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Research finds surprising inverse relationship between exercise and daily activity

[Oct. 4, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

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The role of memory, intertwined with the very essence of our daily lives, remains pivotal in shaping our experiences. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

When we contemplate the balance between burning calories through exercise and consuming them through food, there's an often overlooked piece of the puzzle: our everyday non-exercise physical activity.

According to a comprehensive meta-study from the University of Copenhagen, the more we commit to structured exercise, the more likely we are to reduce these daily activities. For those on a weight loss journey, this could spell unexpected hurdles.


Picture this scenario: having completed a rigorous morning jog, you feel justified in skipping the stairs in favor of the elevator. Sound familiar? This behavior is not exclusive to a select few; it's a widespread phenomenon.

An array of studies highlight a trend: people tend to be less active in regular day-to-day movements when they've partaken in structured workouts like gym sessions or long runs.


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Julie Marvel Mansfeldt, a graduate scholar from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS), emphasizes, "In 67% of the studies, we observed that individuals reduce daily physical activities as a compensatory action for more training. This includes opting for elevators over stairs, driving instead of cycling, and generally being less active."

This insightful revelation comes from Mansfeldt’s systematic examination of 24 research studies. Each of these scrutinized people's daily activity levels before and amidst structured exercise interventions. These findings can be explored in-depth in the journal Current Nutrition Reports.


However, the real question is, how does this trend impact weight loss? Mansfeldt expounds, "Losing weight fundamentally revolves around altering the equilibrium between caloric intake and expenditure. The choices are simple – either modify your diet or elevate your physical activity."

Share of studies in which subjects either reduced, increased, or maintained their level of common non-exercise-related activities. On the whole, 67% of studies demonstrated a compensatory reduction. (CREDIT: University of Copenhagen)

While it sounds straightforward, the reality proves to be more complex. "Exercising more should theoretically create an energy deficit, leading to weight loss. Yet, the relationship isn’t as direct as we'd expect. Actual weight loss from exercise frequently falls short of our predictions. This signals the presence of a compensatory mechanism at play," Mansfeldt notes.


Interestingly, this doesn't mean we’re eating more. Rather, it suggests that our non-exercise physical activities are diminishing, thus lessening the expected benefits of our workouts. One specific study found that participants lost 22% less weight than projected based on their exercise regimes.

Julie Marvel Mansfeldt, a graduate scholar from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS). (CREDIT: Julie Marvel Mansfeldt)

But why do we unconsciously reduce these daily activities? Mansfeldt believes the answer lies in a blend of physiological and psychological responses. "Post-training fatigue is certainly a contributing factor. However, our psyche plays a pivotal role, invoking a reward mechanism, making us feel entitled to relax more after a workout."


Despite popular belief that we may consume more food after a workout session, research doesn’t support this widespread notion. Furthermore, this compensatory reduction behavior spans across genders, and irrespective of whether one is within a healthy weight range or overweight.

With the global rise in obesity, understanding these nuances becomes crucial. Mansfeldt hopes this newfound awareness will guide both individuals and health professionals. "Traditional weight loss regimens emphasize monitoring food intake during exercise. With this additional mechanism unveiled, we hope future guidelines will stress the importance of maintaining daily activity levels, ensuring that individuals don't compromise on regular activities like cycling, walking, or taking stairs."

The research also showed that people who had a “positive affect” (those who enjoyed exercising and exhibited positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness) also ate less and therefore achieved greater weight loss than those who had a “negative affect” (those who thought exercise was hard and not very fun).

"This shows that the psychological aspect is important for whether or not you are successful with your training program, and further implies that you need to find the type of exercise that is right for you," says Julie Marvel Mansfeldt.


In essence, the path to effective weight loss is not solely about structured exercise or diet but understanding and managing our daily non-exercise activities. As the research suggests, achieving an optimal balance is key for genuine, sustainable weight loss success.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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