Exercise Doesn’t Burn As Many Extra Calories As You Think

Exercise offers many benefits, helping to prevent or reduce the effects of chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. In many ways, it is an essential component of good health.

However, as scientists have discovered in recent years, what cannot be achieved by staying active does not lead to long-term significant increases in the number of calories we burn in a day.

“Your lifestyle has no significant effect on your calorie burn, at least not in a simple, individual manner ,” said Hermann Ponzer , an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University and author of Burn: New Research Puts A Roof. From how we actually burn calories, lose weight and stay healthy .

Instead, our bodies are adapted to burn a relatively fixed amount of energy each day – an amount that does not differ significantly between people of equal weight who are sedentary and those who are active.

Daily calories burned don’t vary much

If you start a new exercise program, you will likely burn extra calories in the short term, but over the course of a few months, your body will adapt, keeping overall energy expenditure within relatively narrow limits.

“The body adapts to these long-term changes in the way you burn calories,” said Samuel Urlacher , an evolutionary anthropologist at Baylor University who collaborates with Ponzer. “If you exercise regularly, you are not wasting as many calories as these predictive equations say.”

This concept, called limited daily energy expenditure , has emerged relatively recently in the field of fitness and nutrition and has been validated by comparing the energy needs of people with traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles, which involve more physical activity, with the energy needs of people who are sedentary. life.

The average calories burned is the same for sedentary and active people.

Ponzer, Urlacher, and others found that both of these populations – active hunter-gatherers and sedentary people – burn, on average, the same number of calories per day when weight is reduced. The difference appears to be in how they burn calories, not in the amount.

While the original idea was that the similarities are due to the fact that active people either compensate for it with less activity during the rest of the day, or because they are incredibly efficient in their movements, the answer seems to be a little more complicated.

It turns out that the body uses a lot of energy for critical tasks that are not as noticeable and obvious as our level of activity. “Even if you train all the time, you still spend more than 50% of your calories on rest,” said Ponzer.

This includes energy expenditure on your immune system, stress response, reproductive response, and also on your brain. “Your brain burns the equivalent of 300 kilocalories every day,” Ponzer said. “It’s the equivalent of a 5K run.”

Our body spends energy that is not used during exercise on other tasks.

The idea is that when faced with an excess of energy, which has been a relatively rare situation for most of human history, the body will use it for processes that are beneficial but usually not significant to it. “Now that we live in a high-energy environment all the time, your body can do these secondary things all the time,” Ponzer said.

A helpful analogy would be to think of this concept as a family budget. If you’ve always made just enough to survive, only to make some extra money, you’ll probably spend it on something that really helps you but goes beyond your normal budget. You won’t change your overall budget because you cannot count on that extra money again.

Our body is adapted to survive with a very limited and often unpredictable energy budget, so the extra energy that a sedentary lifestyle provides is seen as a one-time surplus that it must either use or lose.

A sedentary lifestyle leads to increased inflammatory and stress responses.

This means that if your body does not burn these calories during exercise, it will use those calories on low priority things that are beneficial but require a lot of energy, such as an inflammatory response and stress response.

In small amounts, inflammatory and stress responses protect us from pathogens and help us avoid danger. On a chronic level, this can damage blood vessels and other tissues, leading to a number of health problems.

Sedentary people have higher levels of chronic inflammation, as well as increased stress responses, including increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Very active people have lower levels of inflammation as well as a reduced response to stress. Active people who are not eating enough may take longer to recover from injuries or infections because their bodies cannot devote enough energy to the immune system.

When it comes to how our bodies use energy, we are still stuck in an evolutionary past in which energy has always been in short supply, and we needed any inflammatory or stress response we could afford.

The difference is that we now live in an energy-rich environment where we can afford so much that it harms our body. “We call this evolutionary inconsistency,” said Urlacher. “Because the changes were so dramatic, our biology is not optimized for our new environment.”

Choose exercise based on what you enjoy, not calories.

In a way, this knowledge is liberating: we know that exercise can help our health and happiness in some very important and tangible ways that go far beyond just burning calories. Exercise improves your mood, helps prevent or alleviate chronic illness, plus a lot of the joy of having the strength and energy to live the life you want.

In order to burn those extra calories, your priorities may be solely to find out what types of exercise you enjoy the most – the types of movements you enjoy, which make you happy, which you will want to do regularly. damn calorie content.

So stop counting calories while exercising and instead focus on finding activities that work for you in order to access the many other benefits associated with regular physical activity.

And what is there and in what quantity? This should be a relatively constant amount with an emphasis on healthy eating.

“You can’t avoid a bad diet,” said Urlacher.


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