If you ever watch a running race, I guarantee you will see two very distinct body types – those lean, fast runners that are typically the first to finish, and then there’s the larger, heavier finishers.
You might wonder how two people can run for the same race, conceivably do the same amount of training exercise over the same amount of time and yet have two completely different body compositions. Well as I’ve said before, the main reason for this is that exercise actually has a lot less of an impact on metabolic rate that we think. Actually, you’d probably be shocked to understand how little true “exercise” we really need to get stay healthy and lean (hint: we just need to literally MOVE more, not necessarily sweat more).
There are two reasons why exercise is not a panacea for weight loss. The first is that the more we work out, the hungrier we get. I can point to various studies that prove this, but I bet you’re aware that when you were at your most physically active in your life, you were probably also really freaking hungry all the time. That’s your body’s natural physiological response to exertion. It needs to force you to eat more calories to compensate for the expenditure. It’s programmed to do just that.
But the other reason is a little more complex. It has to do with attitudes toward exercise. For example – let’s say you go out for a run in the morning, not because you love running (you actually kinda hate it), but because you’re trying to lose weight. You come home, and your body tells you to eat more because it’s doing it’s caloric balancing thing. You tell yourself “oh, I just ran 5 miles, so I deserve that extra piece of toast and peanut butter”. So you have it. No problem.
But the reality is that the extra calories you consumed at breakfast actually negate the calorie spend while doing exercise. Certainly, I don’t want you to think that the trade of calories for sweat is that exact, but you actually don’t burn as many calories as your Garmin might be telling you.
But even more interesting is a new study that shows that we are more inclined to allow ourselves an overindulgence of food when we feel that our exercise is a chore. When we feel like we’re forcing ourselves to workout, it’s work. And work requires reward, which in this case comes in the form of M&M’s, extra toast, or whatever strikes your fancy in the moment.
The study I’m referring to compares two groups of walkers. One group is encouraged to focus on their walk as exercise and monitor exertion throughout the 30 minute routine. The second group is given the same 30 minute walk prescription, but is instructed to listen to music and told to focus on their enjoyment of the walk.
So same exercise, same exertion, very different results – those who focused on the exercise, sought rewards when they were done. Those who focused on fun, didn’t need it.
Here’s a great read on the study if you want to know more, but the takeaway is this:
Reps, sets and heart rate be damned, it’s more about what you’re doing consistently and the overall volume of time you spend doing other things rather than sitting on your butt that’s going to get you lean (and keep you there) then suffering through P90x 6 days a week for 3 months.
Now, I do hope you can find some way to “enjoy” weight bearing exercise at least twice a week as there’s a definite extra benefit to that, especially if you’re in your 30’s and beyond, but just start with something you enjoy and go from there. There is no universal rule that implies you must run races or join a gym to lose weight. Just go outside and put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the view.
Yes, it can be that simple.