Have you ever indulged in some extra dessert, based on the fact that you exercised extra hard that day? You’re going to want to hear this.
A recent article from Scientific American exposed how physical activity does little to control your weight. This might be frustrating to hear, if weight loss is your motivation to exercise.
But wait! Don’t give up on exercise just yet. Here at Fulcrum Fitness, we believe that despite this groundbreaking study, exercise is still a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Let’s explore the concepts presented in this article, and what myself and the rest of the Fulcrum trainers think about the results.
The Study: Exercise Paradox
The author spent over a month living with the Hadza tribe in northern Tanzania, to study the caloric intake and expenditure of a hunter-gatherer community. The Hadza men hunt with bows and arrows, often walking many miles to track down their prey, while Hadza women forage for edible plants. Both activities require a lot of energy.
Humans and our ancestors have evolved as hunter-gatherers for millions of years. A trip to Trader Joe’s might feel like something that is ingrained in the culture of our species, but these modern conveniences are new, relative to the history of humans.
Many have assumed that these “modern conveniences” are directly related to a rise in human obesity. Our bodies evolved to work hard at finding and killing our meals. And suddenly, we no longer do. My walk to Chipotle last week definitely didn’t burn off the burrito I had for lunch.
By studying the Hadza, researchers compared a community that still operates as humans have for most of history, with humans who operate with modern conveniences, like microwaves and delivery.
Based on the data collected through this study, it turns out humans actually burn close to the same number of calories, regardless of physical activity.
“When the analyses came back from Baylor, the Hadza looked like everyone else. Hadza men ate and burned about 2,600 calories a day, Hadza women about 1,900 calories a day—the same as adults in the U.S. or Europe. We looked at the data every way imaginable, accounting for effects of body size, fat percentage, age and sex. No difference.”
So what’s the point of exercise if we’re not burning extra calories?
I’m not going to lie to you. As a community that’s passionate about fitness, this study was a little surprising to myself and the Fulcrum Fitness team. But we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date on the conversations surrounding our industry. Our trainers met to discuss the article and whether it should have an affect on how we train our members.
We quickly realized that despite this groundbreaking study, we’ve already been operating with the understanding that exercise isn’t a singular answer for weight loss. Exercising for the goal of losing calories is far too simple, and that’s not what we’re here for.
Here at Fulcrum, we’re most concerned with promoting healthy lifestyles. That means exercising, eating healthy, having fun, practicing self-care (physically, mentally, emotionally), and so much more. And when you combine all these, great things can happen. I’ve seen it myself, time and time again.
So you shouldn’t look at the calories you burn through exercise as an excuse to eat more calories. Instead, exercise should be one healthy habit in your day, that encourages you to make more healthy habits, like preparing a fresh salad instead of picking up a sandwich made of processed meat, or riding your bike to work instead of driving.
Let’s stop talking about calories, and start talking about how we feel.
Working out makes you feel good. Sure, it might come with some minor aches and pains as well, but we all know that exercise releases endorphins — that awesome chemical that makes us feel happy.
And all of those healthy decisions you make after working out? They make you feel good, too. Which brings me to one of the greatest benefits of exercise, which has nothing to do with burning calories.
Exercise is a huge factor in controlling stress, and stress is a major cause of weight gain. Many studies over the years have shown that stress causes both weight gain and diabetes, and also makes it harder to lose weight once you’ve gained it.
So while stress might feel like a purely emotional thing when you’re experiencing it — maybe you feel irritable and overwhelmed — there are some really hurtful things happening to your body as a result of those feelings.
This article outlines the scientific details of the damage that stress can do to your body.
So, since stress is a major contributing factor to weight gain, and exercise helps relieve stress, we can conclude that exercise helps us avoid gaining weight, even if we aren’t actually burning a ton of calories.
The study from Scientific American provides us with an important perspective. Exercise simply isn’t about burning calories.
But exercise does still have the power to do great things for our minds and our bodies. One of the most important things is that it helps us manage stress, which makes us feel better, and also helps us to avoid weight gain.
Fulcrum Fitness isn’t a weight-loss focused gym. Instead, we help people with all types of goals.
Ultimately, working out at Fulcrum is about making small steps to a healthier, happier lifestyle, every day. And watching these decisions add up to results you can see and feel.
We’ll continue to stay on top of breaking studies in the science of fitness and healthy eating, and bringing them to our members. “The Exercise Paradox,” is a great reminder that you just can’t outrun a bad diet. But you can use exercise to run faster, be stronger, run faster, conquer more physical challenges, and develop a healthy lifestyle that will greatly improve your quality of life.
And you can STILL enjoy the modern conveniences of restaurants and pizza delivery — every once in awhile.
Written by David Levy, Fulcrum Fitness Founder