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Exercise Offers Much More than Weight Management

Most of us exercise at least in part to help us maintain our weight. We have many other reasons as well, of course, including gaining fitness and strength, preventing illnesses, and feeling good. New research suggests we should shift our focus from weight management to other health indicators. A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at whether exercise-induced health improvements are affected by changes in weight.

In the study, 58 overweight or obese men and women who lived a sedentary lifestyle completed a 12-week supervised physical activity programme. The programme consisted of regular moderate aerobic exercise (reaching 70% of maximum heart rate 5 times per week, 500 calories burned per session). Before and after the study, the researchers measured body composition, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, anthropometric measures, and psychological response to exercise.

All participants lost weight; an average loss of 3.3 kilos per person was recorded. However, nearly half of the participants did not lose the predicted amount of weight based on energy expenditure. Despite failing to lose more weight, those individuals still enjoyed significant gains in aerobic capacity, lowered blood pressure, smaller waist circumference, and lower resting heart rate. They also experienced significant improvements in positive mood based on exercise.

The researchers conclude that even in the presence of lower-than-expected weight loss, people can experience significant health benefits and improved mental state from regular exercise. People who may be discouraged by losing less weight than expected but who maintain a consistent exercise programme should be congratulated. In terms of public health, a shift from focusing on exercise for weight loss to other health markers would be beneficial. Not only does this study show the meaningful health benefits gained regardless of weight loss, but focusing on weight loss tends to be harmful to self-esteem as people try to achieve the unrealistic standards promoted by today's social media environment.

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