very important formulas we introduced early on regarding calories and weight:

  • Calorie intake
  • Calorie intake > Calories burned = Weight gain
  • Calorie intake = Calories burned = Constant weight

Hopefully one thing in this series of articles stands out for you and that is we really can jack around with the calorie intake side of the equation. We can reduce it very slowly as we lose weight, but if you make BIG changes, your body will very quickly put an end to your diet. On the intake side, we want meals that are smart (i.e. a little higher in protein, some fats (mainly olive oil) and reduced carbohydrate content, but with more fiber).

You need to know your BASELINE and you need to get your caloric intake below your BASELINE, but not by much. At first try to set it 10% lower in calories below your BASELINE. For example if your BASELINE is 2100 calories set your new caloric intake at (2100 – (10% x 2100)) = 2100 – 210 = 1890 calories/day.

If you set it more than that, your body WILL revolt. Remember your BASELINE will change as you lose weight, so you will need to recalculate it from time to time and adjust your caloric intake accordingly.


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Recall that a recent study found that overweight people eat about the same number of calories as people who have normal weights. However, overweight people are MUCH LESS active. Being overweight appears linked to under-activity, not over-eating.

You should plan to add exercise gradually. If you have been sedentary, you will need to slowly improve your fitness. Don’t rush out and buy a gym membership or an exercise bicycle. Instead work out a plan to slowly increase the amount of walking you do each day. Don’t start with 5 miles; start with 5 minutes. For most people finding a way to walk an extra 5 minutes per day is not all that difficult. After you’ve done that for a week or two, add another 5 minutes, then another. Walking is the best starting exercise, bar none. When you’re up to 20 minutes a day, consider adding some hand weights to carry as you walk or start timing your walks. Set a set path and try to walk it in a few less seconds each day.

As your fitness improves, you will start looking for other ways to exercise – when you reach this point you can think about other activities. There are lots that don’t cost a dime.

Why is exercise important?

The diet plan we’ve described will work over time, but almost everyone wants to achieve their goals faster and they want to be fit, not just thinner.

Exercise affects the "calories burned" side of the above equations. If your caloric intake is set 10% below your BASELINE, then you will lose weight, but it will be very slow, and there will be little or no increase in fitness. If you add exercise to your daily routine your will burn more calories per day and you will lose weight faster – it’s just that simple. Every minute you spend doing any kind of discretionary exercise (i.e. exercise beyond your BASELINE) will speed your weight loss; and I really mean every minute.

Hidden benefits of weight loss

Maybe you remember our discussion of basal metabolic rate (BMR). This was the rate you burn calories when doing nothing (sitting quietly or sleeping). I’ll use my BMR as an example. My BMR is 2400 calories/day or 100 cal/hour – day in and day out. If I were to increase my fitness my BMR would go up. Let’s say it went up 2 calories per hour to 102 cal/hr. My new BMR is now 2640 calories/day.

That means if I don’t change my intake and maintain my fitness level, I will burn an extra 240 calories per day – without lifting a finger or doing any extra exercise. Make sure you’re sitting down for this. It means while eating the same and exercising the same I would lose and extra 9.8 pounds per month – and there’s the secret to exercise.

Your BMR is based on the proportion of different type of tissues in your body. Muscle tissue burns more calories per hour than most other tissues. As your increase your fitness, the percentage of muscle in your body increase and your BMR increases. As you can see from the above calculation, even small changes in your BMR can turn into significant weight loss over time.

The other big benefit is that an increased BMR lets you lose weight faster without your body thinking you are starving. It’s weight loss that is hidden from your body and your mind.

Next, after you reach about 20 minutes of exercise, even fairly mild exercise, because of the diets steps you have taken, you blood glucose will be low and your glycogen reserves will also be fairly low; this means your muscles will start burning fat. Although the greatest benefits come when you are on the diet described earlier (increased protein, reduced carbohydrates).

Some may have heard that exercising reduces hunger, and while this might be true during actual exercise, I think the jury is out regarding long-term hunger suppression. On the other hand, exercise has not be shown to increase hunger.

So this bring us to the concluding thoughts.

  • Commercial diets usually don’t work
  • Fad diets almost never work
  • Reduce your dependence on artificial sweeteners
  • Reduce your intake of raw (processed) sugar
  • Know your BMR
  • Know your lifestyle caloric requirements
  • Know your caloric intake – calculate it carefully and use a kitchen scale
  • Choose your meals wisely
  • Increase (at least temporarily) your protein intake
  • Switch to olive oil as the main source of fat in your diet
  • Decrease your carbohydrate intake
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet
  • Consider a fiber supplement while dieting
  • Consider a multivitamin while dieting
  • Don’t restrict your caloric intake by more than 10% of your BASELINE
  • Time your meals wisely
  • Don’t use food for stress relief
  • Alcohol has calories, consume less
  • Use your bathroom scale daily and track your weight changes
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Try to manage your absorptive and post-absorptive states
  • Create a eating routine and stick to it
  • A good night’s sleep is important to weight loss
  • Start to increase your activity – every minute counts