You’re ready to shed a few pounds, but where do you start? The obvious answer we are all familiar with comes down to “diet and exercise.” Yet, you have probably heard conflicting advice. One person swears he lost twenty pounds by cutting out sugar, another tells you she lost fifteen by taking up running. All this might leave you wondering whether diet or exercise is the best way to go. Let’s compare the weight loss benefits of exercise and dieting to see if we can come up with an answer.
It all comes down to burning more calories than you take in, right? So, it seems pretty simple that if you just exercise more, the pounds should start melting away. That may be true to a certain extent, but let’s check out the details of calorie mathematics.
First, one pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories. Let’s say you want to lose one pound a week. To accomplish that goal through exercise alone, you would need to burn 500 more calories than you take in each day.
The scenarios listed below are based on the Calorie Burn Calculator found on HealthStatus.com.
A 30-year-old woman, 5’ 6” tall, weighing 180 pounds plays ½ court basketball for 30 minutes. She burns 334 calories.
A 40-year-old man, 6’ 1” tall, weighing 200 pounds rides his bicycle (12 to 14 mph) for 45 minutes. He burns 594 calories.
You can see from these examples that it would take a significant amount exercise each day to lose one pound in a week. A 45-minute bike ride might not sound too bad, but could you do it every single day? How many weeks would you need to sustain this level of exercise for in order to reach your goal weight? Exercise alone isn’t the most efficient path to weight loss.
Now, let’s shift gears and talk about weight loss through dieting alone. To lose one pound a week, you’ll need to cut 500 calories each day out of your diet. What does that look like? Here are a few numbers to think about.
As you can see, junk food packs a larger wallop than its healthier counterparts. It can be relatively easy to cut the required 500 calories out of your daily routine by simply substituting healthier foods into your diet. For example, skip the Coke and Big Mac and have water and grilled chicken for lunch and you’ve cut out 450 calories in one meal. Choosing an apple over candy as a mid-afternoon snack can save you 148 calories—about a third of your goal.
The numbers show that reducing your intake of calories is the way to go if you’re hoping to lose a little weight this spring. Does that mean you shouldn’t bother with exercise at all? Of course not! While exercise might not be as effective at helping you to lose weight as changing your diet, it still helps. Exercise is also important to your general health, disease prevention, and your overall energy levels and mood. Losing weight may be your primary goal, but you also want to feel good and be as healthy as you can. Go ahead and focus on your diet, but be sure to increase your activity level as well. You’ll end up not only looking better, but feeling better as well!