Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can Intense Exercise Actually Make You Gain Weight?

Time Magazine has a very interesting article that examines why people can exercise like crazy and still gain weight:

"Still, as one major study — the Minnesota Heart Survey — found, more of us at least say we exercise regularly. The survey ran from 1980, when only 47% of respondents said they engaged in regular exercise, to 2000, when the figure had grown to 57%.
And yet obesity figures have risen dramatically in the same period: a third of Americans are obese, and another third count as overweight by the Federal Government's definition. Yes, it's entirely possible that those of us who regularly go to the gym would weigh even more if we exercised less. But like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don't. Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?"
"The basic problem is that while it's true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder."
"Some of us can will ourselves to overcome our basic psychology, but most of us won't be very successful. "The most powerful determinant of your dietary intake is your energy expenditure," says Steven Gortmaker, who heads Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity. "If you're more physically active, you're going to get hungry and eat more." Gortmaker, who has studied childhood obesity, is even suspicious of the playgrounds at fast-food restaurants. "Why would they build those?" he asks. "I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000."

And here's the "meat" of the article:

"But there's some confusion about whether it is exercise — sweaty, exhausting, hunger-producing bursts of activity done exclusively to benefit our health — that leads to all these benefits or something far simpler: regularly moving during our waking hours. We all need to move more — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says our leisure-time physical activity (including things like golfing, gardening and walking) has decreased since the late 1980s, right around the time the gym boom really exploded."

(D.R.)- So as modern society has developed, people simply do less work. They sit in an office for hours and hours, take long car rides to work and back and sit in front of the TV at night.
In order to compensate, they hammer it out at the gym with intense bursts of exercise three hours a week.
This dovetails perfectly with an article from "Mark's Daily Apple", and the authors of "The Primal Diet". Here, Mark describes the activity of primitive man:

"We’re talking about a favorite of mine: low level aerobic activity. Sure, it can feel all too relaxed, even indulgent compared to the intense stuff. But don’t be so quick to disparage. Low level aerobic activity, I’m here to tell you, is the crucial base of Primal Blueprint fitness (Rule #3 in my book for those of you who are currently reading it). It’s the base, the foundation, the keystone to the big fitness picture.
After all, it was how our good man Grok and his family spent most of their days. Carrying water from the stream. Collecting fire wood, walking through the forests and meadows to gather greens, berries, and other plants. Working on their shelter. Perhaps migrating to another area because of drought, predators or competing tribes. Butchering, building, washing, cooking, dancing, you name it. Some of it was hard work, but it was mostly just continual – the sheer volume of low level activity that characterized Grok’s existence."
"If the human body evolved within these conditions, our lives today often leave us as fish out of water. There’s the joke about old time farmers laughing at people who pay to slog away on a treadmill for hours at the gym. Why would anyone pay to run in place like a hamster when there’s plenty of real, hard, useful labor to be done instead? Of course, not all of us have livelihoods that involve enough physical exertion to constitute adequate exercise, and our modern home lives (with washing machines, electric/gas mowers, etc.) don’t require the same labor as they once did. Unlike Grok, few of us built the homes we live in. Few of us till large tracts of land for planting. We generally don’t spend our days scrubbing, hauling or foraging. But it doesn’t matter, ultimately, what form our low level cardio takes. What matters is what happens on the inside."
"As I’ve suggested before, our society has come to worship a chronic cardio model as the beacon of fitness. It follows that low level aerobic activity appears to do nothing but fall short – a weak attempt at the “real” thing. Worse yet, it’s an attitude that makes the fitness quest seem like an all or nothing proposition. No pain, no gain. Total bunkum. Sure, the Primal Blueprint model incorporates low level aerobic activity as part of a larger picture along with strength and “sprint” interval training. The PB fitness model, however, is built upon that low level foundation.
Not only is low level aerobic activity the natural evolutionary expectation of the body, it’s flat out beneficial in its own right. It plays an integral role in maintaining weight and metabolic balance. It also builds your base and makes more strenuous workouts possible by toning all the muscles, joints and connective tissue needed for optimal strength training and high intensity aerobic activity. Low level aerobic exercise engages your energy systems and incrementally improves their functioning and efficiency. And while it does all that, it also physiologically and hormonally counters the effects of stress."


So there you have it;
Our bodies are genetically geared for constant, low-level activity. It maintains our metabolism much better than short, intense bursts of exercise - the kind that tends to make people eat more to store energy.

You can read much more at the links embedded above.


Marine Veteran! said...

Eating more because of exercise is not why the weight is being gained.

Try the food industry and focus on "sugar-fat-salt."

The book "The End of Overeating," does a wonderful job of explaining this phenomena.

I changed my diet a while back due to an "incident" as the cardiologist explained.

When I did I ate more, exercised more and guess what - whalla, I lost weight.

It is actually a matter of what you eat. The old saying as to you are what you eat is absolutely true.

Oh, yea, you won't care for this but alcohol is a big sugar thing.

Dojo Rat said...

Hi M.V.;

I've been dropping about four pounds a year by just changing my eating habits. I'm over 50 now so my workouts aren't as intense as they were years ago, but slow and steady wins the race.
I've lost enough weight that my wife says I can't keep my pants up, but that's another story...

I think the "Time" author was making a point about modern quick-blast workouts not being as efficiant as constant mundane movement for as much of the day as possible. This was also the angle Marks Daily Apple wrote in the second piece.
I work outside in all day in all weather and it's working for me - along with Tai Chi Chuan and related arts.

I encourage readers to go to the links to see a more complete analysis.

Steve Perry said...

Another really simple fact is this: When you start working out and actually add muscle, muscle weighs more than fat.

Don't use the scale as your measure. Use the mirror or the pinch test.

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