Is exercise important for weight loss?

My editor sent me through an article entitled ‘Why exercise won’t make you thin’ which was published in today’s Good Living section of The Press. The basic message is that new research suggests that exercise isn’t the best way for people to lose weight, and that energy that gets burnt through exercise is small in comparison to calorie-rich, high energy diets we consume nowadays. In other words, the energy we consume far outweighs the energy we exert, and the author suggests that the focus should be mainly on diet to achieve weight loss.  

The article concerns me for two reasons. My first concern relates to the foods available to us these days. In his book ‘The End of Overeating’, David A. Kesslers, describes how the foods of today (in particular, processed foods) are designed to contain the ideal mix of potassium, fat and sugar which increase the palatability of the foods . ‘Palatability’ is defined by Kesslers as ”our body wanting more of these once they have experienced them”. There is a biological reason for this increased palatability of foods; Kessler explains that one reason they are more appealing is that their components (sugars, fats, etc.) cause our bodies to release more Dopamine than usual. Dopamine is a natural chemical produced by our bodies which is commonly associated to the reward or pleasure centre of the brain. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with dopamine release; our bodies naturally produce it all the time and it has important roles in the brain, regulating mood, sleep, reward and punishment, among other functions. Like many highly-regulated chemicals in the body, too much, too little, or dysregulation (e.g. not switching ‘on’ or ‘off’ appropriately) can have undesired effects. Unfortunately, ‘designer’ foods (or even a high-fat diet) can not only dysregulate dopamine release, but also come at a much higher caloric price. While this is only one factor contributing to our failure to win the weight loss battle, it’s a big one. We need to be moving toward more natural foods that contain fewer calories and provide better nutrition. 

My second concern is that people could read this article and think that they don’t need to exercise anymore. While this article is disputing how important exercise is to weight loss it’s important to remember that exercise provides so much more to us than just burning calories. There are so many benefits of exercise (too many to list here) that contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Even if exercise didn’t have any benefit in terms of weight loss (which I certainly don’t believe), it is an essential part of a healthy life. This is particularly important in a time where a lot of people have moved away from physical jobs and spend much of their working lives in a chair. 

We need to tackle this issue head-on and as a society; obesity is a growing problem (no pun intended!) which is likely linked with increased consumption of packaged, processed foods. We need to make healthier choices but without compromising exercise in the process. 

Bevan Eyles