In October I joined a gym after a whole year of doing very little exercise (due to job-plus-horrendous-commute that took over my life and that I’m thankfully now free of). Since joining, I’ve been going 3-5 times weekly, typically doing 30-45 mins cardio followed by some light weights and sit-ups etc. But when I stepped on the scales this February, I was surpirsed to see that my efforts had had no effect on my weight. I hadn’t lost a single pound. If anything, I’d gained a little! Now, I don’t need to lose weight, so I knew it wasn’t a big deal but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and confused.
On further investigation, however, I discovered that I shouldn’t have been surprised. It seems that, for some time now, the scientific research has suggested that exercise on its own (without any dietry change) has a very minial effect on weight.
An analysis of 25 years worth of weight loss research by Dr Miller of George Washington University, found that weightloss programmes that involved dieting and exercising resulted in hardly any more weight loss than programmes that just involved dieting. In fact, adding exercise to dieting caused people to lose an a mere 0.3kgs more than their diet-only counterparts, on average. As for exercise alone, that resulted in an average weightloss of just 2.9kg compared to almost 11kg for dieting!
A more recent study found similar results. This study involved putting obese people on either a high-intensity exercise regimen, a low intensity exercise regimen, or no exercise regimen at all, for 18 months. No one was put on a diet. At the end of the study, the mean change in body weight from a exercise regimen involving that 150–300 min per week of exercise per week was less than 2 measly kgs! (And that’s a very small percentage if you’re obese!) Resrearchers found that some of the people in the study did lose a significant amount of weight, but, when the analysed these individuals eating habits, they found that these people had been voluntarily restricting their food intake.
Now, I’ll admit that when I read this I felt pretty demoralised. Actually, I felt kind of like I’d just found out my boyfriend had been cheating on me. All those times I’d been told that if I just ran faster on the treadmill, if I just worked harder on the elliptical, I’d be a skinny-minny by bikini season! Lies! At first I felt like giving up the gym altogether. Whats the point, afterall, if it doesn’t help you lose weight? But then I realised, there is still a point. Lot’s of points in fact. Since starting going to the gym I’ve felt more energetic, healthier and stronger. It’s improved my mood (gotta love those endorphines) and, from a vanity point of view, its also helped me tone up. And exercise is associated with a whole host of health benefits that have nothing to do with weightloss, like preventing osteoperosis, strengthening your immune system, boosting energy levels and helping you sleep better.
So I’m definitely going to keep going to the gym, even thoughI now know it won’t make me thinner. And, in a funny way, I find that kind of liberating. Afterall, if I’m just going to the gym to feel healthy and happy, then it doesn’t matter if I skip a day to do something else that will also make me happier or healthier. If I feel like skipping the gym because I want to use the extra hour to cook myself a really healthy, delicious stew, I can! Or, if I want to skip the gym because meeting a friend for a drink will make me happier, I should! And I’m happy with that.