Along with eating less food, the belief that exercise will lead to sustained weight loss forms the basis of most Americans’ attitudes towards weight-management. As I mentioned earlier, this one seems straightforward enough. Exercise leads to burning calories, which leads to lost weight. While this is true, it again is the result of an oversimplification of the First Law. Like the positive caloric balance hypothesis of weight-loss, it operates on the belief that intake and expenditure are independent variables; that you can change one without affecting the other. We know this not to be true and can easily demonstrate this at home by simply fasting for a whole day and then trying to engage in a vigorous workout, or conversely, engaging in a vigorous workout and then measuring the effects that has on appetite afterwards. The truth is that intake and expenditure are dependent variables and any change in one will induce a compensatory change in the other. Therefore, burning say, 400 calories over the course of an hour-long, intense workout is great, but if it leads to consuming 400+ calories post-workout to satisfy our hunger, how does that help? In what must be a sobering realization for the exercising public, studies show that the calories consumed post-workout tend to exceed those burned.
So is exercise unnecessary? Should we all cancel our gym memberships? Not at all. Exercise still plays an important role in our health, but we must realize it’s not in the immediate burning of calories. More than anything else, exercise and activity work to stimulate our metabolism so that our bodies are able to burn fat throughout the day, not just when we’re exercising. In fact, moving frequently at a slow pace is essential to spurning our endogenous (inner body) fat-burning mechanisms which can work to our benefit at all hours of the day. This is a tough concept for many to understand, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to achieve optimal health and fitness.