Congratulations on your weight loss and on your determination to avoid regaining. We know that exercise alone isn’t as effective for weight loss as reducing your food intake and increasing physical activity. But many people regain lost weight simply because they don’t continue to exercise. In fact, some people actually may become more sedentary after losing the extra pounds than they were before. In scientific language the type of “background” activity that drops weight is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) and consists of all the calorie burning you do through random movement, including changing position, fidgeting, toe-tapping, etc. Experts believe that this non-exercise activity often declines a lot after successful weight loss, possibly because your body thinks you’re facing an environment with less food available and needs to conserve energy by staying still.
The good news is that a study from the University of Alabama has found that the best way to avoid regaining lost pounds is with weight training. The researchers reported that women in their study who lifted weights also tended to move more easily than they did before they lost weight.
For the study, the researchers recruited 140 overweight and sedentary women who agreed to go on an 800 calorie per day diet. The investigators first gave the women a battery of tests including determination of their daily levels of N.E.A.T. and their “walking economy” – a measurement of how easy it is to move around. When the women had lost 25 pounds, they were put on a customized, supervised diet designed to prevent weight gain or loss. They were also assigned to one of three groups: one that did no exercise at all, another that walked or jogged at a brisk pace on a treadmill for 40 minutes three times a week, and a third that did supervised weight training three times a week.
The women who performed weight training moved more (and used more N.E.A.T.) during the day then they had in the past, while the women who did not exercise spent less time in motion than before they joined the study. Those who were assigned to the three weekly sessions of aerobic exercise also moved more than they had before the study, but not quite as much as those in the strength training group.
This study was relatively short – the researchers followed their dieters for only a month. We don’t know whether the results would be the same for men or if the benefits and differences would be realized over a longer period of time.
Strength training is an essential part of any workout, along with aerobic exercise and stretching to promote flexibility. But if you haven’t worked with weights before, it is important to get some instruction, ideally from a personal trainer who can teach you proper technique. This is essential to avoid injuries and make sure you’re using your muscles correctly.
I wish you the best of luck in exercising to keep off the weight you’ve lost.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Gary R. Hunter et al, “Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, January 20, 2015