Occasionally a study makes a headline that seems counter-intuitive. The headline that recently grabbed my eye was an article on CNN written about a study that concluded that you can work out less and lose more weight. I decided to read more about this study so I could decide for myself if the claims of the study were accurate.
The study was performed at the University of Copenhagen. It consisted of 61 sedentary and moderately obese males in their 20s and 30s. These subjects were divided into 1 of 3 different groups.
The first group did no exercise (the control group) and remained sedentary. The second group did 30 minutes a day of moderate cardio-vascular exercise like jogging or biking. They worked out for either a half an hour or burned 300 calories, whichever came first. The third group exercised for an hour a day or until they burned 600 calories. The participants did this for 13 weeks.
By the end of the 13th week the results were interesting and unexpected. The sedentary group saw no difference in their weight. The 3rd group that exercised for an hour a day lost on average 5 pounds. This was 20% less weight loss then the researches had expected given the amount they had exercised.
The 2nd group that exercised for a half an hour a day was the most surprising. This group lost on average 7 pounds. This was 83% more than was expected due to calorie expenditure.
What could account for this? Is there really a sweet spot somewhere in moderate exercise that would allow you to lose more weight than if you were exercising longer? I always think that if something sounds too good to be true, than it is.
I wrote an article that brushed this topic a few weeks ago in the blog “Exercising and still heavy? It’s more important to be Healthy.” In this blog I mentioned a study that stated the real health benefits and changes to the body occur during the first 20 minutes of a workout. After that all you are doing is burning more calories. So if the 3rd group was burning more calories, how did they lose less weight than the 2nd, less intense group?
The lead researcher, Mads Rosenkilde, had a few theories on this, according to the New York Times, and so do I.
First off, the intense exercisers might have been compensating for the extra exercise with eating more. Their food diaries did not show this, but Rosenkilde stated that it is probable that the participants did not write down everything that they ate.
Motion sensors were used on the subjects and showed that those who exercised the most intensely (group 3) were the most sedentary when at home. They were either exercising or resting. In contrast those who were in group 2, the moderate group, were more active throughout the day, choosing to use the stairs instead of an elevator or to park far away from their destination.
Rosenkilde’s other theory is that those who were exercising an hour a day were putting on muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. The addition of muscle will offset weight loss, because instead they are re-shaping their body.
Rosenkilde then stated that long term, those who exercised more would be better off. This is because muscle is more metabolically active then fat and therefore, the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn.
While it is true that muscle is more metabolically active than fat is, the difference is negligible. It is still very good for your health to build muscle, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can eat anything you want to because you have been weight lifting. If you do this, then you’ll be stronger, but you’ll still be heavy.
While reading through these findings I had some thoughts on why the results to this study turned out the way they did.
First off, you can’t take someone who is sedentary and have them go from not exercising to exercising an hour a day, every day. It will not be effective and will cause an injury. I wonder how effective the exercise routines were for those exercising an hour a day. For someone who is out of shape, it is much more possible for them to go harder for a half an hour, rather than going hard for an hour. I would bet that those who worked out for an hour, since they didn’t have a chance to build up to it, were not getting the most out of their workout.
I also wonder what their workout consisted of. Was it just an hour of cardio a day? Any days off? Any weight lifting or stretching? Was this a well balanced and designed exercise program? If it was not, then the participants probably weren’t getting the most out of their workouts.
It is a rare individual who can go from being sedentary and overweight to exercising hard an hour a day. Most sedentary people who start exercising will have to ease their way into it so as to get the most out of their workout, not injure themselves and be able to continue with the routine consistently. They won’t be able to go hard for an hour when they are beginning a new exercise routine. I think that the workouts of group 2 were more productive than the longer workouts, since they were shorter, and more to the point.
This isn’t to say that it is always better to work out for shorter periods of time. If someone gets into shape and can handle longer workouts, then the longer workouts will be better for that person some of the time, not all of the time. You just can’t go hard all of the time. If you do then you will end up becoming over trained and eventually injure yourself and have to stop exercising because of that.
It is good to mix it up, do some short and some longer workouts. If you want to lose weight and get into shape, then it is essential to have a well designed exercise plan that you can follow. Otherwise you will go to the gym and flounder. Maybe you’ll get some working out in, but you will have a much more productive workout if you go into exercising with a plan of what you are going to do. If you follow a routine, your workouts will be much more productive.
You also have to watch what you eat along with exercising. If you are exercising but then eating everything in sight once you are done, then you are defeating the purpose and won’t see much of a change in your weight. If you can exercise and watch what you eat together, then you will see much better results, and see them quicker. That is the Pain Free Way.