Yesterday, Mark, in the comment section of Dear Mark: Chronic Cardio, said “It all comes down to this: fat loss depends 80% on what and how you eat.” As part of the Primal Blueprint the most important aspect of weight management is your diet – what you consume. But we are still left with the other 20%, and it shouldn’t go overlooked. Here is a prime example of what happens if you neglect physical activity.
A study in this month’s Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests that fitness enthusiasts that abruptly halt their exercise plans not only gain more weight, but also have a harder time taking it off once exercise resumes.
Using data collected from the National Runners’ Health Study, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory compared the weight fluctuations of 17,280 men and 5,970 women who decreased their running distance with 4,632 men and 1,953 women who increased their running distance over a roughly seven year period.
Among the male participants running 20 or more miles per week and females running 10 miles or more per week, the pounds gained when distance was decreased was equal to the pounds lost when distance was increased. The researchers also noted that for these individuals, the weight gain associated with an exercise hiatus was generally easy to reverse once exercise was resumed.
However, among those that ran less, the weight gain associated with an interruption in exercise was far harder to take off. Specifically, runners who decreased their mileage from five to zero miles per week gained about four times as much weight as those who decreased their mileage from 25 to 20 miles per week. In addition, when exercise resumed, weight loss didn’t occur until mileage exceeded 20 miles per week in men and 10 miles per week in women.
Commenting on these findings, study author Paul Williams noted that “at lower mileages, there is asymmetric weight gain and loss from increasing and decreasing exercise, leading to an expected weight gain from an exercise hiatus.” However, he notes that “if you stop exercising, you don’t get to resume where you left off if you want to lose weight.”
He notes that the findings underscore the importance of avoiding irregular exercise patterns and suggests that future public health strategies focus on “getting people to exercise before they think they need it, and to stick with it,” adding that this study proves that an “ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.”
Note that even the group involved in extended periods of running every week were better off than those doing none at all. We’re not advocating high-mileage running here, but this study highlights the importance of some level of consistent physical activity to effectively manage body weight.
I’d like to know what they were eating, too. If the diet was high in carbs (in order to replace the carbs burned during running) and they kept the high carb diet when not exercising, it makes sense that muscle would be lost, fat gained and the net impact would be a metabolic setback, making it harder to lose the newly stored fat.
So tell us, what are your tips for staying active year-round and what do you do to stop yourself falling off the fitness wagon?