Periodically (and now is one of those periods), various claims arise from various quarters that regular exercise is a good way to help with weight loss. And further, it is claimed that it is so good a way to lose weight that a person perhaps need not be as concerned as they might be with precisely what they eat (or drink), if only they exercise regularly.
The claimants for the exercise weight loss benefit don’t often quantify just how much exercise is required to lose, say, a pound. And there is a good reason for that. For quite a bit of exercise is needed, on the average, per pound of potential weight loss. On the average, running (at some reasonable speed, on some reasonable terrain) can burn about 100 calories per mile. But, again on the average, it can require burning up to as much as 3,500 calories to lose just one pound. And then there are various compensations that the well-exercised body makes to conserve energy when not exercising, which means that even more exercise per pound is needed. The origin of these measures goes way back in human history when food was harder to come by, required significant amounts of energy to hunt and gather for, and the survivors were folks whose bodies became good at the energy conservation thing, when exercising.
And so, the answer, in terms of calories burned and resulting pounds lost, is “no, regular exercise is not particularly useful for weight loss.” But, regular exercise is very helpful for losing weight in another very important sense. We regular exercisers (and I’ve been doing it for 35 years this month) are very good at performing the essential mental functions that are the keys to controlling what we eat. Weight loss, yes, requires “dieting,” that is adjusting what, when, and how much we eat. And doing that requires the same mental skills that exercising regularly does.
First is figuring out what is it that we want to achieve, for ourselves, in either regular exercise or weight loss. Then we have to understand why we want to do that for ourselves. Next, we have to take a look at what are the sacrifices, for exercise, in terms of time and the other factors, for weight loss — well we all know what they are. Then, we can set our goals, and for each of us of course, they have to be realistic ones, for ourselves.
Now, I am not going to go into detail here on the centrality of goal-setting for developing and staying with a regular exercise program. I have written about that subject previously in this space — http://www.usatriathlon.org/news/blogs/ordinary-mortals/8_111913.aspx — and will surely do so again (for it is one of my favorites). But doing so is just as central to being successful in weight loss as it is in becoming and being a regular exerciser. And that is precisely what being a regular exerciser can most do for the person wanting to lose weight: making it that much easier to figure out where one is now, where one wants to go, why wants to get there, and from that process set goals that are realistically achievable, for that person.
Let me just add that a long time ago, I wrote a book on this subject called “Take Control of Your Weight.” It shows how to design a weight-loss program that can work for you. Long out of print, there a few copies available online.
So in summary, can being a regular exerciser help one to lose weight? Sure can, but not in the burning-calories-sense. Rather, in the mental realm of the activity it can be very helpful.
This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.