More Exercise, More Obesity? Why Fitness Is Just One Part of Weight Loss

August 02, 2013

Weight-loss-scale-668x375As headlines across the US recently informed us, people are exercising more often yet obesity numbers continue to rise.  Why?

Not many of the articles gave a great answer, and that's partly because the reasons “why” humans do things are often difficult to explain and partly because the articles asked the wrong experts.

In looking at the data, we see that more people are getting “sufficient” exercise (defined as 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week).  There are some major concerns with these numbers, but those are beyond the scope of this post.  During the same span of time that was measured, the percentages of people who are obese have also increased.  This seems to make little sense. 

The experts quoted in these stories, usually researchers or directors of organizations, point out a few studies but have zero real world experience dealing with people trying to lose weight.

It takes knowledge of what people out in the real world think and feel to explain this, and I have an idea why we are exercising more but getting more obese.

First, too many people overestimate the intensity of their exercise efforts.  They assume they burn more calories than they actually do during typical workouts.  And the nebulous government definitions of “moderate” and “vigorous” result in more sedentary people thinking just about everything is vigorous since it “feels” hard.

Second, many people often underestimate the calorie content of foods and beverages.  Many of the worst quality foods and drinks are very calorie-dense but don't take up much space in your stomach, and you can easily ingest several hundred calories without feeling like you ate much at all.

Third, the two previous factors combine with the result that many people “treat” themselves too often.  This is perhaps one of the biggest factors.  With marketing efforts telling us to treat ourselves (since we obviously deserve it), many people consume a greater total of foods that promote fat storage and weight gain.

For example, I’ve spoken with people who have ice cream, a doughnut, orange juice, a soda, fries, chips, a muffin, an alcoholic drink, pizza, and fried chicken…but only 1-2 times per week…for each of those items.  “I only had one doughnut this week” is no accomplishment under these circumstances.  It’s not a treat if you’re having something in that category every day. Treats aren’t daily.

And finally, for many people, once they check off the exercise “box” on the daily to-do list, the rest of the day is spent moving very little.  Once the workout is done, it’s time to take the elevator at work and kick back on the couch the rest of the day.  These are the deplorable people who stand still and ride on the moving walkways at airports.  The non-exercise movement you do in your daily life can make a significant difference in your weight loss efforts. Studies also show that the little everyday movements can help you burn up to 350 more calories per day.

The right type of exercise that is part of a larger pattern of health behaviors in your day-to-day life is the only way to have success with fitness in fighting obesity. It is silly to isolate one out of many behaviors that would contribute to a result as the only factor in that result. 

Imagine if I was in school and I studied hard and completed all of my assignments in math, but blew off all of my other subjects.  With a great grade in math, and terrible grades in other studies, I would fail for the year.  Would you them claim that math is useless as a learning tool?  Of course not. 

Practicing a holistic health plan is the only way to truly be in control of your weight.

More on Fitness:

Easy Home Workouts

10 Things You Should Know About Fitness

3 High-Fiber Foods You Should Be Eating


Jonathan Ross — fitness expert for Discovery Fit & Health and creator of Aion Fitness — was voted Exercise TV's "Top Trainer" and named in Men's Journal magazine's list of Top 100 Trainers in America. His personal experiences with obesity — "800 pounds of parents" — directly inspired his fitness career. His ability to bring fitness to those who need it the most has made him a two-time Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE and IDEA). His book, Abs Revealed, is filled with cutting-edge exercises in a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. His leadership and fresh perspectives on fitness earn him praise as a frequent go-to source of credible fitness information.

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