Trying to Lose Weight? Focus More on Calories, Not As Much on Exercise

New Research Suggests Exercise Can Lead to Weight Gain

ATLANTA (August 17, 2009) – A growing body of research suggests that exercise might not be beneficial to weight loss efforts. In fact, some experts say strenuous activity may actually result in excess pounds.

These new findings – which are detailed in a recent Time magazine cover story – claim physical fitness stimulates hunger rather than weight loss. And not only do people tend to eat more after exercising, but these post-workout rewards often feature high-fat, calorie-rich snacks like muffins, sports drinks, ice cream or chips.

For example, researchers from Children’s Hospital in Boston recently discovered that when the 538 kids involved in their 18-month study began to exercise, they wound up eating an average of 100 calories more than they had just burned. One of those researchers – Steven Gortmaker of Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity – told Time that “The most powerful determinant of your dietary intake is your energy expenditure. If you’re more physically active, you’re going to get hungry and eat more.”

Other experts have drawn similar conclusions. A study published this year in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE – or Public Library of Science – followed more than 400 women who were divided into four exercise groups: no exercise required, 72 minutes per week, 136 minutes per week and 194 minutes per week of monitored exercise. Doctors found that at the end of the six-month study, the group with the most intense exercise schedule did not lose significantly more weight than the group that went exercise-free.

Another British study found that kids who regularly move in short bursts — running to catch a ball or racing up and down stairs to collect toys — are just as healthy as kids who participate in organized sports.

All of these findings are in line with a study published in Pediatrics magazine two years ago. Researchers then discovered that overweight children could prevent further weight gain simply by walking another 2,000 steps and eliminating just 100 calories each day using products sweetened with sucralose (marketed as Splenda®). This was one of the first times clinical evidence proved that overweight children could effectively prevent excess weight gain by making small changes to their lifestyle.

Still, leading health authorities caution that there are many advantages to physical fitness, ranging from improving mood to supporting lean muscle mass and enhancing sleep quality, as well as improvements in health overall. But in terms of actually losing weight, experts now believe that frequent, low-level physical activity works best.

At the same time, experts continue to support the role of low-calorie foods and beverages in weight loss efforts. According to this calorie savings calculator, switching from a regular can of soda (cola) to a sucralose-sweetened variation could save 100 calories each day – and result in a loss of up to 15 pounds throughout the year. And a blueberry muffin baked with sucralose can shave 80 calories while keeping the great taste.

“By making simple diet substitutions, consumers are able to slim down without sacrificing their favorite foods and beverages or hitting the gym for hours,” says Beth Hubrich, a registered dietitian with the Calorie Control Council. “Sucralose and other low-calorie sweeteners can aid in weight loss efforts and help promote a healthy lifestyle.”

View the Time article here.