If you’ve ever felt like your metabolism was just “stuck,” and it’s so much easier for other people to control their weight (but not you), you’re not alone. The truth hurts; weight is so much more complicated than eating less and moving more.
The Role of Exercise
First, let’s talk about exercise and its role in your health. For just about everybody on this planet, exercise is essential to good health and a healthy weight. Your body is meant to move – and when it doesn’t, bad things for your health are guaranteed to happen.
Still, popular information surrounding exercise is conflicting and confusing. Nearly everyone agrees that exercise is a good thing to do in general, but many experts and resources say that it has little effect on weight control. However, science tells us this simply isn’t true. Exercise is a significant part of the equation when it comes to weight management. If you lead an inactive life, you’re most likely going to struggle with weight, unless in certain circumstances.
Weight Loss vs Weight Maintenance
Let’s make an important point of clarification. The optimum way to lose weight CAN be different from the optimum way to maintain weight loss.
In general, eating a balanced and reduced-calorie diet is the primary line of defense in losing weight. And truth be told – just about EVERY diet out there will have this effect. Whether you eat low-carb, low-fat, do intermittent fasting or have a list of foods you do and don’t eat, you’ll probably experience some weight loss. But here’s the bigger question: will you keep it off?
According to Jim Hill, PhD – an internationally-recognized expert in weight medicine who works with the National Weight Control Registry – the answer is no. That is, unless you make exercise a key part of your weight maintenance strategy. When it comes to the maintenance phase, exercise actually wins out over diet in keeping the weight off long-term.
If you continue to focus on what you’re eating and how much, but you give little to no thought about regular exercise, the chances are that you will face weight regain. But why? What’s so important about exercise?
Exercise and Weight Maintenance
Exercise is essential to weight loss maintenance because it:
- Increases the amount of energy you burn off, allowing you to eat more
- Can “fix” a broken metabolism
Let’s continue by taking a look at how your body changes when you lose weight, because that’s a key factor in this equation.
With weight loss also comes:
- A smaller body that requires less energy to maintain, so the energy you exert on a regular basis actually declines
- A slower metabolic rate
- Increased hunger
- Changes in hormones and processes that facilitate fat storage, making it easier for your body to store extra fuel as fat
The science also tells us that these changes to your body are more or less permanent, which is why it’s difficult to keep weight off. Technically speaking, your body fights weight-loss every step of the way. It’s wired to want to bring the weight back once it’s gone, which is, indeed, frustrating.
That’s where a term called the “Energy Gap” becomes especially crucial. After you lose weight, you require less energy than before – thus, leaving a gap. And the more weight you lose, the bigger the gap.
Most people try to fill this gap by eating less so the weight doesn’t come back on. However, this is problematic for many reasons – extreme hunger being one of them. Remember, your body is set up on a biological and physiological level to do everything it can to bring the weight back.
This is where exercise becomes a key player in weight maintenance. It NEEDS to fill the lion’s share of the energy gap – not food restriction. It is much easier and a lot more practical to fill a 200-calorie energy gap by burning 200 calories through exercise each day, not eating 200 calories less.
Exercise and Your Metabolism
Beyond filling the “energy” gap, exercise can, in fact, fix a “broken” metabolism. If you struggle with weight, your metabolism likely has a difficult time switching between what it needs to burn fuel vs what it needs to metabolize fuel (food).
Think of a slow metabolism like a sluggish car engine. The same model car with a newer, more efficient engine can get more miles out of the same gallon of gas. Even if you put the same fuel in both cars, the car with the better engine will perform better and go further. If you have a slow metabolism, switching up your eating habits (fuel) isn’t likely to fix it. Exercise will, though.
With regular exercise comes benefits to your metabolism:
- More efficiency at burning fuel
- More lean muscle mass
- Changes to your biology and physiology
As your metabolism improves, so will your ability to keep weight off – and exercise is crucial for this very reason. However, you have to do it on a regular basis, and forever. Remember, your body works in your favor if you are active consistently. Without physical activity, you will experience health problems.
More about Exercise and Metabolism
What Other Factors Affect Metabolism?
- Other important factors include sleep, diet and medications
In Summary, What is Necessary for Permanent Weight Loss?
- “Fix” a broken metabolism
- Lose weight
- “Fill” the energy gap, mostly through exercise
- Create sustained behavior change
Can Exercise Contribute to Weight Loss?
- It helps more with weight management, but yes. However, the extent to which it affects weight loss is dependent on how much you do and how you balance your physical activity with what, and how much, you eat.
What is the Minimum Amount I Have to Do?
- The more exercise you do, the better – but to keep weight off and fill the energy gap mentioned above, you should exercise for at least one hour every day. It is recommended that you incorporate different types of exercise like cardio and resistance training, but what matters most is that you just get moving.
What are Some Other Benefits of Exercise?
- Regular exercise improves learning and cognitive function; helps prevent Alzheimer’s Disease; improves self-esteem; reduces risk for chronic disease and mortality; slows aging; improves lean muscle mass and cardio-respiratory fitness; boosts mood; increases productivity; and improves sleep.
For more information about the benefits of exercise and its effect on metabolism, CLICK HERE to watch a video from the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.