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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