In today’s market of many different diet plans, it is easy to forget about the role of exercise in managing one’s weight. After all, counting the calories used up during an hour on the treadmill or at the gym can be a bit depressing when one realizes that those calories amount to only one-seventh of a pound and are completely reversed if one eats a nice piece of pie as a reward for doing all that exercising. Indeed, one only burns about one M&M candy’s worth of calories in 50 yards of walking. This has led some to suggest that exercise is not that important in weight management and that people should focus their attention on eating less and not worry too much about exercise.
However, there are other data that would argue against ignoring exercise as an important component of weight control. If one thinks historically about the nearly tripling of our nation’s obesity rate in the last generation or two, much of that has happened with reduced exercise. As we have moved away from an agrarian economy to one based on information, more and more people have desk jobs and there is no need for almost anyone to burn many calories to survive. Cities in which people walk a lot, such as New York, have a significantly lower obesity rate than the nation as a whole, and the state with the lowest obesity rate is Colorado, which is famous for outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing.
If one takes a long-term view, there is good reason to expect that exercise can help a lot with weight, aside from its many benefits for general health. After all, if you weigh 175 pounds, increasing walking by a half-hour a day at a moderate pace translates into an extra weight loss of about 25 pounds per year, and even a 10-minute daily increase is worth about 8 additional pounds off per year. It is much more important to develop an exercise/activity plan you can stick with that is very feasible and moderate than to “go like crazy” once in awhile to lose as much weight as possible. Just as in the famous fairy tale, the tortoise, known for persistence and continuous plodding ahead, beats the hare, known for jump starts and sprinting ahead at an unsustainable pace.
Given that maintenance of exercise is a key, we all might keep in mind some factors that help us stick with a behavior:
- Make it fun. We are much more likely to walk or do anything else if we enjoy it. Many people will walk a considerable distance with a friend, for example, while considering walking on a treadmill to be drudgery, particularly if there is not something to watch while walking, such as a movie or television show.
- Make it regular and structured. If we get ourselves into a routine, it often can be maintained. Consider setting regular times to exercise, whether they be gym visits, walking during the lunch hour, or arrangements with friends to exercise together.
- Make exercise feasible and reasonable, even if it seems to be a small increase. Make sure you exercise within your medical limitations.
- Think of things you can do on a daily basis to increase your exercise. Examples might be to park further away from stores, have a policy to use the second-closest rest room, take stairs at work rather than the elevator, and/or walk while talking on the phone.
- Use the three principles of behavior change to help you maintain exercise. Keep track of what you are doing, set goals regularly, and set up a support system which will cheer you on and encourage you to continue.
Do you have other tips? Share them with me and our readers in the comments below!
Author: Stanley L. Chapman, PhD – Emory Bariatric Center