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The momentum principle - How exercise can improve your diet

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Exercise does more than just burn kilojoules. Find out what impact physical activity can have on your diet.

Exercise & weight

Exercise is a vital ingredient in the recipe for weight loss success. Exercise combined with a healthy eating plan has been shown to be more effective for weight loss compared with either one on its own.

Exercise is also a very strong predictor of successful weight loss maintenance. Keeping weight off once you've lost it can be a challenging aspect of weight control, and exercise appears to play an important role.

It also helps to have a good understanding of the ways in which exercise makes such a big difference to weight control. Is it simply the kilojoules burnt off, or are there other factors at play?

The research

A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined what affect exercise had on diet and eating behaviours on 104 overweight women over an 18 month period. The women were prescribed a diet that was low in fat and kilojoules, and were instructed to gradually increase their activity levels to 200 minutes per week. It was found that as activity levels increased:
  • Fewer kilojoules were consumed
  • There was improvement in eating behaviours associated with weight loss, such as meal planning and reduced eating speed
  • Less dietary fat was consumed
  • More protein was consumed

According to the researchers, physical activity is part of a constellation of behaviours that influence body weight. Individuals who increase physical activity levels while attempting to lose weight also appear to make meaningful changes in eating behaviours that may also affect weight loss. It was also suggested that physical activity can improve a number of psychological factors such as mood, and this may help to prevent episodes of emotional eating.

How to generate momentum for your weight loss program

Imagine having to push a boulder down the side of a hill. Getting that big rock moving in the first place will take great effort. But once it begins to move, there will be no stopping it, as it quickly picks up speed. That's the principle of momentum. It takes some effort to get started, but things get easier when the ball starts rolling.

The same rules apply for exercise and weight control. Once you get started, it can become easier and easier. For instance, when you start to exercise, you’ll feel better about yourself, which makes you want to eat a little better. You will progressively find exercise more comfortable, helping you sleep better and feel more energised, making you want to exercise more. Then, as you lose a little bit of fat and weight down the track, you’ll feel even more motivated.

Exercise helps you to accumulate a series of successes, which can then breed further success down the track. Even just 10 minutes of exercise may be enough to set the wheels in motion for additional positive health changes. By doing something every day, you will take advantage of the boost in momentum towards a healthier lifestyle on a daily basis.

References available on request