Weight loss is complex and multi-factorial. So exactly what is the best way to reduce your body fat; because although we talk about weight loss we really mean fat loss? A recent study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 581–586 found that we have an adaptive metabolic response to exercise induced weight loss. However a meta-analysis recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Journal (JAMA) found that lack of exercise was strongly correlated to obesity. So these two studies seem to contradict each other.
Weight loss is complex
What these two studies clearly demonstrate is that weight loss is very complex and is not simply a case of improving your diet and exercising a bit more. The European Journal study concludes “that the adaptive metabolic response to exercise influences both physiological and behavioural components of energy balance”. This study found that people who experienced a down regulation of their resting energy expenditure (REE) as they reduced their weight also experienced and up-regulation in their energy intake. The thing about this study is that not everybody experienced this down regulation. So based on this it is hard to say whether exercise helps or hinders weight loss. Now the JAMA study found a strong correlation between lack of exercise and obesity but correlation doesn’t equal causation. There is a good chance that obese individuals are already quite sedentary and as they put on more weight activity becomes more difficult. So what is the answer, because you can find research to support the ‘diet only’ advocates as well as the ‘exercise is everything’ advocates’?
The bottom line is that answer most probably is somewhere in the middle. Exercise alone is not going to produce a large change is fat stores, especially if there is no change or even an increase in energy intake because of the increased exercise. Diet alone may be slightly more effective providing there is an energy deficit but again, too much of a deficit seems to cause metabolic adaptions; namely the REE reduces. My doctoral research has found that an increase in activity/exercise coupled with moderate reduction in energy intake seems to be optimal. This study has been repeated in New Zealand and I have used it successfully since with numerous clients.
So stop looking for miracle diets or magical fat burning exercises. Instead make some small adjustments to your everyday diet and build in some extra periods of activity. This doesn’t have to be formal exercise it can just be walking a bit more, using the stairs more often etc. If you like and most importantly enjoy exercise then include a bit more of this. Be aware of what you are eating (get properly educated about your own nutrition) and in the long-term you will see slow but steady progress. Quick fixes are not the answer and generally lead to equally quick regains in weight. Slow and steady lifestyle change is the key to long-term successful weight loss and most importantly, weight maintenance.
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