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More cycling might not mean greater weight loss, according to study

Researchers say that beyond a certain point energy requirements plateau

A recent US study has found that those who undertake moderate levels of activity will typically burn as many calories as those who do significantly more. The researchers concluded that metabolism adapts to the volume of exercise a person does so that effort beyond a certain ‘sweet spot’ does not require additional energy.

Carried out by researchers at the City University of New York and published in the journal Current Biology, the study looked at the daily energy requirements of over 300 men and women in five countries across Africa and North America over the course of a week.

While those who led moderate lifestyles – cycling to work or visiting the gym twice a week – burned 200 calories more than those who were more sedentary, it was found that the number of calories burnt plateaued among those who exercised more.

Study confirms weight loss effect of commuting by bike

Lead scientist Dr Herman Pontzer said the main message was for people not to rely on exercise alone when trying to lose weight.

“Exercise is really important for your health. That's the first thing I mention to anyone asking about the implications of this work for exercise.

"There is tons of evidence that exercise is important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy, and this work does nothing to change that message.

“What our work adds is that we also need to focus on diet, particularly when it comes to managing our weight and preventing or reversing unhealthy weight gain.”

The study came about after Pontzer spent time working with the Hadza people of northern Tanzania. He describes the hunter-gatherers as being ‘incredibly active’ buts says they have similar calorific requirements to those living a modern Western lifestyle.

"The Hadza are incredibly active, walking long distances each day and doing a lot of hard physical work as part of their everyday life.

"Despite these high activity levels, we found that they had similar daily energy expenditures to people living more sedentary, modernised lifestyles in the United States and Europe. That was a real surprise."

Dr Frankie Phillips, a dietician, and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, told The Guardian that the findings shouldn’t be cause for spurning exercise.

“It is an interesting study and there is a possibility that if we are very, very active there may be some adaptation. But for most people even moderate activity isn’t what they are achieving at the moment and that’s crucial. Let’s not put people off before they have even got to a stage where they are moderately active.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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timtak | 8 years ago

I agree with Kie
It seem to me that on the contrary, by riding my bike a lot I keep my metabolism up. Thanks to my bike, and about 200km a week, I am back down to the weight I was at about 20 at 50.

brucedinsmore23... | 8 years ago

I lost quite a lot of weight when I raced the Great Divide race in 2007. That's despite drinking a pint of half n half (cream and milk) each day. But that was riding 200km a day off road with all your kit! 

leewalton | 8 years ago

Wow... effictively, according to the headline, they've managed to disprove a fundamental law of physics, the law appertaining to "conservation of energy".

Work requires energy. The body only has a finite store of energy that it can use before it starts burning reserves (fat). Some reserves might be easier to turn into energy than others (glycogen). So yes, the rate of weight loss might decrease, but if you're consuming less calories than you burn, you will lose weight.

What these researchers have found in these Tanzanians won't effect me unless I die and I'm reborn as a Tanzanian.

kie7077 | 8 years ago


I found additional cycling to be very beneficial to losing weight when I was dieting. Now I am struggling not to lose weight as I cycle hundreds of miles a week. Article is pure stupidity.

And calling walking exercise is pushing it.

jollygoodvelo replied to kie7077 | 8 years ago

kie7077 wrote:

And calling walking exercise is pushing it.


There are plenty of people for whom walking is strenuous.  You can see lots of these people if you visit your local Iceland, Farmfoods or Ladbrokes.

Cantab | 8 years ago
1 like

This is not really surprising, we know the body's metabolic rate recalibrates to long term trends in energy intake and output.

This is just the corrolary of the fact that once you've been obese, if you get back to a normal BMI you need ~300 fewer calories per day than a person of the same normal BMI to maintain that weight. This is because your body calibrates your BMI to a certain food intake, activity and body weight state, so it sees the dieted 'normal' state as famine.

Here we have the inverse, long term high levels of activity promote changes in metabolism and physiology which optimise efficiency, so higher levels of activity can be sustained from the same calorie intake.

It's like millions of years of evolution have optimised us to survive lean times and hunt even when our bellies are empty...

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