Take a moment to consider how you feel after exercising. Are you tired? Energized? Drenched in sweat and shaking with pain, struggling to breathe?
Why is it that in a world where we are trying to simplify our lives with meal planning, weight loss apps, and personal trainers, do we feel the need to make our workouts as difficult as possible? Watch an episode of The Biggest Loser and you'll see people falling on the ground from being pushed to complete exhaustion.
Is this really the best way to exercise?
It seems arduous to put your body through that kind of torture every day. It would be very difficult to stay driven to continue on if you feel like you're going to die every time you exercise.
There is no need to punish yourself with your workouts in order to see results. But for some reason we feel that we must push ourselves to exhaustion in order to effectively reach our goals.
The truth is, unless you're an athlete training for the Olympics* (i.e. exercising is your job), focusing on an increased exercise regimen isn't going to make a huge dent in your weight loss goals. Although regular workouts are vital to your health, changing your diet and your relationship with food will make a bigger impact on losing weight than exercise alone. You are also more likely to eat a larger meal after a particularly strenuous workout, replacing and even surpassing the amount of calories you just burned off.
*Keep in mind, Olympic athletes also keep strict diet plans to properly fuel their bodies through strenuous training.
The Mayo Clinic conducted a study where they had a 160 pound person perform a high-impact exercise for one hour (well above the capability of an average person). The person burned just over 500 calories. Considering the fact that a healthy portion-controlled meal (for example chicken, brown rice, and steamed vegetables) is anywhere from 350-500 calories, that extra-strenuous workout doesn't seem to really change much!
With all of that said, exercise is still a very important factor in losing weight. Cardiovascular activities such as running and swimming burn extra fat as fuel. Strength training activities such as weight lifting increase your metabolic rate.
When your metabolic rate is increased, you burn more calories when resting.
That means when you're flicking channels at the end of your workout, you're burning more calories just sitting there than someone who didn't exercise all together.
So yes, regularly doing workouts that raise your heart rate and build muscle are very important for health and in reaching your weight loss goals. But greatly increasing the time and intensity you spend exercising isn't going to make as big of an impact as you may think. Finding balance between both diet and exercise will do much more than pushing your body to the brink of exhaustion.
[Credit: Bornstein, Adam. Should Your Workout Kick Your Ass? Born Fitness.]