By Margaret Jasinska, Naturopath
Do you think today’s kids are overweight because they’re not exercising enough?
It’s a common assumption and it certainly seems to be a big message in the media lately. Childhood obesity is largely blamed on kids spending most of their time playing computer games and less time running around outside with their friends.
Exercise definitely does have an effect on a person’s body weight, but a far smaller effect than you may realise. Exercise really doesn’t burn as many calories as most people assume. A recent study in Portugal highlighted this point nicely.
Researchers carried out a small study that ran for 5 months and involved 12 boys aged between 8 and 12 years. All of the boys were considered overweight or obese. The boys were assigned to participate in a structured 5 month soccer program. It was an intense program that consisted of four weekly 60 to 90 minute sessions that were designed to get the boys’ heart rates up to more than 80% of their maximum heart rate. This was confirmed by heart rate monitors, so the boys weren’t allowed to slacken off.
Along with their 4 to 6 hours of soccer (most boys played nearly the full 6 hours weekly), the boys also participated in between 1.5 and 3 hours of regular PE at school. Therefore, the boys in the study did 5.5 to 9 hours of exercise each week, the bulk of which was undeniably strenuous.
The boys in the study were compared with a control group comprised of eight boys of similar ages from a nearby obesity clinic. The control group of boys only participated in the standard 1.5 to 3 hours of PE at school. They didn’t do any other exercise on top of this.
At the end of the study, the researchers assessed all of the boys’ body weight and their body fat percentage (via a DEXA scan).
The results may surprise you.
After a structured and intense 5 month exercise program, the results were very dismal. Researchers found that “no significant changes were observed for the BMI and percentage of body fat” between the two groups of boys.
However, the boys who exercised intensely experienced other significant benefits; they felt better about themselves. They experienced improvements in body image and self esteem. I’m sure they also had improved health outcomes such as better blood sugar control and a reduction in insulin resistance (syndrome X), however this study only looked at actual fat loss.
Exercise is very good for you and I urge every adult and child to do it. Just don’t make weight loss your sole aim, as you may be disappointed. Exercise because it energises you and makes you feel good. Don’t exercise as a form of self flagellation or an attempt to burn calories from unhealthy foods. If you want to lose weight, eat natural, unprocessed foods most of the time, and avoid sugar. It’s a far more effective weight loss strategy.