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Archive for September, 2012

Should we be exercising… less?

This might sound crazy to you, but in the quest for weight loss, some of us may be exercising too much. How can that be, you might be asking, since so few people actually exercise? Let me ask you this; for those of you who regularly go to the gym, do you know anyone that you see there every day on the treadmill not getting any thinner? I know I do. There is a new research study out this month that suggests that some people may be struggling to lose weight because they are actually exercising too much!

The study was conducted by the University of Copenhagen and followed the weight loss efforts of overweight but otherwise healthy men in their 20s and 30s. The men were broken up into 3 groups; no exercise, 30 minutes daily and 60 minutes daily. They were told to keep their eating habits constant throughout the duration of the 13 week study. Afterwards, they were weighed, and as expected the group that did not change their diet or exercise habits lost no weight. The 60 minute group lost around 5 pounds on average, so they were mildly successful. However, the 30 minute group lost 7 pounds on average, which was significantly more than the researchers were expecting. How could this be?

One hypothesis is the compensatory eating effect. Those who worked out an hour each day felt exhausted afterwards and may have had an increased drive to eat in order to compensate for the large number of calories burned. The 30 minute group most likely didn’t perceive the effort to be all that hard, and may actually have kept their calorie intake constant. The second and more interesting hypothesis (I think) is the amount of other activity they did during the day. The 60 minute group usually felt pretty wiped out from their workout and spent most of their free time sitting; they took the elevator instead of the stairs and sat on the couch after work instead of tackling some chores. The 30 minute group actually reported feeling energized from their workout and they moved around significantly more during the day.

I loved this study because it actually made sense in my own life. When I was in college I ran both track and cross country. During the cross country season, I ran more miles during the week, and therefore always felt like I was burning a ton of calories. I definitely reduced my other activity and ate as many brownies as my heart desired and looking back at pictures, I was always a little heavier during cross country season.

How much do you exercise? Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re exercising so much and yet not losing weight?

-Sara

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Getting Motivated

For those of us who struggle to exercise daily (or at least semi-daily), finding the right motivation is key. When my alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning, I need a really good reason to get out of bed; if not, I’m hitting the snooze and exercising tomorrow.

As an exercise physiologist, I’d like to think that the most current research is what motivates people to exercise. There are dozens of studies that tout the benefits of regular physical activity on reducing chronic disease; with just 30 minutes a day, you lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and even depression. That should be enough to make us want to move around, right?

Unfortunately, the research would suggest otherwise. According to a study done by Ingledew and Markland, exercisers tended to stick with a program much longer if their reason for working out was related to social interactions and those who were exercising for appearance didn’t last very long. Researchers have also found that when we perceive benefits to be either intangible or in the distant future, we aren’t very motivated. Just knowing that when you’re 75, your cholesterol will be lower doesn’t seem to be a potent motivator for getting off the couch.

So what do we do? There’s a great article on nytimes right now that suggests we will exercise much more often if we think about how it makes us feel, rather than how it makes us look, and if we think about how it affects us today, rather than how it will affect us 10 years from now. If yo look forward to your evening walk, thinking about how it helps you de-stress and how nice it will feel to be outside, you’ll be more likely to go than if you try to guilt yourself into going. Thinking about exercise as a punishment will always leave a bad taste and it will be a dreaded item to check off the to-do list.

I exercise for a couple of reasons; some noble, some not so much. Some days I look forward to my run; I feel fit and thin and it sounds like a fun thing to do. Other days, I force myself to go because I’m training for a race, or honestly, because I had an extra piece of chocolate cake the day before. But, what gets me out of bed in the morning at 5:45 is thinking how good I’ll feel for the rest of the day. If I tell myself, “it’s just 30 minutes. Then think what you’ll have accomplished before 7 am,” I’ll  get right up.

What motivates you to exercise?

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