Why You Won’t Lose Weight Exercising — Do the Math

As I've mentioned previously I'm on a diet. I have a goal, to lose 16lbs by May. I only have 5lbs left to go so I'm well on my way. Being the analytical person I am, as soon as I set my goal I started trying to figure out the numbers to make it happen.

Marine of the United States Marine Corps runs ...
Exercise is good for you, but it won't make you lose weight - Image via Wikipedia

The rule of thumb you will see quoted is that 500 calories a day equals 1lb a week in weight loss. And that makes people think they can lose weight through exercise alone. Who wants to diet after all. You can't eat any of the good tasting stuff!

Not only can you burn those 500 calories, but if you put on muscle that burns more calories! Sounds great doesn't it?

But lets start looking at the numbers. To burn your 500 calories each day you would need to do one of the following:

  • Approximately 240 pushups to burn 500 calories.
  • Approximately 300 squats to burn 500 calories
  • Walk 5 miles
  • Bike 20 miles
  • Swim for 40 minutes

And you'd have to do that 7 days a week. Possible, but certainly not easy. Ah, but what about that extra muscle? Well 1lb of muscle burns 35 to 50 calories per day (some estimates put this significantly lower). Taking that upper value, you'd need to put on 10lbs of muscle in order to burn your 500 calories. That's a major undertaking.

Okay, but so far this seems doable. Hard work, but within your capabilities right? And it's still better than eating carrots every day...

There's a catch. The average american male is consuming 3900 calories a day currently but the recommended intake is closer to 2500. So you don't need to burn 500 calories extra a day to lose weight. You need to burn 1900!

To put that in perspective, you would have to do one of the following exercises every day to burn off the neccessary calories to lose weight?

  • 912 pushups
  • 1140 squats
  • Walk 19 miles
  • Bike 76 miles
  • Swim for 140 minutes

Still think this is a good option?

Now before you get the wrong idea, I'm not advocating shirking on exercise. It has a huge range of health benefits (including in my case lowering blood pressure) not to mention that regular exercise could boost your metabolism by 15% which will certainly speed weight loss.

But the idea that you can lose serious quantities of weight just by exercising, doesn't add up. And the notion that if you put on a few pounds of muscle you'll be burning calories as you sit in front of the tv is ludicrous.

Face it, there are no short cuts to weight loss. You need a combination of diet, exercise and time.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?

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