When it comes to working out, play the field
Conventional wisdom says if you want to lose weight, you have to pick an exercise program and stick with it—but experts say that’s actually not the case.
“You don’t have to exercise to lose weight. I tell my patients that every day,” says Dr. Sciamanna.
“Exercise helps augment weight loss, but it actually doesn’t burn that many calories,” explains Anne McTiernan, M.D., director of the Prevention Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. “If you walk on the treadmill for half an hour, then eat a 200-calorie granola bar, you’ll have undone the calorie burn you got from the treadmill.”
However, before you gleefully toss your gym shoes in the trash, know that exercise does play an important role in maintaining weight loss. The smartest workout strategy: If you’re just starting out, don’t force yourself into an impossible-to-achieve workout regimen, then feel guilty because you didn’t stick with it. Instead, try out different kinds of exercise until you hit on something you enjoy. Science supports you: Researchers at Penn State found that subjects who tried out different forms of exercise were more likely to lose weight than those who attempted to adhere to a consistent routine.
“You have to try out different things,” says Dr. Sciamanna. “If you don’t find something that you like, you’re just not going to stick with it long-term.”
Get a little help from your friends
Subjects who participated in a weight-loss program were more successful at dropping pounds than those who didn’t, according to the Penn State study. “If you go to a group-based program every week or every other week, you’ll lose weight,” says Dr. Sciamanna. “But the key is to keep going. Studies show that most people drop out within a month.”
So why exactly do weight-loss programs help you shed pounds? “Many people find that programs provide social support, and help them feel accountable,” says Dr. McTiernan. Essentially, accountability means you’re reporting to someone who’s helping to track your progress: pounds lost, time spent exercising, etc. Think of it as a cross between your boss and your own personal weight-loss cheerleader. “You could also do the accountability part with your doctor or other health care provider, or a family member or friend,” adds Dr. McTiernan.
And as with everything else these days, you can also go the digital route. “Some people do better with an online program they can log-in to anytime they want. It all depends on the individual,” says Kirkpatrick. “Just make sure to contact the program first, and ask for referrals and outcomes.”
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