For years, we’ve all been told that exercise is the key to weight loss. That if we simply spend enough hours sweating it out at the gym, we’ll be able to burn enough calories to reach our goal weight.
Many diet plans focus on creating a caloric deficit. One pound is equal to 3,500 calories; therefore, to lose a pound, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories though a combination of diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, this approach has led many people to believe that they can eat whatever they want and simply burn it off on the treadmill. This is where many people become frustrated with exercise and believe it’s not working for them.
In reality, losing weight is a lot more complicated. Calories are only one piece of the weight-loss puzzle. The over-emphasis on calories also encourages the idea that all calories are the same, but we know that different foods go through different processes in the body. Some are used as energy, and some are more likely to be stored as fat. And, different foods have a profound effect on the hormones that help regulate hunger and on processes that influence the metabolism.
So while exercise is important, if you’re relying on your gym sessions to help you shed pounds, you could be setting yourself for disappointment. Your weight is influenced by many factors beyond how many calories you burn.
The benefits of exercise
The truth is, exercise is not a magic weight-loss bullet for everyone. Many people can lose weight without it, and some people who exercise regularly still have a hard time losing weight.
But does this mean we should abandon exercise as a weight-loss tactic? In our opinion, no. This would be doing a disservice to anyone who wants to get healthier and feel their best. Exercise has an astounding number of benefits for almost every area of a person’s health:
- Exercise has been shown to greatly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Exercise can boost mood, giving you motivation to work toward your goals and keep a positive attitude when things get tough.
- Exercise helps you sleep better — and proper sleep is absolutely crucial for solid emotional health, proper energy levels, hormonal balance, and disease prevention.
- Exercise has been shown to help prevent stroke, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and many types of cancer.
- Exercise can improve your mental focus and memory.
- Exercise can help you manage type 2 diabetes and arthritis.
- Exercise can boost your immunity, helping you avoid common illnesses like colds and flu.
- Exercise may help you ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
- Exercise gives you a positive, healthy activity to do when you want to slip into old habits, like watching TV or snacking.
Even if exercise doesn’t do wonders for your waistline, it’s essential for anyone who wants to live their healthiest life. In addition, without the mood-boosting effects of exercise, you may find it difficult to stick with your health goals when things get frustrating. We all know losing weight isn’t easy, but being mentally strong can be a huge advantage as you journey toward a healthier self.
What exercise won’t do
Exercising every day could help you lose some weight if you’re eating a healthy diet. But exercise alone without diet changes usually won’t help you dramatically slim down. It may help you feel better and get more toned, but it won’t necessarily be enough to help you lose a significant amount of body fat. To do this, you really need to pair a good exercise plan with the right kind of dietary changes.
One of the common issues with using exercise alone for weight loss is that we often overestimate how many calories we burn during exercise. In addition, we may underestimate how many calories we’re taking in.
Exercise — especially intense exercise — can also make you hungrier. Many people find that they are so famished after exercise that they inadvertently take in more calories than they just burned, therefore hindering their weight-loss efforts.
But the most common reason that exercise-based weight-loss plans fail is that many people are suffering from internal health conditions, such as chronic inflammation, that make it difficult to shed weight, even if they are counting calories. For your exercise program to work as intended, these health issues must first be addressed. And the best way to do that is often with a healthier diet.
Hormones and weight loss
Various hormones also play a major role in how your body uses and stores the energy (calories) you take in. And imbalances in these hormones can make it nearly impossible to lose weight with exercise alone.
Some of these hormonal imbalances are genetic. Some people, for example, naturally have lower levels of a hormone that helps them convert the food they eat into energy. That makes them less effective at burning fat, and more likely to gain weight.
Other hormones can be thrown off balance by your lifestyle. Cortisol, for example, is a hormone triggered by stress. High levels of cortisol are linked to increased belly fat. And while exercise — particularly aerobic exercise — has been shown to help reduce belly fat, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle if you don’t get the stress and the cortisol under control.
Exercise can help you keep weight off
Perhaps exercise alone won’t be enough to get you to your goal weight initially, but it has another important benefit: keeping the weight off.
Up to 80 percent of people gain weight back within one year of losing it, according to some research. This is discouraging news, but probably not a surprise to the millions of people who have lost weight only to gain it all back.
But, there’s some good news. Studies show that people who exercise are much more likely to keep the weight off long-term. A large study on long-term weight loss outcomes states that “physical activity has modest impact during the weight loss period, but becomes essential to weight maintenance.”
We work so hard to lose weight, so keeping it off is important if we want to avoid the weight loss and regain cycle that is so difficult to defeat.
It’s not all about cardio
Now that you know that exercise is an important component of getting healthier, don’t make this common mistake: thinking cardio is all you need.
For years, people thought that aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, commonly called “cardio,” was all we needed because it burns the most calories. Strength training, stretching, and other exercises weren’t seen as a weight-loss solution because they burn fewer calories.
But now we know that exercise is about much more than the number of calories burned. Don’t limit yourself to running, biking, and aerobics classes if you really want to meet your health goals.
While it’s true that cardio burns calories, strength training is just as important when it comes to overall health and keeping the weight off. Strength training builds muscle, and having strong muscles can help you burn more calories and protect your bones as you age.
Doing a combination of cardio and strength exercises can also help you avoid monotony and boredom with your routine. You can also see your progress easily as you begin to lift heavier weights or do more reps — this is a big motivator!
Finally, seeing a more toned and stronger body is great evidence of your hard work. Ladies need not worry about “bulking up” even with a rigorous strength training program. In order to get a bodybuilder-like physique, women (and men!) would need to follow a strict weight-training and diet regimen meant to bulk up muscles quickly. This is simply not going to happen with weight lifting a few times a week and a healthy diet.
Don’t forget about yoga
Consider adding yoga into your fitness routine as well. It’s a great way to build strength and flexibility while relieving stress, so it’s helpful physically and mentally when you’re working toward your health goals. Some research even suggests that yoga is just as effective as conventional exercise for improving physical and mental health.
Reaching — and maintaining — a healthy weight requires a healthy overall lifestyle, and that includes a proper diet, exercise, stress management, and quality sleep. It may also require hormone replacement therapy if you have hormonal imbalances that need extra attention. Neglecting any one of these areas will make it that much more difficult to reach and remain at your goal weight.
That’s why at Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers, our weight-loss plans are customized for each patient, to address the areas of their life and health most in need of adjustment. Are you ready to make a real change in your health? Contact us today for your no-cost consultation!