Does exercise help with weight loss? At first, the answer seems obvious. We are reminded every New Year that exercise is the key to burning fat. Personal trainers and professional athletes show us hard work at the gym produces the best results. But what if your goal isn't to look like a chiseled statue? What if all you want to do is lose a couple of pounds and fit back into your high school jeans? Is exercise as important for weight loss as the media makes it seem? An even better question: should we even be focused on weight loss at all, or should overall health be our goal?
Let’s start with some pro-exercise facts. Exercise is defined as, “physical activity that you do to make your body strong and healthy(1).” According to the CDC, there is strong scientific evidence that shows physical activity (exercise) can help you maintain your weight over time (2).
Exercise will also improve health-aerobic activity and muscle training (3). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 75-150 minutes of aerobic activity per week to help reduce the risk of mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancer, depression and hip/vertebral fractures. They also claim this will increase muscular fitness and may help to achieve weight maintenance(4).
All these recommendations seem promising and when we think back to health celebrities like self-proclaimed “world’s leading fitness expert” Jilian Michaels, it makes sense that exercise seems so associated with weight loss. There seems to be a unanimous agreement that exercise and overall fitness and health are intertwined.
Sadly, losing weight seems to take a lot more work than hitting the gym a few times a week. The CDC classifies an overweight adult as a person with a body mass index (BMI) over 25 (5). For an adult measuring 5’9” a 25 BMI would be over 169 pounds. Obesity is classified as having a BMI over 30 (203 pounds at 5’9”). The CDC reported that 42% of American adults (age 20 and older) are considered obese and 20.6% of American children aged 12-19 were also classified as obese (6)(7).
Gyms and fitness centers are increasing in the U.S. so you would think that obesity would show a decline (8). Instead, obesity seems to be staying the same or increasing throughout the years. Is Jillian Michales and the CDC misleading us to believe the gym is the answer to a healthy weight?
Not exactly, but it is complicated. Countless studies have been done to see the correlation between exercise and weight loss. One study examined the correlation between working out and then “rewarding” yourself with healthy or unhealthy food (coined reward-driven feeding). They found that participants who exercised 6X per week ended up consuming more healthy food (an increase in reward-driven feeding) than participants who exercised 2X per week. They concluded that a longer duration of exercise may be needed to increase positive food reinforcement and the six-day/week group ended up with a lower BMI than the 2 days/week group (9). We can see from his study that exercise is not the sole driver in weight loss but may help influence a healthier diet.
Another study looked at three groups; only dietary changes (group D), dietary and exercise changes (group D+E), and only exercise (group E). They found that group D and D+E had the largest reduction in fat loss with group D reducing their BMI on average by 9.5% and group D+E 11.4% while group E only reduced their BMI by 2.2% (10). What makes this study interesting was that it was done on patients diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis (OA), attacking the question; “how to lose weight when working out is physically difficult or impossible?”
Diet seems to be an important aid in weight loss. In a 2016 interview Jillian listed her “7 commandments for lasting weight loss.” Numbers 1-3 consisted of dietary advice, 4-6 focused on exercise advice and number 7 was advice on self-reflection and goal maintenance.
When you reference Jillainmichaels.com you are given images of a variety of workouts and sexy photos of her in gym clothes to promote her fitness app. The image of fitness and weight loss seems to be heavily geared towards gym memberships and lululemon pants but the scientific data and advice from the CDC suggest that it may only be part of the solution.
The CDC and WHO claim that exercise can help maintain weight and improve physical fitness but from scientific studies we see that maximum weight loss relies heavily on diet. Which makes sense right? I guess the wise old saying, “you are what you eat” really held tru.
So what do you do with this kind of information? Well at Foreal Food’s we believe eating whole foods is a key to a healthy lifestyle. Will our tender Chili lime Coconut Jerky help you lose weight? Legally we can not say, but we can say our foods have minimal processing to ensure nutritional quality. This way when you do eat our products you are getting the maximum health benefits possible.
There is no catch-all routine that works for everyone. The diet and workout routine you choose may not work for your friends and neighbors. Losing weight is hard, for this reason, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to develop a custom weight loss plan that works for you.