Many Americans start off each new year with resolutions to lose weight, and gym memberships typically rise in January. But by March, the resolutions often have been dropped. The pounds didn’t melt away as expected, and the gym shoes get kicked to the back of the closet.
While exercising may help people lose weight and maintain the weight loss, fitness experts say, people might overestimate how many calories they burn when they are working out, or they simply may not do enough to move the scale. That 30-minute cardio workout that left you sweaty and breathless may have felt like a grueling marathon, but it may have burned only 200 to 300 calories.
“That can be completely undone by consuming one donut in like, what, 60 seconds,” said Glenn Gaesser, a professor of exercise physiology at the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University in Phoenix. “So we can undo with eating in a matter of minutes what it took us to burn that many calories over the course of many, many minutes, sometimes hours.”
Regular exercise offers many benefits beyond burning calories — so there are plenty of reasons to keep moving in the new year. “Research shows that exercise affects pretty much every cell in the body, not just our heart, not just our muscles, but it also affects all the other organs, as well,” Gaesser said. “Exercise is something that is vital for good health.”
We have found that exercise basically improves health outcomes largely independent of weight loss.
Glenn Gaesser, Arizona State University, Phoenix
Among the benefits listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sharper thinking, less depression and anxiety, better sleep, help with weight management, stronger bones and muscles, and reduced risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers of the breast, the colon and other organs.
To obtain “substantial health benefits,” federal health guidelines advise adults to do at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination.
Nina McCollum, 52, of Cleveland, said she began gaining weight after she had a baby at age 40. The weight gain accelerated more in the last few years, said McCollum, who mainly blamed menopause.
McCollum, who has been physically active throughout her life, didn’t find that exercise helped keep the extra pounds off. She now considers herself about 40 pounds overweight, but she’s as much of an exercise enthusiast as ever. She works out at home, doing calisthenics and weight training and running stairs. She also walks her dog, and on the weekends she goes for outdoor hikes.
“I don’t care anymore that I’m not like a stick figure,” she said. Instead, she is focused on staying fit, strong and flexible as she ages, keeping healthy and trying to ward off heart disease, which runs in her family.
Exercise to live longer
Gaesser said research shows that people who are overweight but exercise regularly, like McCollum, still reap many health benefits. “We have found that exercise basically improves health outcomes largely independent of weight loss,” he said.