Diet Vs. Exercise​

The age-old debate of whether weight loss is best achieved by watching your diet or working out may finally have an answer.

The next time you tell your friends you want to shed a couple of kilos, chances are some will advise you to skip the carbs while others will tell you to hop on a treadmill right away. However, is one method really better than the other? 

At first glance, dieting without exercising creates an energy deficit, which is key to weight loss. An energy deficit occurs when more energy is being used than consumed. 

However, Ms Chow Li Ming, a dietitian at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP), advises against such programmes. 

"Dieting without exercising can reduce weight, but the weight loss may not be sustainable," she explains. "If you consume the same amount of kilocalories that allowed you to lose weight in the first place, you may maintain your weight if your energy intake and expenditure are equal. However, many people regain weight over the long term when they resume eating more."

So, if dieting alone doesn't lead to sustainable weight loss, would exercise solely do the trick?

Not quite, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

As part of the study, researchers from Arizona State University in the United States enlisted 81 overweight women to join a fitness programme. During the three-month-long study, the women engaged in treadmill workouts three times a week, but their eating habits were not monitored. 

Three months later, 70 percent of the women had gained some fat mass during the programme, despite their increased activity.

While the study could not conclude the exact reasons for the weight gain, researchers believe that the participants who gained weight consumed more food, resulting in a higher calorie intake, believing that they had burned enough kilocalories to justify the extra food.

​It Takes Both Exercise and A Healthy Diet

"Caloric restriction coupled with regular exercise helps to reduce weight safely and sustainably," says Ms Chow. By eating the same amount while exercising more, a sustainable energy deficit can be created.

"A daily energy deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal would allow one to lose between 0.5kg to 1kg per week," she says.

One's diet is also crucial — the Health Promotion Board recommends that half your plate be filled with fruit and vegetables​, a quarter filled with protein, and a quarter filled with wholegrains.

Once your meals are settled, it is time to work up a sweat. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 150 to 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise​ a week would help with weight maintenance; anything more leads to weight loss. ​Moderate-intensity exercises should leave you breathless but still able to speak three to four words at a time.

Mr Mathew Tay, a physiotherapist at NHGP, recommends a combination of resistance and​​​ endurance training to meet weight loss goals. 

"Resistance training, which largely comprises weight training, promotes muscular strength and power. This, in turn, encourages the building of fat-free mass while maximising fat loss. Endurance training such as brisk walking, jogging and swimming, promotes energy expenditure and increases cardiovascular fitness," says Mr Tay.

Start with Aquatic Exercises

Working out can be tough on your body, especially if you are not used to it. 

"The heavier your upper body, the more exertion you place on your ​​​​​​​​lower limb joints," explains Mr Mathew Tay, a physiotherapist at NHGP. 

He suggests easing into a workout programme by starting out in a swimming pool. Aquatic exercises reduce the load on your knees and joints, thereby preventing pain while exercising. 

In addition, he advises that you do land-based exercises as well, so as to enhance routine function and mobility. 

Ashutosh Ravikrishnan in Consultation With MS Chow LI Ming (Dietitian) and Mr Mathew Tay (Physiotherapist) // National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

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