When you begin to pack on the pounds, your first thoughts may be to go on a restrictive diet that promises rapid weight loss. But while improving your nutrition is a good strategy to combat obesity, extreme diets are hard to stick to, and often result in failure. Exercise, on the other hand, is a sure-fire way to combat and treat obesity while improving your overall health.
If you are inactive and constantly watching your weight, strict dieting can set you up for obesity later in life. When you go on a crash diet, you draw on amino acids from muscle and convert them to glucose for energy. Much of your weight loss comes from water trapped in muscle cells. Loss of muscle puts your body into what medical science journalist and coach Dina Ralt, PhD calls the "save mode," an energy-sparing mechanism that triggers overeating and reduced activity leading to increased fat storage. Regular exercise spares muscle and keeps your metabolism revved up, making you less likely to gain weight in the first place.
Lean muscle increases your strength and stamina, making everyday tasks easier and giving you energy to stay physically active throughout the day. Adults lose muscle at the rate of 1 percent per year after the age of 45, a process called sarcopenia, which accelerates as we age. In non-exercisers who have less muscle to begin with, the rate of loss is greater and occurs sooner, setting you up for sarcopenic obesity, a condition linked to diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. As little as 90 minutes per week of regular resistance training will significantly increase lean muscle mass and slow the rate of sarcopenia, according to a clinical review published in 2013 in the "International Journal of Endocrinology."
Aerobic activities increase your heart and respiratory rates and engage the large muscles of the extremities, building lean tissue and burning calories. Long-duration aerobic exercise lasting more than 20 minutes draws on fat stores for energy, lowering your total percentage of body fat. But aerobics also fights disease by improving your cardiovascular health and increasing insulin sensitivity in the cells, which prevents diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of daily moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, lap swimming and stair climbing for most healthy adults.
Many people overeat for psychological reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. Stress, loneliness, depression and a desire for immediate gratification to feel better are all reasons people consume more calories than they need. Depression, eating disorders, distorted body image and low self-esteem have all been linked to obesity. According to Professor Philip James, Chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, the problem is dietary in origin and compounded by low levels of physical activity. The Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School advocates exercise to combat depression and anxiety, noting that exercise releases "feel good" brain chemicals and helps you cope with daily stress while boosting self-confidence.
- Harvard Health Publications: Exercise and Depression
- Nutrition and Wellness Channel: OpEd: The Muscle-Fat Duel: Dina Ralt, PhD, Oct. 1, 2007
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity
- Psych Central: Obesity and Mental Health: Jane Collingwood
- International Journal of Endocrinology: Sarcopenic Obesity and Endocrinal Adaptation with Age
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.