Exercise important, but calories count more

chow_012916-177402469I have been doing more walking and other exercise since the first of the year, but I haven’t been losing much weight. Shouldn’t I see some results on the scale?   

First, it’s excellent that you’re boosting your activity. It’s no surprise that most Americans need more exercise, but the U.S. Surgeon General reported recently on the extent of the issue: Less than half of U.S. adults get enough physical activity each day to reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease, including diabetes, cancer, or heart or lung disease. Even worse, only one-quarter of teens in high school get enough. So, no matter what the scale says, keep it up.

With weight loss, remember that exercise is only part of the equation, and many studies indicate that it’s a smaller part than you might think. Although both physical activity and eating right play a role, research indicates that reducing calories is far more important in shedding pounds.

It’s easy to overestimate the calories you think you might be burning when you take a nice, brisk walk. Everybody — and every body — is different, but you can go beyond taking a wild guess by using online tools to help you gauge what you might be burning off. One such tool, the Physical Activity Calorie Counter, is available under “Healthy Living” on the website of the American Council on Exercise, acefitness.org. There, you can plug in your body weight and time spent on an activity, and you get an estimate of calories burned. Here are some examples for a 150-pound person:

  • A half-hour casual walk (a mile in 30 minutes): 68 calories. That won’t even burn off the 80 calories in one Snickers Fun Size candy bar.
  • A half-hour very brisk walk (a mile in 15 minutes): 170 calories, not enough to expend the 240 calories in a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.
  • An hour of very fast cycling (12-13 mph): 544 calories. That’s significant, but it wouldn’t be enough to offset the 430 calories in a Panera Cinnamon Crunch Bagel plus the 130 calories in reduced-fat plain cream cheese you put on it.

Calorie-wise, passing on one or two treats each day adds up. Water is a great zero-calorie choice of beverage, and you’ll want to enjoy just half of your bagel or skip the cream cheese before you jump on your bike. That said, it bears repeating that physical activity in and of itself provides health benefits. How much is recommended?

  • Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity over the course of a week. Moderate activity is enough to increase your breathing and heart rate, but you should still able to talk during the activity. With vigorous activity, such as jogging or running, you can’t say more than a few words without taking a breath.
  • Adults also need muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups two or more days a week.
  • Children should get an hour of moderate-intensity activity every day.

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/physicalactivity.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

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Keep it simple to plan for healthful holidays

chow_111315-99146758Last year, I promised myself that after the holidays, I would eat healthier and exercise more. It never happened. This year, I don’t want to wait, but I also don’t want to set myself up for failure or be the Grinch during holiday gatherings. Any ideas?

First, recognize that it’s difficult to change our behaviors. Face it: If it were easy, you would have done it a long time ago. For a habit to stick, experts in behavior change say it’s important to keep a few strategies in mind:

  • Keep it simple. Focus on one realistic change at a time, and make it as easy and automatic as possible. Once you get into the habit — that is, once you find yourself doing the behavior without even thinking about it — you can try tackling something else. But not before.
  • Be specific. For example, instead of setting a goal to eat more fruits and vegetables, set a goal to eat at least one fruit and three vegetables each day. That way you can track your progress.
  • Celebrate your success. Give yourself an “attaboy” every time you practice your new habit. It might sound silly, but offering yourself a small pat on the back can make a big difference in whether your new behavior will actually become a habit.
  • Go public. Tell your friends and family about your goal and ask for their support. Be sure to tell them why you are trying something new — at the very least, that will help you make sure you yourself understand the reasons you want to make a change. It also helps you make sure it’s something you really want to do, not just something you feel obligated to do.

What sorts of new habits might be most helpful during the holidays? Here are some ideas:

  • Drink a pint of water before every meal. If you’re trying to lose weight, this simple strategy could be effective. According to a recent study in the journal Obesity, adults who drank 16 ounces of regular tap water before each meal, three times a day, lost almost 10 pounds in 12 weeks, compared with an average loss of less than 2 pounds for those who drank water before meals only once a day or not at all.
  • Take a 15-minute brisk walk every day after dinner. While this small amount of extra activity would be beneficial for almost anyone, British researchers who reviewed studies involving older adults found that the biggest boost for longevity might be for people who are sedentary to start doing just a little moderate to vigorous exercise. They found that people over 60 who averaged 75 minutes of such exercise a week, or 15 minutes five days a week, were 22 percent less likely to die over 10 years than those who remained sedentary.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to recommended levels (or less). It’s easy to get carried away during holiday gatherings, but alcohol provides a lot of empty calories and consuming too much carries other health risks, as well. The recommended limit is one drink a day for women or two for men. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.