Exercise can make you burn fewer calories at rest, study finds

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In a new study from the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, researchers found exercise reduces the amount of calories burned at rest in people with obesity.

They 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.

In the study, the team used data from 1,750 adults.

They found that in people 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 examined the effects of activity on energy expenditure and how these effects differ between individuals.

The team says 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

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.

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.

The team says 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.

People living with obesity may be particularly efficient at hanging onto their fat stores, making weight loss difficult.

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The study is published in Current Biology. One author of the study is Prof. John Speakman.

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