At the risk of mentioning an overused cliché, the most important exercise for weight loss is the act of pushing yourself away from the table. For weight management, how much and what you eat is far more important than the exercise you do. It's hard for me, a physical therapist, to admit this, because I love exercise and think it cures almost every ill. But, the data seems pretty convincing: while obesity in the US went up between 2000 and 2009, activity levels for the same time period were also higher. More activity is not translating into less obesity. Why?
One reason is that people tend to overestimate the number of calories burned with activity and then feel justified eating more. For example, your family goes for
a 30-minute walk before Thanksgiving dessert. At a moderate pace and based on your weight, you'd burn between 100 and 150 calories. And then you'd feel justified having an extra piece of pumpkin pie at 323 calories. That doesn't even count the whipped cream.
See what I mean?
Here's another crushing fact: if you're building lots of muscle mass, you
eat the extra pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It's a common myth in muscle building circles that if you're buff, you burn lots more calories just sitting around. Sorry to let you down. And this surprised me....
Increasing muscle mass makes only a miniscule difference in how much energy you use at rest.*
For every pound of muscle you have, you burn 6 calories
. A pound of fat burns 2 calories, so the net change is 4 calories a day per pound, which is something you might get by just sniffing a chocolate chip cookie.... So go ahead, nibble an eighth of that potato chip - now don't you feel better?
Is there any good news? Despite some discouraging facts, exercise can make a difference in your weight. Here's how:
Managing stress: Studies show that about 75% of us eat more when we are stressed, and exercise is a marvelous, proven stress reducer and mood enhancer. If you tend to eat more with stress, exercise will relax you and keep you from going directly to the refrigerator to soothe your nerves.
Combating boredom: How many of us eat when we are bored? You can't see me, but I am raising my hand right now. Hum, I really don't want to do my paperwork, pay bills, clean my closet..... okay, let's see what's in the cookie jar, or the refrigerator. Finding something you love to do in your free time combats boredom-induced grazing, and what's more fun than a walk in the woods?
. Keeping the weight off: Even if exercise does not make a huge difference in weight loss, it is a key component to keeping weight off. Statistics from the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is the one constant among people who've maintained their weight loss.
Better overall health: And though exercise doesn't melt away the extra pounds, you are going to be a healthier person if you exercise. The Cooper Clinic in Dallas reported that among 11,300 women they followed for decades, those with the lowest 20 percent of aerobic fitness were far more likely to die prematurely, no matter how much they weighed.
So there, once again, I've managed to find the research that tells you to get off the couch!
Enjoy an active and healthy Thanksgiving!