Working out at the gym is more likely to make you put on weight! Sudden excessive fitness regimes, like crash diets make our metabolism go into survival mode.
If you exercise for a few months and then relapse into a sedentary lifestyle you will actually put on more weight than if you hadn’t bothered in the first place.
In Britain, nine million of us are members of a gym, according to analysts at the Leisure Database Company. But nearly two-thirds of new gym-goers give up within three months – and it’s making them permanently fatter! This is because our bodies respond to sudden bouts of exertion by cutting down on calorie-burning. Our bodies also adapt to higher levels of activity and conspire to store more fat – something that was once vital to survival in times of food shortage.
Researchers from City University, New York, measured the daily energy expenditure and activity levels of more than 300 men and women for a week. They found that when people undertook strenuous exercise such as that on offer in the gym, the extra work they put in had no effect on the number of calories they burned compared with those who stuck to more moderate exercise like walking. The complete report was published in the journal Current Biology.
Scientists at the University of Missouri showed 10 years ago that our bodies don’t just negate the calorie-burning effects of crash exercising, they also retain energy reserves in the form of fat. Just three weeks of intense exercise can reconfigure our metabolisms so that they store energy as fat as soon as they get the chance.
Tests performed on rats found that when the animals were taken off the exercise regime, their bodies were more ready than normal to put on weight by growing new fat cells (a process called adipocyte hyperplasia.) Rather than retaining fit bodies, the rats developed pudgy stomachs, according to their report in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
So periods of strenuous exercise followed by weeks of physical inactivity can prompt increased fat cell production, weight gain and obesity.
Meanwhile, biologists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who studied more than 20,000 people over seven years, found that recreational runners who stopped exercising also put on significant amounts of weight. Worse, when they resumed the same level of running, they did not reverse the weight gain! This study is available in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2008.
Other studies involving swimmers and martial-arts practitioners have shown similar results.
So could this evolutionary survival mechanism be a factor in the obesity epidemic?
The key to staying at a reasonable weight is to remain reasonably active all year, every year, and avoid irregular or strenuous exercise patterns.
Other studies have found that people who engage in fitness binges are more likely to reward themselves with fattening foods and drinks – a survey of 2,000 UK gym-goers in 2016 found half of them indulged themselves with cake, sweets or alcohol after a workout.
People new to exercise often reward themselves with food, but this can backfire. The worse affected tend to be unfit people who suddenly decide to push themselves hard in the gym. Tests on 32 sedentary adults, published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2000, showed that when they exercised at 60% of their maximum capacity for 30 minutes, they were twice as likely to eat fat-rich foods afterwards than if they exercised at only 30% capacity.
Adopting a more gentle and sustainable long-term approach to exercise may be the most sensible option. Half an hour’s moderate exercise a day, such as gardening or walking gets the best results! That, together with a more sensible approach to eating will more likely be the answer.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2017. All rights reserved.