Why That Fitbit Won't Help You Lose Weight After All

| Fitness


Maybe you got a Fitbit for Mother's Day, or you're still going strong on your New Year's Resolution to step up your fitness game. Before you check your wrist for the number of steps you've walked today, you may need to rethink your weight loss strategy, because Aseem Malhotra from The Washington Post reports that a fitness tracker alone won't help you out all that much.

The fitness industry has never been stronger. Health clubs in the United States brought in $22.4 billion in 2013, doubling their revenue in just 15 years. Sales of fitness trackers (the wearable devices that measure everything from your daily steps to your blood oxygen level) are expected to triple within the next five years. And health and fitness apps were the fastest-growing downloads from Google’s app store last year. Still, obesity has continued to surge around the world. Nearly one in three people alive today is overweight or obese — two out of three adults in the United States — and no country has lowered its obesity rate since 1980.

obese family watching tv

That’s not a fluke. Our waistlines aren’t expanding because people aren’t exercising intelligently or vigorously enough. You don’t need a new personal trainer, another Insanity workout video or a more aggressive CrossFit regimen. What you need is the truth, and here it is:

Exercise — no matter how many gym memberships you buy or how often you wear your Fitbit — won’t make you lose weight.

The idea that our obesity epidemic is caused by sedentary lifestyles has spread widely over the past few decades, spurring a multibillion-dollar industry that pitches gadgets and gimmicks promising to walk, run and kickbox you to a slim figure. But those pitches are based on a myth. Physical activity has a multitude of health benefits — it reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer — but weight loss is not one of them.

>> Read more: Physical Inactivity vs Obesity: What's the Bigger Problem?

woman running on the beach

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that exercise alone has almost no effect on weight loss, as two sports scientists and I described in a recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. For one, researchers who reviewed surveys of millions of American adults found that physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, particularly in counties in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. But the rise in exercise was matched by an increase in obesity in almost every county studied. There were even more striking results in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who simply dieted experienced greater weight loss than those who combined diet and exercise.

How can this be explained? When people exercise, they stimulate their appetites, spurring them to eat more than they would have without working out. People also assume that expending more energy necessitates higher calorie intake, but they often overestimate how much. In reality, if you exercise for the purpose of burning calories, you get a very low return on investment: You would have to walk for more than 45 minutes to burn off the 300 calories from eating just three cookies.

Want to read more? Click here to see the original article from The Washington Post.