Exercise Doesn’t Work

Do you exercise at least five days a week and weigh the same as you did when you began exercising? If so, that sounds about right.

What I’m about to say may upset a lot of people—my clients, exercisers employing the services of other personal trainers, exercisers not employing the services of trainers, those new to exercise, veteran exercisers, and my fellow personal training brethren and sistren. (There, I think I got everyone.) For what it’s worth, it hurts me to even say it.

Exercise doesn’t work.

There, I said it. All right! Well, see you later. Just kidding. There’s no way I’d leave you hanging like that. Okay, there’s more.

Exercise doesn’t work for fat loss.

Still doesn’t feel too good hearing that, does it? I mean, most of us are most interested in fat loss. That’s why we exercise in the first place, right? Heck, some of us think it’s the only reason to exercise. Okay, let’s take it one step farther.

Exercise alone doesn’t work for fat loss.

A 2008 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism demonstrated that exercise alone does little to alter one’s body composition. In the 10-week study, which included five days of purposeful exercise (two strength training sessions per week and three endurance training sessions per week), and no change in their dietary intake, participants saw an unimpressive 0.6-pound reduction in total body weight.

In a similar study performed at the University of Texas, participants exercised five days a week (three strength training sessions per week and two endurance) for 12 weeks. Again, there was no altering of the participants’ diet. At the end of 12 weeks, the average total weight loss for the participants was (drum roll, please) non-existent. Participants actually gained one pound! [Cymbal crashes]

If you had been exercising (or have been exercising) like the participants in this study, how would it feel (or does it feel) to have invested many hours (and for some, dollars) in something that didn’t (and doesn’t) achieve the result you want?! Hurts doughnut?

So, is the lesson to stop exercising? Uh, no. So, before you drop [kick] your trainer (present company included), cancel your gym membership, or donate your fitness apparel to Goodwill, there has still been a great return on your investment. The evidence demonstrating the benefits of exercise is indisputable. Even in the former study, participants increased strength, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, and lowered total cholesterol and triglycerides. But if the goal is fat loss, exercise alone isn’t enough. I say “alone” because exercise is essential for long-term, sustainable weight loss.

“The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Position Stand, ‘Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults’, states there is little evidence to suggest that exercise-alone is as effective as energy restriction for promoting weight loss. Energy restriction-alone is not, however, a sustainable long-term solution for continued improvements in body composition and health, and instead, it has been reported that greater than 50% of subjects that lose weight because of dietary restriction-alone eventually regain the weight.”

You must exercise to have successful weight loss. So, if exercise is essential for successful weight loss, but in and of itself isn’t enough for weight loss, what’s the missing piece? I’m about to say a four-letter word . . . diet.

Now, by “diet” I don’t mean “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons,” i.e., “I’m going on a diet.” I mean, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” (e.g., a Mediterranean diet, a vegetarian diet, the standard American diet).

If you’re to achieve the weight loss you seek, you need to change the kinds of food you eat (and the amount, too). If you want those results to be long-term, you need exercise. So, here’s the take-home: if you want remarkable results, you must change your diet AND exercise.