Cruel Twist: Exercise Reduces Calories Burned at Rest in People With Obesity

Exercise reduces the number of calories burned at rest in people with obesity, according to a new study by researchers from the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Roehampton.

The study, published in Current Biology on August 27, found that people who exercise burn fewer calories on body maintenance, therefore markedly reducing the calorie burning gains of exercise. This reduction in energy burned at rest was most pronounced in individuals with obesity and also, to a lesser extent, in older adults.

Analysis based on data from 1,750 adults in the IAEA doubly labeled water database (www.dlwdatabase.org) showed that in individuals with the highest BMI, 51% of the calories burned during activity translated into calories burned at the end of the day. For those with normal BMI, however, 72% of calories burned during activity were reflected in total expenditure.

The researchers investigated the effects of activity on energy expenditure and how these effects differ between individuals.

“When enrolled into exercise programs for weight loss, most people lose a little weight. Some individuals lose lots, but a few unlucky individuals actually gain weight,” said Prof. John Speakman from SIAT, co-corresponding author of the study.

The reason for these individual responses is probably because of what are called compensatory mechanisms. These include eating more food because exercise stimulates our appetite, or reducing our expenditure on other components like our resting metabolism, so that the exercise is in effect less costly.

“But we wanted to find out why some people show such compensatory mechanisms and others don’t,” said Prof. Lewis Halsey from the University of Roehampton in the UK, lead author of the study. The analysis found that two things dominate the extent of compensation. One is age–older people compensate more. The other is obesity specifically; people living with obesity cut back their resting metabolism when they are more active. The result is that for every calorie they spend on exercise they save about half a calorie on resting.

This is a cruel twist for individuals with obesity. For such people, losing weight by increasing activity is likely to be substantially harder than for a lean person, whose compensation is much less and whose need to lose weight is much lower.

“Around the world, national guidelines tend to recommend a 500–600 calorie deficit through exercising and dieting to lose weight. However, they do not take into account the reduction of calories being burned in the most basic of human functions as the body compensates for the calories burned on the exercise,” said Prof. Halsey.

Prof. Speakman added: “This analysis using data from the DLW database shows how individuals are not all the same in the way they budget their energy use. People living with obesity may be particularly efficient at hanging onto their fat stores, making weight loss difficult.”

Reference: “Energy compensation and adiposity in humans” by Vincent Careau, Lewis G. Halsey, Herman Pontzer, Philip N. Ainslie, Lene F. Andersen, Liam J. Anderson, Lenore Arab, Issad Baddou, Kweku Bedu-Addo, Ellen E. Blaak, Stephane Blanc, Alberto G. Bonomi, Carlijn V.C. Bouten, Maciej S. Buchowski, Nancy F. Butte, Stefan G.J.A. Camps, Graeme L. Close, Jamie A. Cooper, Sai Krupa Das, Richard Cooper, Lara R. Dugas, Simon D. Eaton, Ulf Ekelund, Sonja Entringer, Terrence Forrester, Barry W. Fudge, Annelies H. Goris, Michael Gurven, Catherine Hambly, Asmaa El Hamdouchi, Marije B. Hoos, Sumei Hu, Noorjehan Joonas, Annemiek M. Joosen, Peter Katzmarzyk, Kitty P. Kempen, Misaka Kimura, William E. Kraus, Robert F. Kushner, Estelle V. Lambert, William R. Leonard, Nader Lessan, Corby K. Martin, Anine C. Medin, Erwin P. Meijer, James C. Morehen, James P. Morton, Marian L. Neuhouser, Theresa A. Nicklas, Robert M. Ojiambo, Kirsi H. Pietiläinen, Yannis P. Pitsiladis, Jacob Plange-Rhule, Guy Plasqui, Ross L. Prentice, Roberto A. Rabinovich, Susan B. Racette, David A. Raichlen, Eric Ravussin, John J. Reilly, Rebecca M. Reynolds, Susan B. Roberts, Albertine J. Schuit, Anders M. Sjödin, Eric Stice, Samuel S. Urlacher, Giulio Valenti, Ludo M. Van Etten, Edgar A. Van Mil, Jonathan C.K. Wells, George Wilson, Brian M. Wood, Jack Yanovski, Tsukasa Yoshida, Xueying Zhang, Alexia J. Murphy-Alford, Cornelia U. Loechl, Amy H. Luke, Jennifer Rood, Hiroyuki Sagayama, Dale A. Schoeller, William W. Wong, Yosuke Yamada, John R. Speakman and the IAEA DLW database group, 27 August 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.08.016

Chinese Academy of SciencesExerciseMetabolismObesityPopularWeight Loss
Comments ( 7 )
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  • Joe

    Terrible awful pseudoscience garbage, exercising builds muscle which burns more calories at rest. This article is dangerous.

  • BK

    This is propaganda for the morbidly obese to latch onto. Exercise doesn’t cause you to gain weight, what you put in your mouth does.

  • Phil

    Eat less food,plain and simple. Replace bad habits, like overeating, with good habits, like exercise. It will always be said, you have to do the work.

  • Michael

    Show me your phds if you want to argue with their research.. not disagreeing that exercise is needed to lose weight but they were looking into compensation mechanisms.. read properly before speaking your own beliefs

  • Greg Doucette

    Here that, piggy? It’s not your fault, there’s literally NOTHING you can do. *eyeroll*

  • Junbugga

    Look at the already Douchbag Gym rats leaving thier comments. It has nothing to do with fat loving. Its called freaking genetics. I excersie a lot, I eat healthy and even when I go out to eat I eat plain becuase I dont like American sauce which is very sugary. Some have under active thyroid, which dont get diagnose easily becuase the doctors always think its something else. I make sure I have at least 8k steps a day. Im consider obsessed. For me I would actually need to workout 4-6 hours a day to be lean again. Ah I love my fruits and vegetables. I dont eat as much fruits as I used to but I do eat more fish and vegetables than meats and im still fat. Oh and I dont over eat bc I get full easily. So gym rats who mostly work in a gym with those body get more excerise than an average person.

  • Unidentified flying f***

    Aha, so if somebody lifts and gains muscle, the more muscle mass they gain will cause them to burn less in rested state? Clickbait bs