For decades, physicians and skinny friends alike have offered the over simplified, demeaning and flat out wrong advice: eat less and exercise more. If things were this simple, obesity would be a temporary annoyance, not a life threatening, crippling disease. First, as you’ve learned so far, how much you eat is not nearly as important as what you eat. Now, we’ll discuss the very limited role that exercise plays in your long term weight loss goals. Patients frequently complain that they’re unable to lose weight because of an orthopedic problem that limits their ability to exercise. This is simply not true as weight loss is almost entirely dependent on your food intake, not on the amount that you exercise. There are exceptions to this rule that we’ll discuss later, but for the most part, exercise is neither necessary nor important for you to meet your weight loss goals. Nonetheless, there are some very good reasons that you should participate in a structured exercise program, and for many it may be a critical component of your success, but not for the reason you think.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. This recommendation is strictly targeted at maintaining your cardiovascular health but has been widely adopted as the right recommendations for weight loss as well. Moderate exercise results in around 200-400 calories burned per hour, depending on your weight and age. Meeting the AHA’s guidelines would result in an additional 500-1000 additional calories burned per week – this can be wiped out in one large meal. Also, moderate exercise will generally increase your appetite by an amount that roughly corresponds to the amount of calories burned, resulting in no net change in your calorie balance. This explains why those with sedentary jobs are no more likely to develop obesity than construction workers. Additionally, the concept that moderate exercise increases your metabolism long after you’ve finished has been proven false by multiple studies. That’s right, spend 45 minutes on the treadmill and you’ll burn around 450 calories – if you finish up your workout routine with a bagel and cream cheese and orange juice, you’ll be no better off from a weight loss perspective as if you slept in and skipped the bagel.

Just because exercise can’t be used to shift your calorie balance toward weight loss does not mean that it shouldn’t be an important part of your lifestyle change.  This video introduces the Pound of Cure approach to exercise and offers a strategy for using exercise in a realistic, safe and appropriate way.