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Is Exercise Enough?

There are millions of people around the world  starting the fourth week of their New Years resolution, with many having resolved to improve their physical health by adding in more exercise.  It is common knowledge that adding exercise or increasing physical activity on a daily basis has numerous physical and psychological benefits.  But is it enough just to exercise more often?

The other day I met a woman who said she has been working out most days for 30-45 minutes  since the new year began but hasn’t lost a pound.  She went on to say that she “doesn’t really over eat very much” so she couldn’t understand why she hasn’t seen the scale drop.  Since I just met her and she didn’t ask my opinion, I kept my burning question of “But exactly what DO you eat?” to myself.  While many of our weight issues can be traced back to not getting enough daily physical activity, more often our inability to lose weight has more to do with what kind of food or fuel we are putting in to our body then how much we are exercising.

There are a few pitfalls to increasing exercise.  One is that there is a false sense of “Since I am exercising, I can eat more of this or that,” so often portion sizes increase.  In addition we also think, “I’ve been so good working out all week I deserve this treat.”  Also, with increased exercise hunger, while initially suppressed, will come on with a vengeance and this is when running into a convenience store for something because “you are starving” can completely derail your day.

Here is an easy way to look at it:

Maintain Current Desired Weight

–Calories In = Calories Out

Gain Weight

–Calories in > Calories Out

Lose Weight

–Calories in < Calories Out


What determines the amount of calories needed each day?



•Body Size/Type

•Type and amount of daily physical activity

Everyone has a minimum daily energy requirement

The first thing to do is figure out what your “minimum daily energy requirement is” by calculating your Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR.  This is the approximate amount of calories your body would burn in a 24 period at rest, laying in a bed, not eating, etc.  It is the minimum requirement of what your body would need to maintain your current weight without physical activity.  (Resting Metabolic Rate Calculator) The number is only approximate because your individual body composition (muscle, fat and bone mass) is not taken into account but the number you get will give you a good idea of the base amount of calories your body uses each day.

To track your caloric intake try the My Pyramid site put together by the USDA http://www.mypyramid.gov/ There is quite a bit of good information here that will allow you to track your diet as well as plan what you will eat to ensure your nutritional needs are being met.

Once you determine what and how much you have been eating you can decide how you are going to go about making the changes to meet your goal.  First and foremost BE REALISTIC and remember that when dieting “slow and steady” really does “win the race.”

More information that will help you as you decide how you are going to go about losing weight.

How many calories in 1 pound of fat?

•3500 kilocalories(kcal) or “calories”

What is a safe amount of weight to lose per week?

•1-2 lbs/week

How many calories per day must be cut out or expended to lose 1 pound per week?

•3500/7=500kcal per day

What’s the easiest way to do this?

•250 calories from diet/250 calories from exercise

*Adding strength training 2-3 days a week for 20-30 minutes will also be beneficial.  After the age of 25, women especially, begin to lose muscle mass.

More muscle mass=More calories burned each day-NO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY REQUIRED!!

Next decide how much you are going to exercise.  Again, BE REALISTIC and conservative.  Sure you may WANT to exercise 7 days a week for 60 minutes a day with an additional amount of time appropriated for strength training but is it really going to happen?  Start out slowly, 2-3 days a week will do.  The more you begin to move your body more on a regular basis, the more your body will want to move.   The amount of physical activity will probably fluctuate daily so you will need to adjust the amount of calories based on your daily physical activity.    To find out the approximate amount of calories burned doing a variety of activities try this site:  Lighten up and Get Moving!

All the above will help you see where you are now and give you an idea of how to meet your goals but it isn’t definitive.  The kinds of food we eat to fuel our bodies play a huge role of how we maintain, lose, or gain weight.  Like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it is important to really ask yourself “What DO I eat?”  A book that scared and inspired me at the same time was “Skinny Bitch.”  A quick .entertaining,  also crass read that will give you an idea of what we do to ourselves when we eat certain foods and drinks.  Even if you don’t subscribe to everything in the book you will definitely have a few “ah, ha” moments and hopefully be more informed about the food you are consuming.

I am not a dietitian so I am not an expert when it comes to the best ways to lose weight.  However, I have had the good fortune of staying approximately the exact same weight, give or take 5 pounds, for over 20 years.  Now that I am in my early 40’s things are starting to shift, but overall I have stayed ahead of the curve by pretty much keeping “my calories in equaling my calories out.” Most recently I have  made a commitment to add more strength training on a daily basis knowing that while “muscle may weight more than fat” it can also “burn more calories than fat”  not to mention the effects strength training has on improving and maintaining bone density which helps to keep osteoporosis at bay.  And I do happen to subscribe to most of what is written in the book Skinny Bitch and have been a “vegetarian with mostly vegan tendencies” for over 2 years now.  I know vegetarianism/veganism isn’t for everyone, but give a try for a week or month.  I truly believe that there is something to it.

So while we may not have the perfect diet, or exercise the recommended amount every week,  it is something to shoot for and outfitting ourselves with more information when it comes to our health and well-being certainly can’t hurt.   In my mind a reasonable goal or New Year’s resolution is to make an effort everyday, in every minute of the day, to do what is best for you.    Moving your body more and providing it with good nutrition is only one part but is  a powerful one. Pounds will come and go, and our bodies will change with age, but  knowing that we are taking care of our body and doing what’s best for it will give us  more energy and confidence.

“I resolve to do my best in 2011”

That’s really all we can ever ask of ourselves.

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