Often people come to me thinking that exercise will be their main pathway to weight loss. These can be people who are regular exercises or people who have avoided exercise for long periods of time. Exercise has been considered the king of calorie consumption and energy use and the primary way to burn fat and this is mostly done via cardio such as running or cycling or high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Exercise and physical activity levels (PAL) can both be used as forms open increasing daily activity. Physical activity can be anything from going for a walk for 10 minutes or partaking in a favourite hobby such as gardening. Exercise on the other hand is often a more structured formal activity with a structured purpose.
Cardio vs Strength training
Cardiovascular exercise, which aims to target our heart and lungs, is the type of exercise that burns energy only during the activity. Examples are running, rowing, cycling, circuit training, swimming, sport, etc. While strength training burns fewer calories during the session but has a higher calorie burn the following 24 hours, this is due to the muscle fibers requiring repair. This is due to the repeated movements of lifting, pushing, or pulling.
Everybody burns calories, even at rest and during sleep our bodies are constantly metabolizing, which is the process of all chemical reactions within every cell in our body. Exercise or PAL are tools to increase our overall energy output of our bodies on a daily basis.
But does exercise contribute to weight loss?
It can, but it wouldn’t be the primary reason. Exercise can contribute to weight loss, but nutrition would have to be your main focus. We may find taking up exercise or physical activity may change our nutritional choices which could play a role in overall weight loss. You may actually find you are hungrier than before when you exercise.
Exercise or PAL will played a role on bettering overall health by other means –
· Mental health
· Social wellbeing/interaction
· Bone health
· Overall confidence
· Cardiovascular health
· Quality of life
· Muscle mass
· Reduced time off work
Nutrition has such a vital role in our daily lives and if we want to manage or maintain a healthy weight that suits our body shape then nutrition is key. Nutrition comes above anything when weight loss or maintenance is our goal.
Nutrition works based on energy in/energy out, which many people will have heard of. Gender can play huge role in what energy systems we use, for example women will predominantly burn more fat marginally than men, but men will predominantly have more muscle mass than women, women’s hormone levels fluctuate more which directly relates to things such as energy level fluctuations and our exercise performance. Other factors include how physical your job is, current health conditions, menopause, the quality of food consumed, and your daily environment (such as friends, our office lay outs, how our cupboards are filled, etc).
You may have heard the quote “you cannot out train a bad diet” which may not necessarily apply in your early 20s but as we age this is more applicable. The quality of your diet does not necessarily apply for a weight loss perspective. You could eat 3 small McDonald’s meals daily and still lose weight, and you can also eat the most nutritious diet in the world but still gain weight. Big food companies put so much money into research into triggering our own body’s reward systems so it's no wonder these foods can be super tempting sometimes over those vegetables you've avoided for a while in the fridge.
Nutrition for Health
At the end of the day if you are eating less energy than you are burning, and assuming that your body functions properly, then you will lose weight. Applying that can be a little tougher depending on your relationship with food, habits associated with food, lifestyle, dependents, sleep, medication, etc.
Ideal nutritional focuses –
1. Focus on quality of your food – this doesn’t mean expensive, this can be oats, tinned fish, frozen vegetables, wholegrains, beans and legumes.
2. Begin to believe that food is there to nourish.
3. Find pleasure in food.
4. Remove the guilt around food – food is a necessity.
5. You do not need to earn food through exercise.
6. Food is slowly being proven to directly affect our mood and reduce risk of depression or anxiety Frontiers | Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety (frontiersin.org)