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As a dietitian who preaches diet and exercise as the keys to weight loss, I was shocked to read a news story a few months ago claiming that exercise is pretty much useless for weight loss*.
The story suggested that exercise can increase hunger, which may cause some people to eat more. People not only tend to eat more on days when they exercise, but they often eat higher calorie foods as a “reward” for their exercise efforts. At the end of the day, they make up for the calories burned during exercise or even eat more calories than they burned. This eating pattern makes it very difficult to lose weight just by exercising.
The truth is that most weight loss does occur from reducing the number of calories you eat, not from the calories burned during exercise. If you are dieting, adding exercise to your weight loss plan will add extra benefits.
Exercise, including strength training, can help you burn fat and more importantly, maintain or even build muscle. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns. When it comes to preventing weight gain and maintaining weight loss, however, exercise is vital. The secret to keeping the pounds from appearing or returning is regular exercise, along with a continued healthy diet.
* “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,” by John Cloud. August 9, 2009. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914857,00.html
**Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/physical_activity/index.html