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Exercise Can’t Save Us: Our Sugar Intake Is The Real Culprit, Say Experts

LEIPZIG, GERMANY - MAY 23: A man with a large belly eats junk food on May 23, 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In a fascinating and scorching editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, three authors argue that the myth that exercise is the key to weight loss – and to health – is erroneous and pervasive, and that it must end. The evidence that diet matters more than exercise is now overwhelming, they write, and has got to be heeded: We can exercise to the moon and back but still be fat for all the sugar and carbs we consume. And perhaps even more jarring is that we can be a normal weight and exercise, and still be unhealthy if we’re eating poorly. So, they say, we need a basic reboot of our understanding of health, which has to involve the food industry’s powerful PR “machinery,” since that was part of the problem to begin with.

The major point the team makes – which they say the public doesn’t really understand – is that exercise in and of itself doesn’t really lead to weight loss. It may lead to a number of excellent health effects, but weight loss – if you’re not also restricting calories – isn’t one of them. “Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers by at least 30%,” they write. “However, physical activity does not promote weight loss.”

Plus, in the last 30 years, exercise has stayed about the same, while overweight and obesity have skyrocketed. So something else must be at play – like the type of food we’re eating. That part has gotten steadily worse over the years, as highly-processed sugary foods and sodas have taken over as our go-to choices. “According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports,” they write, “poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.” This is a disturbing statistic. But it gets worse.

The related and larger issue is that even normal weight people who exercise will, if they eat poorly, have metabolic markers that put them at very high risk of chronic illness and early mortality. “Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbour metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.”

And the crux of the issue is this: We’re continually “fed” the idea that all that’s behind the rise in obesity is lack of exercise, or sedentariness. There have certainly been a lot of studies and popular articles suggesting that sitting is our downfall. Instead of effective messages about diet and health that science actually knows to be true, “members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting,” the team writes, “and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry’s Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco.”

What we know to be true is much simpler: “Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger,” the write. “Fat calories induce fullness or satiation.” For every additional 150 calories in sugar (i.e., a can of soda) a person consumes per day, the risk for diabetes rises 11-fold, regardless of how much or little we exercise. The single most effective thing people can do for their weight, they write, is to restrict calories – and even more, restrict carbohydrates.

So if this is all true, and research seems to suggest it is, how will it change? It might take quite a lot of work to shift our psychology around food, especially since advertising is so saturated with the message that carbohydrates are good for us. The celebrity endorsements might need to be tweaked, the authors say, and certainly the way foods are advertised and, perhaps, created, need to be shifted. The public should be repeatedly hit with the message that whole, natural foods, where possible and affordable is the best way to go. If you’re trying to lose weight, reduce your calories (especially sugars) – don’t think exercise alone will cut it. And even if you’re normal weight, you can’t subside solely on junk and stay healthy.

The authors end with this powerful finale: “It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery. Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet.”

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Source: Exercise Can’t Save Us: Our Sugar Intake Is The Real Culprit, Say Experts

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Exercise May Aid in Weight Loss, Provided You Do Enough – Gretchen Reynolds

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Can working out help us to drop pounds after all? A provocative new study involving overweight men and women suggests that it probably can, undercutting a widespread notion that exercise, by itself, is worthless for weight loss.

But the findings also indicate that, to benefit, we may need to exercise quite a bit. In theory, exercise should contribute substantially to weight loss. It burns calories. If we do not replace them, our bodies should achieve negative energy balance, use stored fat for fuel and shed pounds.

But life and our metabolisms are not predictable or fair, as multiple exercise studies involving people and animals show. In these experiments, participants lose less weight than would be expected, given the energy they expend during exercise.

The studies generally have concluded that the exercisers had compensated for the energy they had expended during exercise, either by eating more or moving less throughout the day. These compensations were often unwitting but effective.

Some researchers had begun to wonder, though, if the amount of exercise might matter. Many of the past human experiments had involved about 30 minutes a day or so of moderate exercise, which is the amount generally recommended by current guidelines to improve health.

But what if people exercised more, some researchers asked. Would they still compensate for all the calories that they burned? To find out, scientists from the University of North Dakota and other institutions decided to invite 31 overweight, sedentary men and women to a lab for measurements of their resting metabolic rate and body composition.

The volunteers also recounted in detail what they had eaten the previous day and agreed to wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week. The scientists then randomly divided them into groups. One group began a program of walking briskly or otherwise exercising five times a week until they had burned 300 calories, which took most of them about 30 minutes. (The sessions were individualized.)

Over the course of the week, these volunteers burned 1,500 extra calories with their exercise program. The other group began working out for twice as long, burning 600 calories per session, or about 3,000 calories per week. The exercise program lasted for 12 weeks. The researchers asked their volunteers not to change their diets or lifestyles during this time and to wear the activity monitors for a few days.

After four months, everyone returned to the lab and repeated the original tests. The results must have been disconcerting for some of them. Those men and women who had burned about 1,500 calories a week with exercise turned out to have lost little if any body fat, the tests showed. Some were heavier. But most of those who had walked twice as much were thinner now. Twelve of them had shed at least 5 percent of their body fat during the study.

The researchers then used mathematical calculations, based on each person’s fat loss (if any), to determine whether and by how much they had compensated for their exercise. I think they just did not realize that they were eating more,” he says.

There probably also are complicated interconnections between exercise, appetite and people’s relationships to food that were not picked up during this study and can affect eating and weight, he says. He hopes to study those issues in future studies.

But already, the results from this experiment are encouraging, if cautionary. “It looks like you can lose weight with exercise,” Dr. Flack says. But success may require more exertion of our bodies and will than we might hope, he adds.“Thirty minutes of exercise was not enough” in this study to overcome the natural drive to replace the calories we burn during a workout.

“Sixty minutes of exercise was better,” he says. But even then, people replaced about a third of the calories they expended during exercise. “You still have to count calories and weigh portions” if you hope to use exercise to control your weight, he says.

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