Lisa Creech Bledsoe / FlickrSo you want to lose a few pounds.
You've heard the mantra: You need to start eating right and exercising.
But at the back of your mind, you wonder. When it comes down to it, which is more important: getting a salad instead of fries or hitting the gym four days a week?
Several studies have suggested that diet cutting calories from food is the key player here, since working out burns far fewer calories (and takes far more time) than most people think.
But other studies have shown that if you want to keep those pounds off, you need to eat right and work out regularly.
We recently talked to Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas, about this. He told us that in the short-term, diet is far more important for shedding pounds. But over the long-term, regular workouts are critical to keeping that weight off and staying fit.
Here's Stanforth (emphasis is our own):
Studies tend to show that in terms of weight loss, diet plays a much bigger role than exercise. But when you look at people who've lost weight and are also managing to keep it off, exercise is important.
There was a recent study on this in a large group of people who'd lost weight. And when you looked at the people who were able to keep it off, something like over 90% of those people exercised regularly.
There have been other studies where they've matched calorie deficit with exercise expenditure [meaning you have one group of people cutting 500 calories from their daily diet, for example, and another group of people burning 500 calories at the gym every day] you see pretty much the same type of changes.
But thinking practically, keep in mind you'd have to walk 35 miles to burn 3,500 calories. That's a lot of walking.But if you look at eating, a Snickers bar might have, say, 500 calories. It's going to be a lot easier to cut the Snickers bar than to do 5 miles of walking every day.
All of that comes with an important caveat, though, Stanforth says.
Lots of people have lost weight. Fewer people have kept it off.
Again we've seen that 90% of people who keep it off at least in that study I mentioned exercise regularly. So it looks like it plays a bigger role there.
What all this research is showing, we think, is that there's something about exercising that helps with weight loss and keeping it off.
Research has shown that in addition to helping with sustained weight loss, exercise can have several other positive effects on our lives, from helping to boost our mood and protect our bodies from the detrimental effects of aging to helping us manage the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Plus, building and maintaining muscle can often mean your body will actually burn more calories throughout the day.
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