January 18, 2022

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Exercise impacts appetite in unexpected ways, study finds

3 min read

A new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise addressed the age-old question: does exercise make us eat more afterwards or decrease our appetite for the next meal?

The research studied physically inactive men and women, finding that among those who worked out, when given a mouth-watering buffet lunch afterward, they did not overeat, but they didn’t skip dessert or take smaller portions either, suggesting that exercise during the holidays will likely not help us eat less or lose weight.

A mother exercises on a fitness ball with her young son inside their home. She is teaching the boy the importance of a healthy lifestyle by proper stretching and exercising.

A mother exercises on a fitness ball with her young son inside their home. She is teaching the boy the importance of a healthy lifestyle by proper stretching and exercising.

Prior research studies show that those who start to exercise do not decrease as much weight as the burned calories actually suggests, namely because our bodies are wired through years of evolution to hold onto fat stores as a way to protect us for the worst case scenario of a famine – however unlikely that may be, the New York Times noted.

When we burn calories while exercising, our bodies compensate to reduce our daily energy needs afterwards, limiting the chance to lose weight through working out, the New York Times reported.

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Previous studies relied on healthy young men and women, not sedentary older adults, noting mixed results where some concluded that especially strenuous exercise that is prolonged decreased people’s appetites for hours into the following day, while other studies found people eating more at their next meal after working out.

The scientists performed the new study, studying 24 Colorado men and women, from ages 18 to 55, who were overweight and not very active at baseline.

The participants visited the lab every morning for breakfast, and then on different days, they sat quietly, walked at a brisk pace on treadmills, or lifted weights for 45 minutes.

Man during bench press exercise in gym

Man during bench press exercise in gym
(iStock)

Afterwards, the researchers asked how hungry they subjectively were and also observed as they ate a scrumptious buffet lunch, complete with salad, soda, lasagna, and pound cake with strawberries.

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The results showed the volunteers not only did not feel more or less hungry after their workouts compared with just sitting, but they also ate about the same amount during lunch, regardless if they worked out or not.

The study suggests at minimum brisk walking or light weight lifting may not influence eating habits afterwards as compared to “other factors,” such as the aroma of the enticing lasagna, buttery rolls or pie, according to research lead Dr. Tanya Halliday, an assistant professor of health and kinesiology at the University of Utah.

Dec. 11, 2012: In this photo, Zendi Solano, center, trains with running club members Rian Barrett, second from right, and Richard Chen in Pasadena, Calif.

Dec. 11, 2012: In this photo, Zendi Solano, center, trains with running club members Rian Barrett, second from right, and Richard Chen in Pasadena, Calif.
(AP)

The study has limitations because it only examined at one brief session of moderate exercise with only a small number of participants who were mainly out-of-shape, noting people who work out more regularly might respond differently.

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The study concluded that exercise might help with weight control, noting the exercise burned approximately 300 calories, which was fewer than the roughly 1,000 calories consumed at lunch, but hundreds more than they consumed while sitting. Halliday reminded “people shouldn’t be afraid that if they exercise, they will overeat.”

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