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Exercise is Far More than just Burning Calories

“I’ll lose weight once I get back to my exercise.” “I just need to get in more activity.” “Sure I’ll have a doughnut. I worked out today.”

We’ve all heard these lines, and perhaps even said them ourselves (I know I have). This notion that we should exercise to burn calories is all around. But it’s wrong, or at least not quite right. While exercise does burn calories, it burns so little that it’s really a myth exercise will lead to weight loss.

Let’s look at this more closely. Walking for half an hour will burn between 100 to 120 calories. There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. Therefore, it would take a month of walking for 30 minutes each day to burn off that pound of fat. This assumes that all the calories burned comes from fat (which isn’t true) and you don’t adjust what you eat or how much activity you get throughout the rest of the day.

When you consider a can of pop/juice has 150 calories, or a Grande Starbuck’s Mocha Frappuccino has 410 calories, well that half hour of walking doesn’t seem like much.

So does this mean exercise is not worth it?

Not at all. We mistakenly think the only value of exercise is to burn calories, but it does so much more. In fact, including exercise into your weight loss program is a must. Why? Because it helps to preserve the body’s muscle mass and metabolic rate.

When we eat less to lose weight, some of that weight loss is from muscle; not good. We want to lose fat, not muscle. In addition, our body is very clever. It knows when we are eating less, and slows down the metabolic rate (basically our engine slows down, burning even less calories). Continuing to be active while you’re on a diet actually helps to maintain your muscle and your metabolic rate ensuring that any weight loss comes from fat. In addition, exercise has a whole bunch of other benefits .


  1. Enhanced Sleep

Nearly half of adults have challenges getting a good night’s sleep. Most of us recognize that after a poor sleep, we don’t function the way we’d like to. Thinking is harder and we’re more easily frustrated and irritable, we may even eat more high-energy foods to help give us a boost of energy. Over time too, this can affect our long term health such as increased chance of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality by suppressing melatonin, the sleeping hormone (even better if you exercise outside where the natural light also suppresses melatonin). This will help you stay awake during the day and prepare your body for a nighttime release of melatonin making it easier to fall and stay asleep. Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, which may be reasons why you’re having trouble sleeping to begin with.

  1. Reduced Chance of Getting Disease

With more than half of adults having a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer or arthritis, the odds of getting a disease in our lifetime is quite high. However, most chronic diseases can be prevented and being physically active can help. Meeting the current guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week can reduce your chance of early death and getting heart disease by 15%. The risk for getting cancer is also lower in people who are active. And it doesn’t matter how much you weigh or if you are losing weight, the benefits of exercise still happen.


  1. Increased Energy

Exercise is our natural pick-me-up. While many of us might grab the nearest coffee for the caffeine boost, exercise works just as well. A short burst of activity can give you a bigger pick-me-up than a cup of coffee. In a group of young women who were chronically tired due to lack of sleep, 10 minutes of stair walking increased mood and energy greater than a 50 mg caffeine pill (more than a cup of coffee).

  1. Less Stress

Stress is a big part of our daily lives, while some stress is actually beneficial, continual stress is a hazard to our health. If you’re stressed, exercise can help by removing you from the stressful situation and distract the mind. The more engaging the activity, the more distracted we’ll be. Basically, getting our mind to think of something other than what is causing our stress.

On a physiological level, exercise can lower the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol increases immediately after exercise, cortisol levels decrease later on. And if you are able to be active around nature, whether in a park or forest, even better, as nature has a calming effect reducing cortisol as well as blood pressure.

brain and exercise- small

  1. Better Brain Function

Numerous studies indicate that people who are regularly active have improved memory and cognitive ability (how your brain functions). Exercise even increases the size of one’s hippocampus, and a bigger brain is a good thing. Many of these benefits occur even after just one bout of activity. Over time, the benefits of exercise add up. After four-weeks of exercise, your memory improves. Longer-term studies have demonstrated regular exercise lowers your risk for depression.

  1. Make You Happier

Sometimes when you’re feeling stressed or in a bad mood the last thing you want to do is get up and exercise. It’s much easier to sit or lie down and wallow in your mood. But that is the exact thing you shouldn’t do and exercise is one of the few things that can brighten you up.

When we exercise our body releases hormones called endorphins. Some people refer to these as the happy hormones. Endorphins act as pain suppresses and have sedative properties like morphine, but endorphins are natural. Following exercise, endorphins are released and these endorphins are believed to give us a euphoric feeling, it’s what runners term as the runner’s high, and can even be felt at low levels of activity. The benefits of exercise appear to be even greater the worse our mood is prior to exercising. This feeling of euphoria can also last throughout that day and into the next

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16 responses to “Exercise is Far More than just Burning Calories”

  1. Audrey Harrison Avatar

    This man is a cardiologist who had a heart attack. He was lean and active. He know blogs. There is some interesting stuff he talks about that makes sense. Audrey

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Thanks for the supportive words.

      (While I work with many cardiologists in my research, I’m not one myself but have over 20 years experience in cardiac rehab and now my personal experience.)

  2. Very informative blog

  3. I find it awesome that you said that exercising under natural light can help suppress melatonin, thus keeping a person wide awake. Reading about this convinced me to sign up with my sister to a yoga martial arts training class next week. That way, we can be more alert and efficient while we work at two different companies.

    1. That’s fantastic. Way to go. Hope you both enjoy the class.

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