So, you think that if you put on your favorite workout gym shorts and exercise, you’ll burn more calories, right?
As per Herman Pontzer’s research, the average human being has burned 2500 calories and that number doesn’t change in the long run regardless of whether you work out or not.
How We Think Metabolism Works:
We have all accepted the simple notion that doing more exercise means that you burn more calories. Because it makes sense. For many people who’re counting their calories with every meal, their exercises and workouts are trying to even the count up and their bodies seem to be in good shape as well.
It makes sense for the average joe to assume that they can eat a donut today and go on a run later because you’ll be burning it out, right? Again, wrong.
The metabolic process that we refer to as metabolism doesn’t imply that our body is a well-oiled machine that burns calories only when it performs resistance or high-intensity interval training.
Even previous large-scale studies that studied the number of calories a human body burns to keep vital organs functioning showed that even without exercise, we burn 60-70% of the calories we eat just by staying alive.
But that doesn’t mean that the remainder of that is left for other physical activities that you’ll engage in. Herman points out that everything, e.g. fidgeting, thinking, stressing, walking your dog, doing the dishes, etc. burns calories.
The calories that we burn when we exercise will be spent by the body on building chronic inflammation, which inevitably causes many diseases that are associated with aging.
Busting the Myth of Metabolism:
Herman Pontzer, associate professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University, along with his team of expert researchers has authored a publication that has turned our concepts about exercising to lose fat upside down.
As per the Duke researcher’s book titled ‘Burn’, Herman and his team dedicated 10 years of research in an attempt to test whether the theory about burning more calories or somehow ‘increasing or speeding up your metabolism’ actually checks out.
Their work involved comparing metabolic analyses of over 6,600 people across major continents.
The way this worked was, the team would have the subjects of the study drink water that would have its hydrogen and oxygen molecules substituted with naturally-occurring ‘heavier’ forms to see how long it takes to flush out of their system.
Although the data contained analyses of people of ages from 1 week old – 95 years, from the average couch potato sedentary lifestyle American Joe to fitness freaks, super or ultra-athletes, the most interesting undertaking was the study of a Tanzanian Hadza tribe.
These were people who even now have a carnivorous diet, meaning they hunt their food using simple tools, involve a lot of traveling and have tremendous amounts of activity in their daily life.
Given the view people hold about metabolism and how it works, a normal person would think that the Hadza must be burning a lot of calories.
However, surprisingly, Herman’s data shows that they burn the same amount as couch potato people living a strictly sedentary lifestyle.
So, does this mean that your exercises are futile?
If you’re working out strictly to burn more calories, you’re not going to get results because even though your body burns 400-500 calories today on a workout, it will eventually get to its average burnout rate regardless of whether you work out or not.
If you don’t work out, those calories will eventually be used to produce hormones or inflammation which isn’t healthy.
This means that while your workouts aren’t going to make you thinner, they will certainly increase your chances of having a healthy and active life for longer durations because you’ll have a healthier heart, reduced inflammation and a stronger immune system.
Does Metabolism Change with Age?
Our cultural knowledge and ideas held by our elders state that as a person comes of age, their metabolic rates are going to be higher because obviously, they are bigger now and engaging in more activity.
This is wrong too.
The idea that you burn more calories in your middle ages as opposed to pre-teens has been proven false as well. Pontzer’s research shows that from birth to the first 12 months, infants burn 50% more calories with respect to their body size as compared to adults.
Moreover, the energy requirement starts to reduce by 3% for the duration of the next 20 years when it comes down to the average metabolic rate.
When we reach more than 30 or even 40 years of age, our metabolism doesn’t change. In fact, as per the study, even pregnant women didn’t require more energy or burn more calories during their pregnancy as one would expect.
Only after do we hit 60 does our metabolism start to slow down, but even this reduction is gradual, with just a 0.7% drop every year. A person in their 90s was seen needing 26% fewer calories each day than a person in their 20s-50s.
That’s because their cells are slowing down, along with other factors such as losing muscle mass over the years. Herman admits that it’s very difficult to distinguish the effects that come with aging, however, his research is just one of the many more that will need to be done in order to understand all of them separately.
How Do You Lose Weight?
Now that we know that exercising doesn’t burn more calories but helps us stay active and healthy, how do we go about losing weight?
Herman says there is no crash diet that can ‘speed up’ or ‘burn’ your metabolism. Since our bodies have evolved with survival instincts that tell us to hoard up on fat and accumulate energy as much as possible, starving ourselves won’t work.
Cutting out unhealthy dietary foods and incorporating nutrient-rich options that are rich in healthy carbs, provide ample proteins, fiber, etc. and making sure you eat fewer calories than you normally do is the only sure way to lose weight.
The body needs the recommended amount of nutrients it requires to function properly. All you have to do is ensure you don’t eat more.
The rest of your physical workouts will help you get that ripped or shredded physique, but it won’t do much in terms of helping you burn more calories. Even super-athletes like Michael Phelps don’t burn more calories than you do.
Ann Edwards is the fully qualified personal trainer from Elite sports. She has been helping people in the field of bodybuilding and fitness from more than a decade. Her career in nutrition and physical therapy has made her a fine addition for our team.