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Want to lose weight? Here’s why you have to do more than just move more.

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Study after study confirms that exercise is good for your health and overall well-being. Being physically active offers a multitude of benefits – from helping to lower your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes to reducing stress and improving your mood. But if weight loss is your goal, is just increasing the amount of physical activity you do enough to help send the scale in a downward direction?

When it comes to managing weight, research suggests that focusing solely on exercise is not the answer. While exercise is certainly important for your health and can help you burn calories, you need to focus on what you eat if you want to shed pounds over the long-run.

“Exercise is great for you but a healthy diet is the key to weight loss.“

-Brandi B. Hernandez, MD, Internal Medicine 

Researchers can’t agree on one specific reason why increasing the amount of exercise you do isn’t enough on its own. But these reasons help explain why you need to do more than just up the amount of physical activity you do in order to lose weight:
  • Researchers suggest there might be a point where your body adapts to higher activity levels so you don’t burn energy at the same rate when you exercise more.
  • Exercise accounts for less than 30% of your daily energy expenditure. Things like breathing, digesting food and going about your daily activities burn the majority of your daily calories.
  • You may move less throughout the day if you’ve already gotten your activity in during your regular exercise session, so your total daily energy expenditure may not be as high as you think.
  • When you exercise regularly, your body may try to hang onto fat for future energy needs.
  • When you exercise, you may eat more, either because exercising increases your appetite or you feel like you’ve “earned” the extra calories.

Although you need to pay attention to your food intake in addition to exercising if weight loss is your goal, it’s important to remember that being physically active offers numerous health benefits that should not be ignored.

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Date Last Reviewed: October 14, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS

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