Why the number on the scales isn’t the be-all and end-all

31/12/2019
Why the number on the scales isn’t the be-all and end-all

Stop fretting about your weight when you embark on your road to fitness – it can be a false indicator and might even be bad for you.

Why? If there is no evidence of change in the right direction (which is often the case, despite the myriad health improvements we get as soon as we start exercising), we lose motivation and give up. We return to old sedentary habits – which is detrimental to our health.

Dr Jinger Gottschall of Penn State University and Bryce Hastings teamed up a couple of years ago to run a study on a group of individuals who were struggling to establish an exercise habit. These were normal folks who, like so many, just couldn’t find the will to exercise on a regular basis.

So, after lots of tests, they started on a plan. They started with three sessions per week for 20 minutes in week one, and slowly increased the frequency and duration until they were doing the recommended mix of cardio, strength and flexibility training by the end of week six. They were monitored for six months, repeating the same tests at the end (for full details on the research go here).

As you’d expect, six months of regular exercise transformed their health. They reduced all of their indicators for heart disease and, most importantly, they felt awesome!

Their cholesterol, triglycerides and fat mass all reduced significantly. The women improved their cardiovascular fitness by a massive 49.6 percent, and the men by 63.5 percent. By the end of the study we estimated they had delayed the onset of cardiovascular disease by 3.8 years due to the six month program. Amazing.

And what would their bathroom scales have told them after six months?

Guys, you lost a paltry 4.7kg; and ladies, you lost 3.1kg. Had we not had all the fancy testing facilities at our disposal, some would have seen this as a dismal failure and thought, “Why did I bother?”.

The reason the change in weight was so low was because of the muscle gains they achieved. The guys increased their lean muscle tissue by 25 percent and the women by 12.2 percent.

Muscle gains (which are phenomenally good for us) will always offset the fat loss. So, while the health benefits are substantial, the change on the scales might not be so significant.

One in every three deaths in the US is caused by cardiovascular disease. Following a regular exercise regime can massively reduce your chances of being the next one, regardless of whether or not you shrink a little in the process.

So how do you know your exercise program has you on the right track? The waist band on your trousers isn’t as tight, you don’t puff as much when you walk up a hill, and you feel great. Don’t let the number on the scales discourage or stop you from improving your fitness.

This piece originally appeared on lesmills.com