The fitness industry wants you to think that the best way to lose weight is to exercise. This is a $679.4mil per year industry in Australia in 2004-05 (increase of 131% since 2000-01). In US it is much larger. As you can see, there’s a lot of money riding on getting you to the gym. (If pumping iron is not your cup of tea, then there are a lot of other choices: biking, running, swimming, aerobics. And of course the supporting industries piggy back on it; clothing, footwear, equipment manufacturers and retailers etc.) But really, how effective is exercise (of any type) in reducing the weight?
First of all, people do not exercise correctly. I see this girl in the gym. She looks like she wants to lose weight. After half an hour of leisurely run on the treadmills she leaves – not even a drop of sweat on her forehead and her breathing is just barely faster. Six months down the track she quits the gym saying that it does not work for her. Now, if you treat the workout as a chore – something that you have to do – it will never work. The old saying “No pain No gain” comes to mind here, but it does not have to be this way. First of all enjoy it, make it fun. This way you sweat and get puffed out without even realising it. Unfortunately, majority of people will see the marketing hype with pretty pictures and fall under the illusion that they can get the same just by “spending some time” in the gym. If you’re going to “spend some time”, you might as well use it to the maximum effect or just do it for pure enjoyment.
Secondly, let’s examine your body’s energy usage when you exercise. For the first 20 minutes or so, the body is using the glucose from the bloodstream. If you stop exercising now, your body will crave (usually) some simple carbohydrates in order to replenish the blood’s energy storage. So unless you have a very strong will power you will very quickly put back what you have just expended.
My own personal experience shows that this is difficult. Once, I thought that I could save some money by riding a bicycle to work. Right from day one the money I saved by not using the public transport went into buying more food. I figured that:one, I had more money, and two, I deserved the extra food since I had done so much more exercise.
If you exercise for longer than 20 minutes, your body dips into the muscles for energy. The muscles use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to get energy. There’s a bit of it stored in the muscles but after a while your body has to make it. Again, you will want to eat something to replenish the spent energy.
Persevering with exercise for longer yet, you start burning your fat reserves. Hooray! – you may think – this is really what I want! But wait! Your body is a master at adapting and if you keep doing it more often, you are actually training your body to be more efficient at storing the fat and using less of it to achieve the same task. This is actually counter productive. However, isn’t this the advice that you hear form the fitness industry? It is – “you need to do at least 45 minutes of exercise since only then you start burning the fat”. But you do not want to make your body super efficient at storing energy. You want to enjoy your food and burn as much calories as possible without actually storing them. So this advice fails badly as an effective way to lose weight.
There is no doubt about the benefits of exercise – health, fitness and enjoyment. But for the purpose of losing weight, exercise is not the best. There are much better ways and I will mention them in my future blogs.