Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | August 16, 2012

Exercise and Weight Loss – Again

I’ve said it before, and now it’s being said yet again:

Exercise does not help you lose weight.

Counterintuitive: of course.

Sucks big time? Definitely. Especially now that I’ve just joined a gym and fallen in love with the elliptical. Working out like crazy, trying desperately not to increase food intake, but still losing oh-so-slowly (if at all). Ah well.

Exercise is good for you. It promotes cardiovascular health. It tones and trims you, making your body look (and feel) good. It has no down side. It’s just that it will not help you lose weight.


(I’m sorry.)



  1. What worked for me (went from 270 to 185 in about 10 months) was controlling caloric intake using an app on my phone to count calories, and mild exercise on a Wii and the Wii Fit board.
    I’m convinced that when exercising heavily, your body reacts by saving what it has, and you will struggle to lose weight. The WiiFit has low impact moves with a lot of stretching and balancing exercises to get you moving, just what my desk-bound body needed.

  2. Maybe I am missing something… Maybe I’m just a dumb surgeon.. But my inclination is to call you on this one, based solely on the principles of thermodynamics…. Or simply – to lose weight, calories in must be less than calories out.

    So, the last time I checked, exercise does indeed require caloric expenditure. Aerobic exercise performed for long periods of time will result in more calories out than without exercise. Thus, tipping the balance of the equation.

    Then there are the effects on metabolic rate. The more muscle mass – the higher your metabolic rate.

    There is more to it than just tone and cardiovascular health. I submit that exercise does indeed help you to lose weight.

  3. >> The more muscle mass – the higher your metabolic rate.

    Nope. Read the study. That’s exactly what was disproved. Read the linked article.

  4. Interesting. I still have caloric expenditure. πŸ™‚

  5. Whether or not exercise helps you lose weight (we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one), would you concede that exercise helps you lose body fat (which is what I believe we all really want when we say we want to lose weight) while increasing muscle mass? Even if the scale doesn’t budge, now that you are (budging, i.e. exercising, that is), keep an eye on your body composition and/or measurements and/or how your clothes fit, and see of you don’t get slimmer and firmer even if your total body weight remains unchanged. I’ll never forget one summer when I exercised an hour a day and went from a size 14 to a size 10, even while the scale remained rock-steady at 155. (I’m 5’4″.). Everyone was complimenting me on my weight loss, and didn’t believe me when I said I hadn’t lost any weight.

  6. I don’t understand the point of your position that exercise won’t help you lose weight. Don’t you recommend that ALL of your patients exercise if there are no medical contraindications? Surely you’re not trying to discourage your patients from exercising, are you? Why give them a reason not to do something they should be doing anyway? Isn’t being sedentary a health risk itself? Here’s an analogy: quitting smoking won’t help a patient lose weight, but there are certainly other health benefits to quitting smoking. Analogously, there are certainly health benefits to quitting being sedentary. (Surely you’re not going to argue against the proposition that exercise is good for your health? Do I really have to cite a source for that?) Your campaign to convince people that exercise won’t help you lose weight makes as little sense as a campaign to convince people that quitting smoking won’t help you lose weight. Why give people a reason for refraining for doing something that has such wonderful health benefits?

  7. @Kensington: Your argument is a non-sequitur. Brushing your teeth is good for you, and I strongly recommend it to everyone, even though, like exercise, it won’t help you lose weight. I try to keep my medical recommendations evidence-based. Exercise, yes, but for the right reasons (cardiovascular fitness, toning, etc.) It’s like telling kids they should finish their dinner because there are starving children in Africa. If they finish, should they feel good because the African children are no longer hungry?

  8. @J (aka dumb surgeon):

    Click on the link above and find this:

    >>…human metabolism appears to be less revved by activity than was once believed.

    Yes, “muscle weighs more than fat”, but not much more. When you lose weight overall, your metabolism DROPS and you burn fewer calories with exercise. Counterintuitive, I know. *Read* the link.

  9. Dino: Your argument “It’s like telling kids they should finish their dinner because there are starving children in Africa. If they finish, should they feel good because the African children are no longer hungry?” does not apply, because cleaning your plate if you’re no longer hunger is *not* a healthful thing to do. Exercising with the hope that it will help you lose weight *is* a healthful thing to do. Even exercising for the “wrong” reason(s) is healthful. Would you really advise your patients not to exercise unless they have the correct motivations? Of course not. So why criticize their motivation to exercise because it’s not the “right” one?

    And to go back to basics, this is from “Regular exercise is an important part of effective weight loss. It helps to control your weight by using excess calories that otherwise would be stored as fat as well as boosting you metabolism and lowering insulin levels. …. Your weight is determined by the number of calories you eat each day minus what your body uses. Everything you eat contains calories, and everything you do uses calories, including sleeping, breathing, and digesting food. Any physical activity in addition to what you normally do will burn those extra calories. Balancing the number of calories you expend through exercise and physical activity with the calories you eat will help you achieve your desired weight. The key to successful weight loss and improved overall health is making physical activity a part of your daily routine.”

    Exactly what part of that do you disagree with? Do you agree with *any* of it? Do you disagree with the statement: “Any physical activity in addition to what you normally do will burn those extra calories.”

  10. When I say “Exercise does not help you lose weight” I am NOT telling people not to exercise, and you are wrong to imply that I am.

    I’m not talking about “right” or “wrong” reasons to do things. I’m talking about providing people with accurate information. Or are you implying I should exaggerate or fabricate the health benefits of certain activities in order to motivate patients? Would you tell your child that eating vegetables will make her smarter, arguing that eating vegetables is a good thing and anything that enhances their consumption is justified?

    As for the WebMD reference, I submit that it is dated, and that the references I linked provide newer information. The whole calories-in-calories-out mechanism of weight control turns out to be overly simplistic, despite the pronouncements of the Bible…er, WebMD.

  11. Actually, the 5th paragraph from the bottom of the article at the link says that exercise DOES help people lose weight–but far less than previously assumed, because previous calculations assumed that metabolic rates would stay the same or even increase, as pounds came off when in fact metabolic rates drop as weight drops. (Which makes sense; the body obviously requires fewer calories to maintain a 150-lb. body than a 200-lb. body.) And of course to lose weight through exercise alone, one must not only be patient while waiting for this slow weight loss but also strictly control calories in to make sure they don’t creep up.

  12. As someone who has watched her weight her entire life, with some success, I must agree with this. The calories burned in ordinary exercise, as opposed to 100 mile bike rides or marathon runs, are so miniscule in comparison to what a Snickers bar packs that it’s foolish to think they’ll show up on the scale.

    Exercise has many pluses and is worth doing. For one thing it takes you away from the kitchen! If you do that long enough you will see progress on the scale.

  13. Best up side of exercise: It makes you feel better–in the short term, not just 20 or 30 years down the road when you don’t have an MI.

  14. […] all the hullabaloo generated by my passing on the accurate but controversial information that exercise will not help you lose weight, I thought I should give equal time to the other side, and discuss several things that appear to […]

  15. Fabulous. I agree.

  16. I hardly comment, but after reading through some of the comments here
    Exercise and Weight Loss – Again | Musings of a Dinosaur. I actually do have a few questions
    for you if you do not mind. Is it just me or does it look
    as if like some of the remarks come across like they
    are written by brain dead people? πŸ˜› And, if you are posting at additional places,
    I would like to follow you. Would you post a list of all of all your social community pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  17. Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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