I was recently asked exactly what I eat and what exercise I do for my own weight loss/weight maintenance efforts. I wrote about my basic universal advice about diet 2 weeks ago, and then more specifically what I myself actually eat last week. And truly, what you eat determines your weight about 10 times more than how much you move when you’re trying to lose weight. My most successful weight loss patient lost about 100 pounds while being disabled enough that he uses a scooter for transportation rather than walking, all because of what he ate (and didn’t eat). Plus, vigorous exercise can actually stimulate appetite, so without attention to what you’re eating, exercise alone doesn’t make much of a dent on body weight. So if you can’t (or won’t) exercise, don’t fret. Dietary changes alone can make a huge difference.
That being said, exercise has a myriad of benefits, from improving mood to improving sleep to raising your level of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and decreasing the risk of dementia. It has also been shown to play a role in successful weight maintenance – most clinical trials ever done to look at exercise and weight maintenance show that about 60-80 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (like brisk walking) each and every day (or 35-40 minutes of more vigorous activity, like running or spinning) is associated with the most success at keeping lost weight off. And this is likely in part due to eventual drifts back toward eating more calories and less healthy foods over time (raise your hand if you’ve ever started a “diet” super motivated to stick to it 100% and then relaxed those efforts over time as sugar and processed food sneaks its way back into your life and your belly!). In fact, our own study of Biggest Loser contestants showed that people were eating an average of 3,429 calories per day 6 years after the competition ended. This was slightly less than the average calories being eaten at the start of the competition, but still a lot of calories. So I’d argue that for weight loss and weight maintenance, if you’re eating clean then exercise becomes much less important a factor on your weight than when you’re eating dirty.
For me, I feel better physically and emotionally with regular exercise- and you know I’m focused on delaying cognitive decline, so I’m dedicated to exercise for my own well-being. I have an old school NordicTrack CX 1050 that is well over a decade old, and I use it every morning without fail. I don’t think I’ve missed a day in months. I used to spend 30 minutes on it, but lately I’ve been upping that to more like 40-45 minutes. My heart rate averages around 120 bpm with my max heart rate usually hitting 140-150, so this is likely in the “vigorous” rather than “moderate intensity” category. I also spend about 15 minutes doing some core strengthening exercises using my Bosu ball and a yoga mat, and end with lots of stretching for my poor old decrepit back. I’ve also recently added in outdoor walks of about 2 miles on maybe 3-5 days per week (depending on whether it’s raining), more to get in some natural daylight to help me with sleep than to increase my calorie burn, but hey – all movement helps!
I do think exercise is key for good health and quality of life, but I don’t ask my patients or clients to start exercising (if they aren’t already) during the first part of their weight loss journey. I’d definitely add it in eventually, though, for the many reasons I mentioned above. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Until next week, stay well!