Could this finally settle the debate?
crossfitters doing lunges while holding free weights
Credit: Klaus Vedfelt for Getty

In recent years, a growing number of medical professionals have said that exercise is more important than your diet when it comes to weight loss and maintenance-and new research now supports that claim. According to a new study presented by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz, published in the journal Obesity, physical activity plays a greater role in promoting long-term weight loss compared to one's diet. The study found that those who were able to maintain weight loss of more than 30 pounds for over a year relied on regular exercise, as opposed to a dietary restriction, in order to avoid gaining back any of the weight that they had lost.

"This study addresses the difficult question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period", said Danielle Ostendorf, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the university's Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. "By providing evidence that a group of successful weight-loss maintainers engages in high levels of physical activity to prevent weight regain-rather than chronically restricting their energy intake-is a step forward to clarifying the relationship between exercise and weight-loss maintenance."

Researchers compared those who successfully kept the weight off for an entire year to two other groups: One control group that had a similar weight to those who had lost the weight; and another group that was overweight or obese, and closer to the BMI that the weight-loss group had when they started. Researchers took urine samples over weekly or bi-weekly periods, after administering groups a dose of doubly-labeled water (a kind of water that contains uncommon isotopes for tracing purposes). They also measured each individual's metabolic rate to understand how much of the energy expenditure on a daily basis came from resting as well as physical activity.

Those who had successfully lost the weight burned 300 calories more each day than those who were similar in size but had not been active. Moreover, the weight-loss group burned more calories during physical activity, even though researchers said that larger bodies require more energy to get moving. Another metric to keep an eye out for: steps per day. The weight loss group averaged about 12,000 steps per day, researchers said, while those at a normal body weight only clocked in 9,000.

"Our findings suggest that this group of successful weight-loss maintainers are consuming a similar number of calories per day as individuals with overweight and obesity but appear to avoid weight regain by compensating for this with high levels of physical activity," said Victoria A. Catenacci, MD, one of the researchers involved with the project at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Healthcare providers have been encouraging Americans to be more physically active-recently, federal health guidelines were revised to encourage any form of regular physical activity, even if it's just walking. It seems that, paired with a modest diet, increased physical activity could help you keep the pounds off.


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