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How Important is Exercise to Your Overall Health?

Posted by Joi Gleason, RD, LDN, CHWC on May 5, 2016 11:28:00 AM

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Recently, I read a blog suggesting that exercise isn’t as important for weight loss as a healthy diet. I can’t argue the fact that a healthy diet, with just enough calories and a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is important if you are trying to lose weight.  However, if you think you can skip your workout because you eat healthy, think again!

Why is exercise important?                                     

Exercise helps change your body composition by lowering body fat and building lean muscle.

When it comes to losing weight, it’s best to lose body fat, but not lose any muscle. After all, muscle is a major player in your metabolism (the process of converting food into energy to fuel your body).  Having more muscle on your body allows you to burn more calories, and typically, eat more calories without gaining weight.  So building muscle is something that can help you manage your weight and it can only happen by being more physically active or by exercising.

You are never too old to start building muscle.

The good news is that it’s never too late to build muscle.  Researchers at Tufts University, Boston, MA have proven this with volunteers in their 90s who were able to build muscle and bone after a program of strength training (such as lifting weights or push-ups).  This brings me to my most important reason to exercise and be physically active. You will most likely enjoy a higher level of wellness and live longer because regular physical activity including strength training helps you to maintain your strength, flexibility, and vitality, even your mental health, as you age.

Why is exercise alone not enough to make you lose weight?

I often hear from people that exercise doesn’t help them lose weight.  You may feel the same.  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. How is your exercise impacting your food choices or the amount of food you eat? Some people may overeat after an intense workout. They may feel extremely hungry after exercising or they may feel justified in indulging in something like a sundae or a big steak because of their good workout. This easily offsets the calories they just burned.

  2. It’s also important to take a look at your exercise intensity. If you have been walking or using a stationary bicycle for 30-60 minutes almost every day of the week and can’t understand why your weight loss has stopped, it might be that you will need to increase your intensity (how hard you work when doing an activity) rather than the time you spend on the activity. More intense exercise, if you are able to do it safely, burns more body fat.  A good way to slowly increase your exercise intensity is to use interval training (short bouts of intense activity in between bouts of moderate activity). For example, try walking moderately for 5 minutes, then walking at a fast pace for 2 minutes and ultimately increasing the amount of intense walking to meet your activity goal (see ACSM the guidelines).

  3. It’s too much too soon. If you begin a workout routine that is too advanced for your current level of fitness, you may feel fatigued and end up needing several days to recover.  Being too tired to work out on a regular basis, means fewer calories burned overall.  It’s best to try for a regular, balanced exercise routine that challenges you but doesn’t wear you out.

So should you give up on your exercise plans altogether and just focus on your diet to lose weight?  The answer is absolutely not. If you are able to exercise, just do it! You will be glad you did, today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

Topics: Health and Wellness