6 months ago

Exercise for weight loss: A Critical Analysis

Prateek Dasgupta

“Eat what you want, you can burn it off later” . Almost everyone who is trying to lose weight has encountered such advice. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientific research suggests that exercise will not help you lose weight. 

However, that being said exercise is still needed for good health especially for cognitive abilities. Just not for weight loss. Have you felt ravenously hungry after working out and were tempted to gorge as a reward for “burning calories”? Perhaps you have seen some highly active people who were expert dancers sweating all day having visceral fat in their abdominal area. Maybe you have experienced or seen people workout heavily for a few days lose weight only to gain it back? If these sound familiar you may be surprised by what science has to say on this topic. 

Is Sedentary lifestyle a problem?

When anthropologist Herman Pontzer from Hunter College New York went to Tanzania to study one of the world’s oldest hunter-gatherer tribes(Hazda) he was in for a rude shock ( Pontzer et al). He expected to find calorie-burning machines far away from mundane desk jobs. However, despite their high level of physical activity, he found out the energy expenditure was not significantly different from the average American or European. Pretty shocking! Researchers have long known that calories are burnt in a number of different human activities, not physical activity alone. While the Hazda tribe burnt calories during the physical activity they conserved elsewhere indicating that the amount of energy burnt by humans does not depend on physical activity. 

“The Hadza are incredibly active, walking long distances each day and doing a lot of hard physical work as part of their everyday life,” as observed by Pontzer. “Despite these high activity levels, we found that they had similar daily energy expenditures to people living more sedentary, modernized lifestyles in the United States and Europe. That was a real surprise, and it got me thinking about the link between activity and energy expenditure” (Pontzer et al). 

Yet this myth is perpetuated endlessly that you must workout to lose weight. Our foods are labeled with calories, however, we are not effectively calculating our calorie expenditure in various body processes. With a rising obesity problem, scientists started taking a closer look at the diet. Poor diet has become the leading cause of death among humans.

The Calorie deficit Paradox

So logically speaking if I ate more, then wouldn’t burning more calories than what I eat to create a deficit? In theory yes. However, it makes sense only if calories in and calories out are independent variables. They are not. If you reduce your calories your body will work hard to change its metabolism to prevent you from being burnt out. Had the calories out been constant then humans would have become extinct by now. Also, excessive exercise increases appetite leading you to eat more. The phrase “working up an appetite” exists for a reason. Eating more will not lead to weight loss. Our body tends to adapt itself to conserve the energy we spend. If we all were calorie-burning machines then we simply would vanish into thin air. It is a part of our survival mechanism. 

Exercise is good for health but not weight loss

Cardio Has Great Benefits for Mental Health
Cardio has been proven to prevent cognitive decline

Let me be clear about one thing, this article is not to shed a negative light on exercise.  It should be noted that in his work Herman Pontzer did not wish to trivialize the benefits of exercise: “Exercise is really important for your health” (Pontzer et al)  . According to Herman Pontzer  “, That’s the first thing I mention to anyone asking about the implications of this work for exercise. There is tons of evidence that exercise is important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy, and this work does nothing to change that message. What our work adds is that we also need to focus on diet, particularly when it comes to managing our weight and preventing or reversing unhealthy weight gain.” The focus is on exercise for weight loss. There are many health benefits of exercise. Just because exercise doesn’t aid in weight loss we should ignore it.  It reduces your risk of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and has been proven to improve cognitive health. Exercise actually is more important for your brain’s health than solving crossword puzzles and sudoku. Exercise will also help you maintain your weight once you have lost it. However contrary to what the fitness industry will tell you, you do not need a lot of it to stay fit and healthy. So save your money, unless your aim is to be a pro bodybuilder you do not need to lift weights to lose weight or even maintain your lost weight. You simply need to eat better and lesser. I will deal the multiple benefits of exercise


1. Current Biology, Pontzer et al.: “Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and Metabolic Adaptation to Physical Activity in Adult Humans”.

Article Originally Published for Sirf News Titled Exercise for Weight Loss: It Simply Does not Help

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