The Ins and Outs of Exercise

In tracing the history of attitudes about exercise, and proposals for fighting obesity, we see that there are two major schools of thought. One holds that exercise alone is the supreme way to control body weight, and this is based on the energy balance theory.

The premise is, if a person does enough physical activity to burn X number of calories per day, they can eat that number of calories and maintain a steady weight. The problem is, in real life working out doesn’t always work out. Weight loss that is supposed to occur, mysteriously does not. There is a lot of evidence for accepting that obesity is multifactorial, and that a strict energy balance equation often fails to yield the results that, theoretically, it should.

Another philosophy, and probably a much more realistic one, is that regular vigorous exercise is a good, in and of itself. The human body evolved to thrive on constant exertion. The organism just generally works better when we accept that it was designed to do hard work and stay in motion. Anything less is a disservice to it.

Reasons to exercise are hard to refute

Many fitness teachers have shared Neila Rey’s “50 Reasons to Exercise,” and every one of those reasons can rationally be shown to somehow prevent obesity. Number one is “Lifts the mood,” and who among us would not welcome a little mood elevation? When a person is in a brighter frame of mind, all things seem possible — even keeping a promise made to oneself about seriously clamping down on food consumption.

A huge and comprehensive benefit is that exercise has been shown to help prevent colds, hypertension, diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, dementia, depression, heart malfunction, and certain symptoms of aging, Without those problems to deal with a person’s likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight is much higher.

In the document “Canadian Sport for Life” important principles are spelled out:

An early active start enhances development of brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, emotions, leadership, and imagination. It also helps children build confidence, develop posture and balance, build strong bones and muscles, promote healthy weight, reduce stress, improve sleep, learn to move skillfully, and learn to enjoy being active.

A New York Times piece by Gretchen Reynolds noted,

Multiple studies […] have found that without major changes to diet, exercise typically results in only modest weight loss at best (although it generally makes people much healthier). Quite a few exercisers lose no weight. Some gain.
[The] relationship between working out and losing weight remains complicated and tangled.

Reynolds mentions a 2012 study at the University of Copenhagen, in which young men who were sedentary and pudgy, but not obese, participated. They were divided into three groups, one being the control group, who did not change their habits at all.

Another group exercised vigorously for half an hour per day, and another worked out for one hour per day. On some days, motion sensors recorded their activity levels during the non-exercise portions of their days. This went on for about three months, and by the end…

[…] the men who had exercised the most, working out for 60 minutes a day, had managed to drop some flab, losing an average of five pounds each. Meanwhile, the volunteers who’d worked out for only 30 minutes a day did considerably better, shedding about seven pounds each.

Explanation was found in the participants’ food diaries. The group that exercised most, burning about 600 calories a day, were making up for it with increased meal sizes and snacks, “although the additional caloric intake wasn’t enough to explain the difference in their results.”

Since this part of the study depended on self-reporting, the researchers guessed that maybe the subjects forgot to jot down some of their food intake. The ones who put in more exercise time also tended to be inert during the non-exercise parts of their days — possibly tuckered out from too much activity.

The control group, predictably, lost no weight, and their body fat percentages were unaffected. But those who exercised for half an hour each day, the scientists noted, seemed to grow more “energized and inspired.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “50 Reasons to Exercise,”, undated
Source: “Maximizing the Sport Experience for our Children,”, undated
Source: “For Weight Loss, Less Exercise May Be More,”, 09/19/12
Image by Ya, saya inBaliTimur/ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC) BY-S

One Response

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. Exercise nowadays is very important. Especially, the coronavirus outbreak is rapidly spreading and the medical experts still don’t have any cure on it. The only solution to prevent this virus is doing an exercise and a proper healthy lifestyle.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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