We are always scanning for the latest information that will advance knowledge about fitness, nutrition and other topics of relevance for improved health and wellness. But our latest find regarding exercise and weight loss is challenging, even to us, who are always ready and willing to be challenged….
What if we are to tell you that physical exercise does not make you lose weight? A bit shocking wouldn’t you say? Yet it is the assertion made by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. During a presentation given to participants at a recent conference of Physical and Health Education Canada (https://www.facebook.com/WeightyMatters/posts/843298892409027), professor Freedhoff really debunked the generally accepted belief that if we exercise regularly, we will lose weight. Referring to a slew of scientific studies, Dr. Freedhoff’s contended that there is no relationship between exercise and weight loss. His conclusions are difficult to refute; the science is there.
Now, what do we do with THAT? All personal trainers might as well head for the unemployment line, right? And what about fitness studios and clubs? They might as well declare bankruptcy right now! Well, maybe not. Professor Freedhoff’s remarks need to be examined a bit more.
Exercise remains the world’s best drug to improve your health
No “ifs” or “buts” about it. Dr. Freedhoff is clear about this in his remarks: Exercise is the most important, modifiable, determinant of health. The important message here is that you will be in better health if you chose to exercise, since it is a choice that you control. Exercise is a proven remedy against most contemporary illnesses such as heart attacks and diabetes.
Exercise, by itself, has little or no impact on weight
Using objective results of multiple studies, professor Freedhoff contends that there is no realistic means to prescribe exercise to prevent people from gaining weight. One of those studies followed two cohorts of men over 20 years to measure the effect of exercise on their weight. Results are surprising: men reporting an exercise regimen of 150 minutes or more a week on average – which is a lot – all gained weight, but only .4 pounds/year less than those exercising only 90 minutes a week. It is a marginal difference per year (of weight gain, let’s not forget) between the super active and the less active participants involved in the study.
The narrative about a “balanced life style” is used for promotion
The narrative about healthy life styles has been hijacked by some food providers to link certain products with health benefits, including weight loss, even if there is no evidence to support it. A good example may be chocolate milk, which is touted as the recovery beverage of choice after exercise. Yet, the benefits are more nuanced. The caloric and sugar content of chocolate milk are much too high, but it contains seven to eight grams of good protein per serving, which may support muscle recovery after intense workout. So while chocolate milk may bring benefits to athletes, it may not be the case for the rest of the population. The food industry is sometimes telling only part of the story when they associate certain products with a healthy lifestyle.
Are there lessons that fitness specialists can draw from Dr. Freedhoff’s information? We can suggest only three:
Stay critically informed
With access to so much information generated by technologies, remain critical of what you learn. What passes as information may sometimes be promotion;
Always promote the importance of good nutrition to your clients
The benefits of proper nutrition as a healthy way to control weight are well documented and it remains a critical element in the trainers’ tool kit;
Be careful about the narrative when engaging clients
The psychological and physiological benefits of exercise are undeniable. Stressing those benefits to clients that have difficulties exercising remains critical. But in light of the insight provided by Dr. Freedhoff, it may be time to reconsider the link made in the past between exercise and weight loss. Both those concepts may exist separately, but not together.
Note: For more insights on Dr. Freedhoff’s work, please visit his web site at www.weightymatters.ca. Any inaccuracies or omissions that may have been made when highlighting his work in this blog are mine.Sign up for our free 5 day mini course