One of the often-repeated mantras about diet and fitness that annoys me the most is this: “You won’t lose weight through exercise.”
I’ve always found this advice suspect, for several reasons. One, is it true – did you ever see a fat competitive runner, be that person a sprinter or long distance runner? No, you didn’t. Why? Because regular running burns off an incredible amount of calories, and this makes you lose weight – indeed most runners have to eat much more than most of us just to keep the slim size they are.
Two – most people think that they’ve done a lot of exercise if they go out for a half hour walk once a day. That would burn off around 100 calories for a 150lb person walking at 3 mph. So that’s about 700 calories a week, which in theory would represent about a fifth of a pound you might lose. But most people, research shows, tend to eat a little more when they have been doing their exercise, and 700 calories represents only a couple of chocolate bars, or ten digestive biscuits for example, or an extra couple of spoons of carbs with your evening meal each day.
Exercise most definitely DOES work to help you lose weight – but only if you do enough of it.
The reason I’m writing about this is that I just lost four pounds in about three weeks by taking about 500% more exercise each day than I have done in years. This wasn’t formal exercise – not the treadmill or rower, not a marathon walk or run every day, none of that.
All I did was, through necessity, get off my bottom and spend all day every day doing physical stuff that needed doing. Hard cleaning; moving furniture; sweeping outside; taking endless rubbish to the tip; heavy lifting; up and down ladders and stairs, on and off walls, all kinds of things, for around 7 hours every day.
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I was preparing a small converted barn apartment – ready to advertise as a holiday let. Having lain idle for many years and been used as a junk tip it needed a total revamp – and it’s upstairs. I had no-one to help and having a few quiet weeks in the office it seemed a perfect opportunity to save money on help and get active, too. Once the barn was finally ready I then set to and tidied up the garden surrounding it, and the road entrance and nearby shrubs and borders. And then I realised that the outside of our house, which guests would have to walk past to get to the barn, looked a mess, so I was out scrubbing walls, cleaning windows, painting, you name it.
And when my jeans fell down the other day because the last hole on my belt was too loose, I weighed myself – four pounds gone. I’d been eating a similar amount to normal - but my body obeyed the basic rule of weight loss and gain. More calories expended than taken in, you lose weight, more calories in than burned, you gain weight. I reckon I was burning around 7-800 calories a day more than in my normal sedentary life, and over 3 weeks that represents around 15,000 extra calories burnt – which is almost exactly right to lose four pounds as one pound represents around 3,500 calories.
It will be interesting to see, now that my need to be so active is over and I’m about to start several weeks in the office instead, how quickly those four pounds come back on. I don’t want them to – but I now know that unless I make a real big effort to get on my feet and keep moving, they most certainly will.
What I think I should do is accept that sitting in the office 8-9 hours a day is not a great idea, and take longer with work projects so I can have at least 2-3 hours out and about every single day.
It’s not just a weight thing – so much recent research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy in several ways. One new Californian study finds that sitting up to 10 hours a day increases your risk of disease and ages women up to eight years. Another recent Norwegian study found that people over 70 who were unfit increased their risk of diabetes and heart problems by 80%. And if you do no exercise, after the age of 50 you lose around 500g of muscle a year.
I certainly felt better all round by the time the third of my active weeks arrived – in the first I had been breathless with aching muscles and joints, and simply exhausted. But by the end, I was sleeping much, much better, walking faster, was able to lift heavy items more easily, was more able to bend to reach the ground and kneel – all kinds of simple things we often no longer do as we get older.
It’s been a real eye opener for me, and I think I have the motivation now to keep moving. Every day, for as many hours as possible.