Is Exercise Really The Best Weight Control Strategy?

Generally, when people set out to lose weight, they all start the same way: massive bouts of cardio. Granted, it’s not always hours upon hours on the treadmill, but – regardless of the exact method – exercise is typically the go-to for weight loss.

After all, you’ve got to get rid of all those extra calories, right?

While there most definitely are lots of reasons to exercise, it might not be the best way to lose weight. Why not? And, if that’s true, then…what’s the point?

Exercise and Weight Loss – It’s Complicated

For several years now, researchers have been producing findings suggesting that exercise isn’t the most effective way to lose weight. But, often, these studies have been problematic. Either their sample size is too small and specific, the exercise routine is one that would never be used for weight loss or some other glaring issue.

The reality researchers in this field often have to face is this: There are just too many factors involved in exercise and weight loss. What kind of exercise are we talking about? How much weight is the subject trying to lose? What is their initial fitness level? Are there any medical concerns involved? How about their diet?

A new study out of Loyola University Chicago, however, took steps to address those problems. Well… most of them. More on that later.

First, the team took data from 1,944 adults living in five different countries. So, sample size and diversity is not a concern here.

Additionally, the initial findings came from a 3-year study during which time the subjects self-reported their physical activity levels. After that, the volunteers each wore an activity monitor for seven days to get more accurate readings. This means that any and all activity counted; not just the exercise routine prescribed by the researchers.

At the end of it all, though, what did they find? In their oh-so-clinical language, the study’s authors put it this way:

“From our study it is not evident that higher volumes of PA (physical activity) alone are protective against future weight gain, and by deduction our data suggest that other environmental factors such as the food environment may have a more critical role.”

So, essentially, the researchers found no connection between increased activity levels and improved weight control. In fact, there was a slightly statistical link between increased activity levels and increased body weight.


What It Really Means

Does this all mean that those workouts are all a waste, though?

No. Not at all.

First off, let’s talk about the potential for “weight gain.” The amount of weight gained was small – about half a pound per year. Also, the study did not pay any attention to body composition. That half a pound could have been muscle. But, thanks to limitations in the study design, we may never know.

That lack of consideration for body composition also means that at least some of the participants in the study might have switched out body fat for muscle, leaving their scale weight around the same.

Also, the study does not address any of the many other benefits of exercise – involving your heart, lungs, hormones, muscles, immune system, brain and just about everything else you can think of. So, while your workouts might not directly help you drop pounds, they’re still doing plenty else.

Finally, the study did not consider diet. It’s long been said in the health and fitness world that you can’t outwork a bad diet. If you’re overeating or eating poorly, your workouts aren’t going to do you much good.

The real takeaway from this study, then, is exactly that: Workouts alone aren’t enough.