Professional dieters are great at getting weight off. It’s keeping it off that is the hard part. One of the main reasons for this is their mental focus – they are focused on “getting the weight off at all costs by a certain date” and once that H.S. reunion, wedding or other event is over, they go right back to how they lived before.
So how do you keep it off for good? You make lasting changes because you really want to keep it off and live a long healthy life. And, you keep on exercising because exercise pays off immediately and over the long haul.
A recent study in rats showed just how effective exercise is for preventing weight regain. In this study, scientists at the University of Colorado introduced a bunch of rats to the American lifestyle: they overfed them and limited their physical activity for 16 weeks and wala, the rats became obese. Next they put the rats on a diet to take the weight off and after this they put them on an 8-week weight maintenance plan – a low calorie, low fat diet (and half exercised daily on a treadmill, the other half of the rats did no purposeful activity).
So what difference did the exercise make? The exercising rats:
- showed less of a physiological desire to eat
- regained less weight during the weight maintenance period
- burned more fat earlier in the day and used carbohydrate for fuel later in the day
- accumulated fewer fat cells (that’s huge! Less fat cells = less places to store fat; the sedentary group of rats developed new fat cells after the diet period which speeds up the weight regaining process)
- had less abdominal fat
The most interesting aspect of this study is the change in fat cells. Scientists have stuck to the notion that the number of fat cells we have is controlled by genetics and we can develop new ones during certain phases of our lives (as infants, puberty, pregnancy). Well, this study shows that our physical activity level impacts the total number of fat cells we have. Sit on a couch and you are likely to have more fat cells, especially in your stomach area. Get up and move it and your body and you are less likely to develop new fat cells.
Looking for lifetime winners at losing? Check out the participants in the National Weight Control Registry
- a self-reported registry of people who have succeeded at maintaining their weight loss for years. One common theme – they exercise.
Study citation: Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2009;297(3):R793-802.