Let me start off by saying that I believe strongly in exercise (not surprisingly!).
As a child, my parents kept my sister and I active in our spare time.
I started judo at 8 and then moved on to karate (my lifelong love) when I was 9.
I was a competitive karate athlete for 14 years, traveling the world to train with and fight against the top people in the world.
Weight training became a regular part of my life from the age of 15.
Although I used it to get myself stronger for karate competition, I enjoyed it for its own sake.
I’ve been competing in natural bodybuilding (fitness modelling) since 2013.
Exercise is central to my life.
I understand that not everyone has that experience.
Apart from gym classes at school (I didn’t like them, BTW), many people don’t have a consistent relationship with exercise.
Some people get into exercise in their 30s or 40s, when it’s no longer easier for them to manage their weight.
They go to a chain gym, get assigned a barely-qualified trainer who “puts them through their paces” rather than truly educating them, and often give up because they’re not seeing results.
Some people were active in their youth, but found that their exercise time dropped off when they began a challenging career or had children.
Many people are concerned they don’t do enough exercise for the sake of their health, or aren’t happy with how hard it feels to keep up with their kids.
But when it comes to weight loss, how much does exercise REALLY matter?
The short answer is “not very”.
The actual calories burned through exercise isn’t as much as you think.
And it’s certainly less than what those cardio machines at the gym tell you.
While some calorie burn certainly happens through exercise, it’s not significant in the average person.
If you’re working out for over an hour 5 or 6 times a week there will be some impact on weight loss (without nutritional change), but it probably won’t be as much as you would like.
The EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or “afterburn” following exercise isn’t as great as we would hope either.
It may add up to a total of 40 calories in the 24 hours after an exercise session – about half an apple.
The added muscle mass from consistent weight training also doesn’t contribute much to your RMR (resting metabolic rate).
So Why Exercise At All?!
Regular exercise has many other benefits besides weight loss.
Exercise improves your mood and energy levels.
Physical activity reduces your risk of diabetes, many types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
It can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar levels, and build bone density.
Exercise also helps you cope with stress.
Since many people eat more (and particularly treat foods that are high in calories) under stress, less stress tends to mean a lower calorie intake.
Exercise can also make it easier to keep your calories under control.
When people are exercising, they’re not sitting on the couch eating bags of chips.
Substituting one behaviour for the other results in a calorie deficit.
When you go to a gym, you’re surrounded by people who have similar goals.
That may inspire you to eat better.
And there’s always that, “I don’t want to spoil what I did at the gym by eating (fill in the blank)”.
Of course, the combination of exercise and nutritional change is most effective.
My Online Coaching clients get a personalized workout program to accompany the nutrition recommendations I give them.
This helps them build the body shape they want (through building muscle), improves posture, and addresses any muscular imbalances that may cause pain or injury.
Weight loss isn’t everyone’s goal anyway.
I find weight training powerful because of the confidence it gives you.
When you lift heavier weights and improve your strength, you feel better about yourself and your body.
You’re less likely to deal with negative feelings by eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a plate of chicken wings.
Most people change what they’re eating when they start exercising.
They view the two things as associated, so one positive change reinforces the other.
I wouldn’t suggest using this knowledge to skip exercise, but to help you focus on the nutrition side.
And don’t panic if you occasionally find yourself too busy to workout.
If you can’t get to the gym but are more careful about what you eat, then you can lose or maintain your weight.
You CAN lose weight without exercise.
That doesn’t mean you should.