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Does exercise really help with weight loss?


Patients take part in a physical exercise program at an obesity clinic in France. How important is exercise for weight loss?
Patients take part in a physical exercise program at an obesity clinic in France. How important is exercise for weight loss?
BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Every January, gym memberships ramp up as people try to make good on their New Year's resolution to lose some pounds. A study by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association showed more than 12 percent of health club memberships are inked in January, compared to an average of 8.3 percent per month for a full year [source: Kurtzleben]. But researchers say those future gym rats' efforts may be in vain. While exercising has long been touted as a way to lose weight, it isn't necessarily all that effective in the battle of the bulge — that is, if all you do is focus on working out.

Before exercise-haters jump up and do a victory dance, scientists are quick to point out exercise is still very important. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says regular exercise is actually one of the most important things you can do to ensure better health. It helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; it improves your mental health, strengthens your bones and increases your ability to take part in daily activities. Exercise also helps prevent falls in the elderly and increases their chances of living longer and with less pain. And, oh, yes, it helps control your weight, but perhaps differently than you might think. (More on that later.)

Exercise and weight loss were first linked in the 1950s by nutritionist Jean Mayer. Before then, no one had really paired the two. In fact, the scientific community was rather against the notion, thinking it a lot of baloney. But as Mayer's prominence rose — he became an adviser to the White House and World Health Organization — his words were heeded and sparked the fitness revolution that began in the 1960s and 1970s [source: John].

Today, the fitness movement is still huge. In the U.S., the number of fitness club memberships has soared from 32.8 million in 2000 to 54.1 million in 2014 [source: Statista]. Yet Americans have never been chubbier. Nearly 35 percent of adult Americans are obese. That's 78.6 million folks [source: CDC]. If we're exercising so much these days, how can we be so fat?

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