Hey, we won’t deny it: More exercise means a thinner you.
But only up to an extent. When you start to get into an exercise habit, your metabolism expenditure gets revved up. But as you get more active, the calorie-burning effect gets less and less. Exercise scientists call this the constrained model of energy expenditure.
A global team of scientists decided to put the constrained model to the test. Recruiting 332 participants from across Africa and North America, they tracked their daily activity (via accelerometers) and metabolism, measuring the two against each other for a total of eight days.
Pontzer et al. (2016).
What they found: At low levels of physical activity, total energy expenditure increased, but plateaued when the participants hit a certain point of daily activity. That point was scientifically measured to be 230 counts per minute per day based on accelerometer data. Now, we admit that that’s not a result that translates to a specific level of activity—every participant, after all, had different routines—but the researchers described it as “moderate” physical activity.
What gives? The harder you exercise, the more calories you should burn, right? How, exactly, does your metabolism adapt to your level of physical activity?
The researchers may have an answer. “Energy allocation across a broad range of physiological tasks...may be reduced when physical activity increases, resulting in decreased activity energy expenditure,” they write in their findings, published a week ago in Current Biology. The more calories you burn exercising, your body adjusts by wasting less energy repairing your body.
Think of it as a good thing. The more efficient you are with your energy use, the less inflammation and immune system damage you have, the researchers say.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stop aiming for harder, more intense exercises. Weight loss, after all, isn’t the only goal of exercise. If you want to get stronger, you must increase your exercise intensity.
Plus, researchers say that you could still accelerate your energy burn by reducing your body fat percentage—something high-intensity, full-body exercises are very, very good at doing.
So, what does this study mean? Well, one, it’s more proof that exercise won’t save you from a bad diet. Second, it shows you exactly what you need to beat workout plateaus—by periodically reducing your intensity and shocking your metabolism. Alex Callanta, P.N.-1, coach at 360 Fitness Club Ortigas, gives you this effective plateau-beating tip: “Every fifth or sixth week of your workout, you should deload.” Use lighter weights that are around 40 to 60 percent of the maximum you usually lift.
This story originally appeared on Menshealth.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.