Exercise is good for you. It may even be good for your metabolism, brain health, mood and heart health–it’s just one of several ways in which physical activity can improve well-being. But new research from the University of Rochester’s Maharishi University of Management shows that vigorous exercise can also reduce appetite in certain overweight individuals.
In a study of 33 adults, the researchers found that while both the intensity and duration of exercise increased the appetite and weight, the duration and intensity of exercise–not the frequency of exercise–had the strongest effect. And those who performed the most vigorous physical activity had the largest decrease in appetite. (The study was published in the March issue of Current Opinion in Endocrinology and Metabolism.)
“This demonstrates that when you engage in prolonged activity, it is that intensity of exercise that matters,” the researchers wrote. “This is true in both one-time exposures and multi-session exposures.”
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The researchers reviewed data from overweight/obese adults’ sleep, eating and activity to calculate how long the typical nighttime hours would be tolerated by participants.
“We made the projection that if somebody engages in intense physical activity over about five to eight hours, then they can eat something that’s fairly normal, but they might not necessarily be able to sustain it beyond that, and they might not eat the meal as well as they otherwise would,” says researcher Barbara Sherf, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology at Maharishi University of Management and a registered dietitian at Rush University Medical Center. “When they are able to sustain that high activity level, their appetite goes down because their body is less fatigued and overstressed.”
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Of course, it’s still important to moderate this effect: Both heavier and lighter individuals affected differently by vigorous physical activity.
In the last three decades, the average American health-care expenditure has increased 44 percent, while GDP per capita has remained flat. Professor Sherf compares this phenomenon to the financial troubles faced by the American automobile industry in the last 40 years. “The car industry had the same size population for 50 years, so why did so many vehicles become less fuel efficient and fewer people had to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles?” she says. “We have to be aware of the economic impact and have a plan to lower the cost of healthcare.”
While such studies should be interpreted with caution, Sherf says it’s important to “see if there are other hypotheses about what might be happening to the physiology and fats.”
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Dr. Sherf is an instructor of kinesiology at Maharishi University of Management, where she is a registered dietitian and advisor to the Human Performance Center. Her doctoral dissertation, “The Health Effects of Longer Work Hours and Projected Disaggregated Future Population Predictions in India,” examines the benefits of long-term physical activity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship in functional physiology at the Institute for Integrated Human Performance and Behavior at the University of Iowa.
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