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Obesity is Not Caused by a Lack of Exercise

Exercise is not a cure for obesity. We already know that from study after study showing marginal or non-existant weight loss from exercise programs.

Here’s a new telling illustration: Americans exercise the most in a a new survey of 8,000 people in 8 countries. And yet Americans have the biggest problems with obesity.

Huffington Post: Countries That Exercise The Most Include United States, Spain, And France

Obesity is not caused by a lack of exercise. Much more important is the quality of your food, which determines how much you want to eat.

Exercise is almost useless for weight loss. But it has many other benefits: More about exercise.

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42 Comments

Top Comments

  1. Magnus
    "I have never seen a fat top-class runner".

    Well, of course not! If the runner for some reason would be fat, he/she wouldn´t be top-class. But that doesn´t mean that running makes you (or anyone else) lean. It´s just that lean people are more likely to take up running than fat people.

    Replies: #24, #39
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  2. Tom Welsh
    I am sceptical on several grounds. First, does anyone really believe that the average American gets more exercise than the average citizen of any other nation? That's quite unbelievable. There are many less-developed nations where the averagre person still does intense physical labour (such as field work) for well over 8 hours every day, and where children quite naturally run around for many hours. Some African children often run many miles to school and back every day.

    Second, having followed athletics since the 1950s, I have never seen a fat top-class runner. And I do not believe that's because they are all naturally thin. (Brendan Foster had to stick to a diet in order to keep his power-to-weight ration high enough, but he broke world records). There are just as many testimonials from people who lost weight by exercise as from those who lost weight by low-carb dieting.

    Replies: #7, #8, #10
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All Comments

  1. Galina L.
    The worst thing is when people think exercise allows them to eat junk guilt free. I saw many fat Zumba instructors and frequent gym goers.
  2. Francesco L.
    As i tried several change in my diet, what i can i say is that you're right. If you eat well, you can stay lean.
    Sure at least a little exercise is useful for everyone.
    The fat we have in our body is handled by the brain and it tries to mantain at the same level, so an helthy body can mantain same amount of fat over time.
  3. Lori Miller
    True. Remember the case of the 240-pound aerobics instructor who Jazzercise wouldn't sell a franchise to?

    http://www.forbes.com/2002/05/09/0509portnick.html

  4. Marcy
    It has been my experience that when I exercise hard, it lowers my blood sugar causing me to want to eat everything in sight like a locust.
  5. Tom Welsh
    I am sceptical on several grounds. First, does anyone really believe that the average American gets more exercise than the average citizen of any other nation? That's quite unbelievable. There are many less-developed nations where the averagre person still does intense physical labour (such as field work) for well over 8 hours every day, and where children quite naturally run around for many hours. Some African children often run many miles to school and back every day.

    Second, having followed athletics since the 1950s, I have never seen a fat top-class runner. And I do not believe that's because they are all naturally thin. (Brendan Foster had to stick to a diet in order to keep his power-to-weight ration high enough, but he broke world records). There are just as many testimonials from people who lost weight by exercise as from those who lost weight by low-carb dieting.

    Replies: #7, #8, #10
  6. Galina L.
    You can loose weight by doing things which your body has not been adapted yet. I read too many testimonial of fat coach potatoes who lost a lot of weight when they suddenly started to walk around the block and exchanged normal soft drinks for diet ones. I remember, when I went to work at a department store soon after arriving to US, I lost weigh at the beginning. I had to walk fast most of the time during working hours and do other things while moving like putting newly arrived garments on hangers. I lost approximately 10 lbs during first 2 months, then my weight got stable, then it slowly started to come back. I notices that other associates all were in different sizes, some people were quite fat. Look at store associates, at construction workers, at field workers, most of them do not look like elite runners, and if thin often sport a belly.

    I didn't just observe elite runners and read testimonials, I tried to control my weight with exercise and conventional healthy eating myself for many years,actually,for several decades, and I feel very passionate about the motto "Eat less, Move more" because it is a trap for most people. All my life till 46 years old I believed that exercising and eating low fat with a lot of vegetables would keep me thin. I found myself cornered in a dead-end situation when I was doing 10 hours of cardio a week, being always hungry, slowly gaining weight, having frequent infections and sport injuries. Excessive exercising makes your leptine go down, and many former professional sportsmen have weight problems. Besides, you will want to use your joints till the rest of your life, and exercising is causing a lot of excessive wear and tear. Most older runners had to have knee surgeries.

    I have my exercise routine now which I do for fan and in order to stay strong and flexible. I keep myself healthy and at reasonable weight with a LC diet.

  7. Magnus
    "I have never seen a fat top-class runner".

    Well, of course not! If the runner for some reason would be fat, he/she wouldn´t be top-class. But that doesn´t mean that running makes you (or anyone else) lean. It´s just that lean people are more likely to take up running than fat people.

    Replies: #24, #39
  8. murray
    Magnus makes a good point regarding top-class runners. Top-class status is a sieve that screens out the ill-suited, not the cause of being thin. I note that Professor Tim Noakes gained weight as a marathon runner over the years (and developed pre-diabetes) following orthodox dietary advice, despite having run over 75 marathons and ultra-marathons and having literally written the book on distance running (The Lore of Running). Someone once remarked that he had never seen an overweight distance cyclist; to which I replied, that is very strong evidence distance cycling is not effective for reducing weight. He did not understand.

    Likewise, I have followed competitive swimming for the past 40 years and have never seen a thin top-rank swimmer. Elite swimmers tend to have about 12% body fat, which optimizes to make them more streamlined and buoyant without adding excessive volume. So would swimming fatten up top-class runners?

    It does not surprise me that Americans, in the aggregate, spend more time exercising. However, there is a fallacy of composition, so to speak. The "average" number may be higher, but I expect there is a larger standard deviation in the United States, with plenty of obese people who do little or no exercise. So if half exercised 100 minutes a day and half zero, this would yield a higher average than if everyone exercised 45 minutes per day. This illustrates the difficulty I have making dietary and exercise decisions based on herd statistics.

    My experience is that weight management is about 80% diet and 20% exercise. in fact, I lost most fat when I was injured and could not exercise. I just wasn't hungry during recovery.

    Reply: #11
  9. Galina L.
    I also remember loosing fat during a recovery from a foot surgery (the result of over-exercising). I attribute it to sleeping more and having a very strict ketogenic diet.
  10. MG
    Tom, You maybe right, but people in the 3rd world don't exercise... they "work" . Americans have sedentary work and then goto the gym.
  11. Lori Miller
    Success in various sports has a lot to do with body type. Swimmers are built like fish: big upper bodies and small legs. Top runners (think Kenyans) are long and lean. Women gymnasts and lindy hoppers are built like thirteen-year-old girls. Cardio doesn't make you thin any more than basketball makes you tall.
  12. Ivona
    This post comes across as ignorant.
    For starters, yes, obesity is not caused by lack of exercising, as you can not ’sit yourself obese’, you can only eat your way to it.

    Next, Huff post article title can be read very out of context. Just because someone engages in formal exercise does not mean he/she actually moves more, that is, expends more calories that the person who doesn’t exercise, and it doesn’t even have to be hard labor. I am positive that 3 hours of walking a day burns quite a bit more calories than a 45min pilates class.

    Lastly, what’s the point of the article, anyway? I assume just to calm down those who prefer sitting around rather than being active (that sadly is the case for the majority of people, and those newspapers need to make some money). We should popularize exercising, not saying it doesn’t matter!
    If your diet is good adding exercise will certainly improve the resilts. And isn’t exercise one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity, a matter so very important in LCHF community?
    Other than speeding up weight loss exercising has a ton of other health benefits which makes it very useFULL.

    PS This might be irrelevant, but let’s be honest, extra 5 or 10 or maybe even 20lbs of flubber is not a disease maker, so most people desire to lose weight to ’look good’. And skinny is not the most desired form, it is lean and fit with some muscle (is it shoulders or biceps for men or glutes for women is irrelevant, the point is we all want some muscle). So yeah, you definitely need to exercise for that, because ’lack of exercising’, is the cause of someone not looking the way they want.

    Reply: #14
  13. Galina L.
    What about fat people who do physical work in US as construction and field workers? Besides, most of us who participate in the discussion live in a modern world where most works require prolong sitting behind computer screens and we reside in cities which are designed for the people who drive cars. The question is - would a daily exercise to be effective in preventing a weight gain for a person who lives in a modern country?

    People who live traditional life have more components of their life-style to be different than washing clothes by hands and walking everywhere. They also have different way to eat (for example, they don't eat snacks) and cook food.

    Reply: #17
  14. Galina L.
    While exercise is good for many things (when it is not excessive), doing it mostly for a weight loss is often disastrous for many people who experience despair and sports injuries. I guess the point of article was to alert people who engaged in a formal exercise that it doesn't give them the excuse not to pay attention on what they eat.
  15. murray
    Studies of Australian Aborigines found they are actually more active (burn more calories from physical activity) after moving to an urban setting than in a traditional setting, yet on average they gain a lot of weight after moving into the city and adopting a city diet. As Dr. Catherine Shanahan points out in her book Deep Nutrition, traditional hunter gathers had a lot of leisure time--more than city dwellers. They sat around and relaxed a lot.

    That said, there are significant metabolic benefits to modest periods of heavy-breathing aerobic and surprisingly modest amounts of anaerobic exercise on a regular basis. Apart from that, one would be training for something in particular (to do a marathon, for example) rather than general metabolic fitness. If I am asked whether I am fit, my standard answer is "fit for what?" I like to do a variety of outdoor activities (lake swimming, snowshoeing, mountain biking, skiing, etc.) and do enough regular exercise to be fit enough to enjoy my activities, which requires surprisingly modest amounts of intense exercise.

  16. Sean
    After spending much time "researching" through university and graduate school I can honestly say that consuming high amounts of Magnesium is one of the large "puzzles" for weight-loss, if you aren't consuming 1 gram of Magnesium a day then your fighting an uphill battle for weight-loss, Magnesium is a miracle mineral when it comes to health.

    http://www.naturalnews.com/036049_magnesium_weight_loss_cure.html

  17. Ivona
    Exercise cannot undo poor and excessive eating. Because it's waaaay easier to eat 500 extra calories than burn it off (one can be done in a few minutes, the other takes an intense hour).
  18. Suzanne D.
    I came across a video on Youtube explaining the fastest method of getting into ketosis for losing weight (assuming you are eating LCHF) . . . this was my ah-ha moment . . .EXERCISE! You will burn up your glycogen stores much more quickly thereby achieving ketosis & fat adaptation within days rather than weeks.
    Reply: #19
  19. Galina L.
    You don't need weeks to burn your glycogen stores, just an overnight fast, and adaptation to ketosis comes with time, exercise doesn't speed it up at all. I experience no discomfort, but adaptation to exercising in ketosis took several months. My guess that exercising could make it less comfortable.
  20. tz
    Exercise doesn't work. Back when I was 250-255, I was that during periods where I had large aerobic capacity (I was the king of the stair-climber), and when I was idle. I'm now 230 and idle and the change was to low carbs. (<50gm / day, mostly beer). If I exercise more, I stay around 230. The only thing which seems to affect it is to go from low-carb to ultra-low carb, where I can easily drop to 220, which is probably near my natural weight, unless I become a weight-lifter or marathon runner.
  21. Cyrille G.
    Here is some food for thought: Americans are the ones who practice the most excercise yet they are overweight or obese by 70%. The number of obese has quadrupled since 1980 and particularly in developing countries (where people are supposed not to be living sedentary lives!):

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25576400

    Yet, governments, doctors, industries and the media keep on advocating thermodynamics as well as low fat diet arguing that carbs are good for you. They have been failing for the past 40 years given the figures in the article mentioned above.

    Furthermore, we need to consider excercise as a consequence of being lean or loosing weight as opposed to a necessity to loosing weight. The leaner we are the more active we are. It is just like Dr ATTIA said in the TED Talk, we need to shift paradigm and consider obesity and weight gaining as a symptom not a "CAUSE" of malnutrition. This talk was enlightening to me as it allowed me to overcome self fulfilling profecy as well as self denial and made me shift paradigm as I turned to a LCHF lifestyle.

  22. Doug
    Exercise is important for health. Exercise is helpful to stay lean. Exercise can be PART of a plan to lose weight. But the best way to lose weight is LCHF with real foods.

    This from someone who lost over 120 pounds doing LCHF and exercised (heavy barbell training only, no long slow endurance exercise) religiously three days per week. Its the diet that does it. You cannot out exercise a bad diet.

  23. PaleoDentist
    Well then it must be the calories!
  24. Zepp
    Are you sure about that.. I was thinking of taking up basket ball to be taller? ;)
  25. 1 comment removed
  26. Rajesh
    "Exercise is almost useless for weight loss."

    Not true. I lost 30% of weight through jogging. In fact I was on low fat high carb diet during my weight loss period. I read the LCHF diet in October 2013 and decided to experiment it for 2 months. My weight remained unchanged during the 2 months period. Human body is too complex. No one weight loss formula applies to everyone.

  27. ondrej
    Does anybody have any clinical evidence that showed subjects who kept their calorie intake the same but significantly (> 1.5 daily hours) increased their activity levels had their weight remain unchanged?
    Replies: #28, #29, #30, #31
  28. Galina L.
    The problem with such approach would be the increase of a hunger and more sedentary behavior during not-exercise period, colder extremities - the person on such regiment would be unconsciously conserving energy. Leptine would drop. Things which are harder to do are less successful, especially on a long run.
  29. StevenW
    @ ondrej
    Here is some evidence you will find fascinating

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf4zcZHHICE

  30. John LN
  31. murray
    If one assumes that no metabolic factor would change from doing the exercise apart from burning calories and the prior rate of dietary caloric excess was less than the additional energy expenditure, then yes, stored body fat should be decreased.

    However, with the exercise comes additional metabolic burdens, such as tissue repair, replacing lipids in membranes oxidized by the free radical load of exercise, additional workload for the liver and generally increased micro-nutrient requirements. This will affect appetite and craving, and the nature of the foods selected will affect metabolic response. So the observed outcome of people in real life, outside clinical controls, is that for a large percentage of people, exercise does not assist much in efforts to shed weight and that dietary choices are far more important, in terms of nutrient density for tissue repair and other metabolic needs, metabolic signalling and metabolic response (such as fuel partitioning). Without eating more or at least differently, the increased exercise could not be maintained, as there would be inadequate recovery. Likewise, a lot more exercise would likely require more sleep. Keep sleep constant, and the person might not be able to sustain the exercise and the effort would eventually fail.

    This is not to say exercise is irrelevant or cannot be the primary factor for weight loss in some individuals. But as a general strategy, it has not proven successful on average. LCHF has its own compliance dropout percentage, but I personally have found it more successful than previous attempts employing fanatical amounts of exercise and so have many others. Dr. Peter Attia, for example, reports he was getting chubby doing 3 hours distance swimming per day trying to watch his weight, so metabolically driven appetite seems to override conscious efforts at caloric restriction while exercising, even for an obsessive data geek like Dr. Attia. For people like us, the better strategy seems to be to learn to manage the metabolically driven appetite that unconsciously directs behavior, which would implicitly enhance the "willpower" to manage caloric consumption.

  32. GregM
    I agree that lack of exercise does not cause obesity. However, I am convinced that I became obese due to insulin resistance caused by years on the AMA recommended high grain low fat diet. Now on a low carb high fat diet I lost half of the 90 pounds needed in the past 5 months.

    I want to add however, I am running every day. Not to burn calories. Rather to reverse the insulin resistance that caused the overweight problem to begin with. I believe exercise is not required to lose weight yet vital for long term success.

    As far as I see it. low carb, high fat is the treatment. Exercise is the cure.

    http://youtu.be/bcCVcSxJa7g

    Reply: #33
  33. Paul the rat
    GregM
    Regarding insulin resistance, just in case you are not aware of it, add 0.5-2 grams/day of cinnamon to your menu.
  34. Razwell
    This article is CORRECT.

    To the people mentioning top level athletes- they are "weeded out." People like the Kenyans, professional Marathoners, NBA players, NFL players- they have their particular build to begin with.

    There are MANY AMATEUR Marathoners , swimmers, and exercisers who are over-fat. Google Images will reveal this. I see it all the time in real life. MOST amateur exercisers are fat. It's rae that I actually see an exceptionally lean person who exercises.

    Lastly, it is worthy to note that TOP Olympic level athletes, usually women, have been known to get LIPOSUCTION for stubborn arm and abdominal fat. These are professional Triathlon, Marathoners and swimmers- elite. Some of their videos are on Youtube

    Fat behaves similar to a tumour. Exercise is not the solution for it. But, we need to exercise moderately to keep our health reasonable. Those benefits are well studied.

  35. Razwell
    Fat cells have a mind of their own as Rosenbaum has shown. The body has its own idea. The behavior of fat cells, their regulation and the chemical behavior of fat cell receptors needs more study.

    Exercise as a cure for obesity is a belief system. It's not supported by evidence. There are many obese people who are very active. I know many in my own life and have seen many in my travels- even maids at tropical motels. They work all day and are fairly fat.

  36. Galina L.
    Even very thin Michel Jackson's body had lipo-scars in a belly region , according to his autopsy report, if it was not made-up by a media .
  37. Ogan
    I'm an avid long-distance cyclist, I follow what you could call a "moderate carb, highish fat" diet, Just for compliance matters.
    I don't fuel my rides on a LCHF, I just use the usual crap all other endurance athletes use (not that you can't fuel them up in a ketogenic diet, but bananas and such are really easy to eat while riding).
    The amazing thing is that I GAIN WEIGHT when I cycle a lot (600km on a single week) and fuel on carbs. And it's not like I gain weight from muscle, I just feel that i got more subcutaneous fat on my belly.
    Other side effects are mild tooth ache and decreased concentration.
    When the weather gets really bad, I stick to a more strict LCHF diet, cycle for shorter stretches, and watch a lot of movies under a blanket. Then i lose weight, feel like I could chew a pack of rocks and feel really clear minded.
    Needless to say that i'm working on staying ketogenic on my longer rides.
  38. Robert
    Total nonsense. I lost 60 pounds in 12 weeks with a combination of Atkins, treadmill, and weight lifting. For the first seven weeks I did Atkins and and 40 to 60 minutes of treadmill six days a week and little changed. It was during the final five weeks when I continued those things but added weight lifting that I really saw results. Dramatic results, and I felt a lot better being 60 pounds lighter.

    It's a combination of diet and exercise and staying with it. Once I attained my goal it was easy to keep it off as long as I continued to exercise (though it didn't have to be six days a week anymore to stay slim).

  39. Noah
    your weight has nothing to do with your intrest in taking up running. and this article is wrong because exercise is proven to help with weight loss. To exercise your body uses calories. If you burn off more calories than you take in you lose weight. It's pretty simple. There are 3,500 calories in a pound. If over the course of a week were to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume you would lose 1 pound. And how do you burn off those 3,500 calories? Exercise.
  40. Victor
    I have known a few people who were wheelchair bound. They were not exactly skinny, but they were far from the level of obesity you see walking around the streets or in stores. If lack of exercise caused obesity, paraplegics would be mountains of fat.
  41. Jack Jonas
    Any one who is unconvinced just has to try this diet for two months. It won't poison anyone, and any suspected bad effects won't materialise either. At the end of two months if you are not convinced that bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, pastries and all the other stodge makes you obese, then you never will be. You may then stay on your killer foods, and be forced to exercise to burn off those extra pounds. (Although you might never succeed completely.)
  42. KC
    I followed the "exercise more, eat less" mantra for YEARS. Was never able to get below a certain weight, or maintain it. Always gained the moment I slipped up. I think I was developing an eating disorder because of the way I counted calories and obsessed over food. I also suffered from an insatiable hunger ALL the time.

    I quit eating wheat (per the book "Wheat Belly") and noticed my hunger level automatically started to decrease. I could eat a normal sized meal and feel full for HOURS. Gradually I reduced the number of carbs I ate, and started "carb-cycling". I became more active, however I never actually started an "exercise routine". I would say that 90% of my weight loss came from changing the composition of what I eat. Lower carb, Higher fat, moderate protein. I went from 274 lbs to 145 lbs without counting a single calorie. I am 5'4" and a woman.

  43. Brian
    Exercise while good for you doesn't cause weight loss. Only an under consumption of calories does this, which by definition makes it a diet. If exercise actually caused weight loss both fat people and skinny people would keep getting skinnier so long as they continued to exercise and that doesn't happen. Sadly, when you exercise (as mentioned above) the initial weight loss benefits you get (I found to be about a three week period) tend to go away as the corresponding appetite increase begins to make up for the calories being burned off from the exercise (which by the way only occurred because you ate fewer calories than you expended). Most people come to learn this the hard way. The gym community isn't going to tell you this, as 80% of their business is driven by people trying to lose weight if the myth were completely dispelled the vast majority of gyms would close (hence the binding contracts every Jan people get tied into). Exercise tends to be a correlative behavior though and while this isn't scientifically backed, I think it is logical that the person who is exercising is also the person who tends to be more committed to losing the weight. Hence, the studies showing that people who lose weight and exercise are the ones who keep the weight off. Again, it appears to be a measure of their level of commitment that's why when they quit exercising its usually a mark that they are giving up on the diet too (this part is just supposition but I don't think the leap is that big). If you have generally arrived at the conclusions I have, then you know diet is the only other part of the equation you can control. This means you have address consumption and since it is now accepted by the scientific community that hormones drive hunger (not greed/sloth or even an empty stomach) and satiety then the individual has to eat in a way that brings about satiety without eating excess calories the LCHF community basically is following that principle.

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