There's an interesting article in TIME that says exercise doesn't do much for weight loss.


I've been a member of the same health club for over 15 years, so I've observed lots of regulars and how their bodies change. One thing I rarely see is people losing weight, no matter how often they go to the gym. Personally, I've never heard of anyone losing significant weight by eating the same as they always did and exercising more. But I know plenty of people who have lost weight by eating less, regardless of how much they exercised.

Today's question: Did you already know that exercise is nearly useless for weight loss? And if not, what kept you from noticing the obvious?

(Note: Experts still agree that exercise is vital for good health, but not because of weight loss.)

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Jun 18, 2010
My experience is that I've never lost weight through aerobic exercise, but I've always lost weight by dieting (well). But I've also lost weight when I've consistently done strength workouts, whether that was lifting weights or running hills. So I think there's still hope for exercise, as long as it's the right kind.
Sep 1, 2009
The Bad Science blog from the respected Guardian newspaper in the UK says it was cherry-picked:


[I wonder if the people who exercised and lost more weight than the non-exercisers also ate fewer calories. -- Scott]
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Aug 22, 2009
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Aug 22, 2009
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Aug 17, 2009
There are other advantages to changing diet as well:


Needless to say this highlights the stupidity of my trip to Burger King this morning.

Aug 14, 2009
I beg to differ. DH went on an intense work-out routine for 2 months and dropped 40 lbs. He did NOT change his diet. I, on the other hand, hired a personal trainer to lose 20 lbs. and did not lose a pound despite a grueling routine. Not one damn pound! :(
Aug 13, 2009
I'm not sure how this concept fits with my own personal experience. In high school I was a cross country runner in the fall and a swimmer in the winter, and in November, when swimming started, I always dropped weight. I'd put on weight in the spring and summer, lose some when I started running, then drop even more when swimming started.

Swimming was undoubtedly a better workout, and I was consuming calories about as fast as I could to try to maintain a healthy weight.

However, this might be exercise of a different scale than what we're talking about here. Spending 2 full hours in the pool each night, with about 90% of the time spent swimming hard following the directions of a screaming coach is a lot different than 20 minutes on the treadmill 3 days a week.

Not that 20 minutes on the treadmill is bad. If I put in 20 minutes of exercise 3 days a week today I imagine I'd feel better, sleep better, and be healthier overall.
Aug 12, 2009
I agree, I think exercise could be helpful for avoiding gaining weight though. But diets don't work very well either in the long term. This is just one example of a study that found after 2 years people 9 pounds on average. For people who are seriously "overweight" that's not a very significant amount. And as an example of cognitive dissonance, I've seen this different places, always with the headlines "All diets work".

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Aug 11, 2009
I'm a seasonal exerciser, and I find that whenever I exercise regularly, I tend to crave healthier foods. I also tend to lose weight. I suspect there might be a correlation.
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Aug 11, 2009
When I rode my bike to work (9 !$%*! each way, 18 !$%*! a day) my thighs became huge sexy hunks of muscle. But I didn't lose any weight so I went back to driving my Prius to work.
Aug 11, 2009
Every year when the surf gets good, I exercise rigorously every day and drop an average of 10 pounds in 2 months while eating tons more calories (i.e. I eat pints of Ben & Jerry's every day). I tend to keep the weight off for about 3-4 months afterwards then gain it back gradually over the rest of the year. I am very active year round and always have been and my diet is not what you would consider healthy (lots of meat and very little vegetables)

Granted, I'm not your typical "join local gym to lose a few pounds" guy, but there is definitely a direct corellation between amount of exercise and weight loss that is independent of diet.

Maybe the point is that fitness and weight control is not about one thing or another, but about a lifelong commitment to being healthy.
Aug 11, 2009
Very true. I've lost 20 pounds using an online tool called MyPlate to track what I eat and eat less. I don't exercise any more than before I started and it's a lot less stressful losing weight this way.
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Aug 11, 2009
I'm over 60 and I started biking regularly a few years age. Since that time I've lost a little weight while I think eating the same or a little more. Perhaps older people don't gain as much muscle mass from exercise as younger people do, and are more likely to see weight loss from exercise as a result? (My weight is in the normal range both before and after the biking started.)

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Aug 11, 2009
I think I had noticed at some level, but I did not want to admit it to myself (and still don't! Time Magazine has published nonsense in the past, why can't this be one more?)

As most westerners, I am concerned about my weight. Exercising is easier than dieting, and there is a plausible story about its weight-losing benefits (you burn more calories, you build more fat-burning muscles, cardio is good). Exercising can be fun, and gives you a much better feel-good feeling than just ordering a salad. And of course, everybody says exercise = weight loss. Plus, the brother of the neighbour of my colleague's cousin eats like a pig and is a body builder.

Therefore, I exercise, and that gives me green light to indulge in eating.

It's a win win situation. Why would Iruin it just because of a stupid article and a bunch of scientific papers?
Aug 11, 2009
Not all exercise is created equal. I found several years ago that vigorous exercise, EVERY day, is really effective. It has to really get your heart pounding, and it really, truly has to be EVERY DAY, with rare days off for illness, of course. Four or five days a week just doesn't do the same thing. I find that if I'm doing it right, it actually suppresses appetite. Later I found this book that provides a theory on why it works: http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Thinnest-Genetic-Without-Dieting/dp/187938454X. I'm not sure I believe the theory, but I believe the results.
Aug 11, 2009
I wonder if this post have anything to do with stupid weight loss adverts now so common on Scott's Blog.
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Aug 11, 2009
http://www.runnersworld.com/community/forums/index.jsp?plckForumPage=ForumDiscussion&plckDiscussionId=Cat:General DiscussionForum:872106038Discussion:3991042145
Aug 11, 2009
for me, exercise is my way to keep eating what I want and not GAIN any weight. if i stop exercising, i'll have to buy new pants.
Aug 11, 2009
I find the only time I'm motivated to eat / drink with restraint is when I'm in training. The pleasure I get from eating a chocolate bar just isn't worth the hard work I put in burning the equivalent number of calories. When I'm taking part in regular competitive sport the motivation to watch my diet is even stronger.

So much for the Compensation Problem argument.
Aug 11, 2009
Old-school gym adage: "You can't out-train the the dinner table."
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