Following a weight-loss diet can be hard. A new study shows that exercise can help by regulating hunger in a way that cuts down on overeating.
Researchers from the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University found that exercise helped participants stick to a reduced-calorie diet.
“Almost all behavioral weight loss programs prescribe exercise because of its health benefits and because it expends energy or ‘burns calories,’” said Rebecca Crochiere, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “Interestingly, our study suggests that exercise may also aid in adhering to a reduced-calorie diet, perhaps through improved regulation of appetite or eating behavior. It adds another reason to engage in exercise if one is seeking weight loss.”
When the study participants did not exercise, the risk of overeating in the following hours went up 12 percent. But after an hour of exercise, the risk of overeating was cut by more than half, to five percent. For every additional 10 minutes of exercise, the likelihood of overeating decreased by one percent.
Researchers collected data from 130 participants using brief surveys delivered to participants’ smartphones multiple times a day to measure overeating, and hip-worn fitness trackers to measure exercise.
“These findings can help researchers to better understand when participants who are seeking weight loss are at risk of overeating,” said Crochiere. “It can inform the development of treatments that prevent overeating and facilitate weight loss.”
Crochiere cautioned that these findings represent patterns observed across the sample as a whole. A goal for future research is to investigate if the effect of exercise on eating behavior differs from person to person.
The results also hinted that the effect of exercise on eating behavior may depend on the intensity of the exercise, with light (versus moderate-to-vigorous) physical activity showing the strongest protective effects against overeating. Crochiere said more research is needed to support this finding.