Sunday, August 09, 2009

Exercise to Lose Weight? It's a Delusion!

For over a decade, I have been hitting the gym with a regularity that is downright scary. Five times a week, sometimes even 7. The idea was to keep the brain alive against the ravages of time and age, and also to tone the muscles and develop at least a 2-pack, if not 6.

But the main reason was to become lighter by shedding excess pounds. I started with 162 and aimed for 150, a nice round number that seemed just right to me. Getting rid of 12 pounds or so wouldn’t be much of a problem.

So I thought. After more than a decade of aerobics, treadmill, cycling, pushups, stretching and other forms of punishment, I weigh … 161 pounds. What gives?

In a cover story, TIME magazine (August 17, 2009) tries to explain the mystery, although the knowledge doesn’t exactly cheer me up. Apparently, exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, can actually add to your weight rather than subtract because of the effect it has on you. The effect is commonly known as … hunger. After the sweat (and sometimes the tears), you want to “compensate.” And that often turns out to be variations on the theme of “lip-licking, perfectly salted, golden-brown French-fries!”

In other words, what the gym taketh, the self giveth … and giveth. Let’s say you manage to melt 200 calories in your typical workout. But that blueberry muffin that you crave, and succumb to, after a hard day’s calisthenics, packs 360 calories. You are already in the red by 160 calories!

On the other hand, the average person who finds the idea of formal exercise with expensive equipments preposterous but casually exerts himself (walk around the block, climb stairs and such) without having to consume muffins, fries or Happy Meals, actually comes out ahead of the gym guru.

One metabolism expert puts it bluntly: “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.”

So how do you become lighter? By choosing your food carefully, while maintaining a reasonable amount of physical activity that does not require a trip to a gym.

Exercise minimizes the risk of heart attacks, prevents diseases and improves cognitive ability. There is no doubt about this. But its effect on weight loss has apparently been greatly exaggerated. The key is moderation. Eat good, wholesome food in moderation. And strike a balance between a potato (couch) and a rat (gym).

Meanwhile, for old times’ sake, glazed chocolate donuts, anyone?

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