Exercise: Is it really less important than diet for weight loss?

exercise, diet, and weight lossI have been hearing for some time now that when it comes to weight loss, exercise is not king. Diet is paramount. I mean, the NY Times said it, so it must be true.1 To be fair, they cited many reputable studies in their report that seem to indicate exercise only goes so far in weight management. The amount you can burn in a single exercise session is easily erased by something as innocent as a second helping of dinner or a favorite sweet treat. Also for many, hunger increases after exercise and leads to overconsumption, thereby erasing or even worsening the calorie deficit they were striving for. I get it. I can see how exercise may not be the key piece in the giant puzzle of weight loss.

That being said, I have always had a nagging suspicion that exercise is more important than we think. We already know it helps for a host of issues other than weight loss, including mood/depression, cardiovascular health/blood pressure, blood glucose regulation, hormone balance, improved immune function, etc. People who exercise, on the whole, are healthier. Period. But I still had this feeling that given the right duration and intensity level, exercise has a key role in weight management.

Then this study popped up online2, giving us new insight into what might be going on with our metabolism when we exercise.

Researchers from Karolinska Institute in Sweden found mechanisms in mice by which exercise counteracted fat storage and decreased inflammation. A compound called kynurenic acid, induced via exercise, was the key.

To understand the big picture, backtrack with me real quick. Preceding this study, in 2014, this same group originally published that kynurenic acid in the brain, produced via exercise, supported improved brain function. Exercise produces a sound mind, they declared.

Building on that, they conducted this recent study where they introduced kynurenic acid orally in mice with the goal to reach all the tissues, not just the brain. These mice, while eating a high-fat diet that promoted obesity and elevated blood glucose, stopped gaining weight and in turn converted more of their white fat to brown fat, which is the type that is more metabolically active. They also had improved blood glucose control despite no change in diet.

The theory is that the kynurenic acid in the fat cells promoted this conversion from white to brown fat, while kynurenic acid in the immune cells enhanced anti-inflammatory properties.

These two factors, the increase in metabolically active fat and decreased inflammation, both assist the body’s ability to burn fat as energy and prevent excessive fat storage.

Sounds promising! Lace up those shoes! But then this begs the question, what type of exercise should we be doing to get this benefit?!? What is the magic formula? Running? Light walking? Pilates? HIIT cardio? Cross Fit? Yoga?

Unfortunately, this study does not lay that out as the kynurenic acid was administered orally rather than induced directly via exercise. A little digging, however, and another paper provided exactly that information: endurance exercise.3

Ah, I knew it! I had a suspicion that the time and intensity of exercise mattered. Quick and dirty workouts have their place, but nothing takes the place of a good ol’ get-your-heart-rate-up-for-a sustained-period-of-time-type workout.

What this study showed was that subjects undergoing sustained cardio, in these cases an hour or longer, produced high levels of kynurenic acid in their muscle tissue within an hour after exercise. Subjects doing exercise that involved shorter bursts of intense energy did not see these benefits.

So there you go. Cardio for the win, right? Well yes, mostly I suppose. I think the key takeaway is to remember cardio is important and has an important role in weight management, but don’t let that cause you to overlook the roles of muscle conditioning, toning and even plyometric-type activities to overall strength and health. Varying up your routine to prevent injury and strengthen your body overall is so important as well!

If you are now thinking about what kind of exercise is safe for you, let me put out a quick disclaimer here. I am no exercise physiologist. I work with food to help people lose weight, however, exercise is such a key piece of that puzzle. Also, I have been an avid exerciser since my early 20’s so I tend to talk about it frequently with my clients. That being said, if you need specific advice as to what is safe and appropriate for you to be doing, please consult with your doctor, a physical therapist, or even a certified trainer to develop a plan. My role is to educate that exercise is important. For tailored guidance, particularly if you have injuries or other limitation, see a professional!*

If you feel ok starting up something on your own, let me put out a quick plug for one of my favorite online workout websites, Fitness Blender.com. For approachable, achievable and FUN workouts, this site is the best. Run by a local Seattle couple, they have FREE online workouts for any fitness level and any length of time you happen to have available. I’ll be honest. We don’t always have time for sustained cardio, do we? These workouts can easily fit in your day, whether you have 15 minutes to spare or an hour.

The truth is, though, if you are really serious about shedding that weight for good, regular exercise needs to be a part of your routine.
So yes, do lace up those shoes and get moving because the evidence is clear: exercise, and specifically cardio, supports fat reduction. Of course, you have to watch your diet, too. =)

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180206140630.htm
2. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/upshot/to-lose-weight-eating-less-is-far-more-important-than-exercising-more.html
3. https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpcell.00053.2016

*Always check with your doctor before starting any new type of exercise program. Should you choose to try something new, always start slow and always be aware of proper form. If in doubt, consult a trainer or teacher to master the fundamentals before increasing intensity. Basically, start low and slow to avoid injury!

Bolster Your Immune System Naturally

immune systemHappy New Year! I hope all of you enjoyed a happy and healthy holiday season. My family had a wonderful time, with no sickness (knock on wood), but I must admit, getting ill in December is always a worry, especially since we were sick as dogs just a few Christmases ago. Since then I’ve been much more proactive in warding off illness every opportunity I get. I’ve been reading, consulting the advice of naturopaths and other dietitians, and looking for any way I can to keep things sanitized without becoming a germaphobe.

Given that this is the time of year when some of the worst illness strikes, I thought I’d share with you how we fight to stay healthy through the winter. It’s no easy feat with a 5-year old who loves being dirty and a 2-year old who can frequently be found with a finger up his nose, but for the past two years now, since I started employing a few simple techniques, we have been spared any serious ailments. Time will still tell, but I’m going to keep on it. The best part is, the boys love it! They are always asking for their supplements and love diffusing oils. Let me share my favorites…

1. Vitamin D
We’ve all heard about Vitamin D and why we need it. Well, many think it can also help improve immune function. Since the sun is almost non-existent here in the Northwest during the winter, we naturally produce less Vit D. Regular and extra supplementation is often necessary. My naturopath recommended I take 5,000 IU’s a day given the low status at my last blood draw, so I do some easy Vit D drops daily. For the kids I get some 400IU gummies and they love it. Sometimes, if they really beg, I give them two.

2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is well known for helping with colds and general immune function. In fact, Linus Pauling did extensive research on Vitamin C in the 1960’s and 70’s and thought people should be taking very high doses. He himself reportedly took 12,000 mg a day (for reference, the RDA is set at 60 mg/day). In the words of my 2-year old, that’s a lot! Since then there has been some controversy about recommending that high a dose, but nonetheless upping your Vit C intake during the winter is a good idea. Naturally you can get that through foods, but I also keep a supplement on hand for those times I feel like a bug is coming on or for any reason think I might need a little extra protection. The kiddos get an easy Vit C gummy that they always find excuses to ask for.

3. Elderberry Syrup
Ahh, my favorite. I love this stuff. I swear by it. I started using it for myself and the kids two years ago and so far no major illness. Not even barely a cold. Now, it’s not exactly known for working with colds, but it is known for having antiviral properties, and that makes it great for combating the flu. In fact, research has shown that Elderberry Syrup works better than Tamiflu, shortening the duration of the flu from 7 days to 4. That’s pretty significant! So let’s see, I could take a drug with known side effects, or I could take a safe, natural extract that produces better results. Done. Absolutely love this stuff. The Naturopath in our office, Dr. Jones, picks wild elderberries and makes an extraction of her own every winter that she sells in the clinic. Let me know if you need a hook up. One more anecdote. My husband had what he thinks was the flu last week (101 degree temp, body aches, congestion, etc), and he took Elderberry syrup every couple hours. He drank most of that bottle I got from Dr. Jones, darn it all. But … his fever was gone in 2 ½ days and he was almost completely better in 4 (doesn’t that line up with what I just said about Elderberry?). A client of mine reported the exact same results. This is one to keep stocked in your fridge. In case you are wondering, I use the Gaia brand. I you have any trouble finding it, let me know and I can send you a link to my online dispensary.

4. Essential Oils
At first I was a bit skeptical about these, but now I’m hooked. Another one I can’t live without, especially for the boys. I have anti-bacterial oils diffusing in their rooms almost nightly and again, not even sniffle. Oh wait, both boys had a sniffle over the weekend but now its gone. Whatever that was got nipped in the bud. I buy mine through Doterra, but there are lots of places to get oils. I really am a complete novice in how to use the variety of oils out there so you will have to do some of your own research. Currently I’m using On Guard by Doterra which seems to be doing the job. Other brands probably have their own immune blends so find something you like and give it a try.

5. Coconut oil
Did you know that coconut oil has specific fatty acids that are known to be antiviral and can also kill yeast like Candida? Indeed. I make a point to cook with coconut oil, especially during the winter, to make sure we all have some of these beneficial fatty acids working in our system. How do I use it? Add a teaspoon to my oatmeal, make pancakes with melted coconut oil, put a little in my smoothie, make pureed vegetable soups with a little coconut oil swirled in …you get the picture. There are a tons of ways to add this healthy fat to your diet.

6. Healthy Diet
Uh, I think this is totally a given. You have to have a healthy diet to support a strong immune system. Supplements can only get you so far. There is a synergistic effect between the vitamins, phytochemicals and other compounds in whole foods that support your whole body. A pill cannot mimic that. A well-rounded diet will make sure you are supporting all of your body’s systems instead of tearing them down. If you are constantly creating inflammation or taxing your liver on unimportant matters (eating crappy food, for example), then your body will not have the resources or energy to fight an infection. Basically, when you get sick it’s going to be bad and it’s going to be long. So winter is definitely the time to change up your diet. Make big batches of vegetable soups, steam lots of veggies, and even consider drinking warm cups of bone broth. One of my new favorite things to do is to make recipes from vegetarian cookbooks, which are typically chocked full of veggies, obviously, and then add meat as needed (ie for the husband). That way the meat isn’t the focus and the veggies shine with their ginormous amounts of vitamins and minerals.

7. Thymucin
This is the only one on the list that I have not actually used myself. I recently read about it and its amazing immune boosting properties. Apparently it helps activate T-killer cells and helps you kick colds and other illnesses before they even start. Definitely putting this on my list for my next supplement order!

8. And last but not least, wash hands! Wash hands as frequently as possible. You don’t need hand sanitizer friends, you just need good ol’ soap and water with a lot of friction. I make it rule now to wash my hands whenever I enter the house from being out. Heaven knows what I picked up along the way, so best to wash it off and start afresh. This is doubly true for the rug rats!

Now, I would remiss to do an article on immune function without at least briefly mentioning the flu shot. I know, I know. Controversy! I go back and forth on this ALL THE TIME. Most years I’ve gotten it but then my healthiest winters have now been the ones I have not gotten it. What is a mom to do? Spoiler alert, I do not have the answer. Alls I know is that the shot is 40-60% effective at best, that people who get the flu shot can still get the flu, and I don’t want Mercury pumped into my blood stream, however small the dose. I have been told that some natural stores carry the non-mercury shots, so that could be a good consideration if you are on the fence. I’m told our local Pharmaca here in Seattle is a great place to go. I still haven’t made up my mind on what to do this year, but I’m going to keep up numbers 1-6 in the meantime.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net