We all know the age-old weight loss adage “move more, eat less”, but now, it seems, it may not be the best advice – especially if you’re over 40.
Always thought that if you diet and exercise at the same time, you'll lose more weight? Sadly, you’re wrong. In fact, you could be doing more harm than good. So it could be time to ditch the best fitness tracker (opens in new tab) for a while. That’s because a study (opens in new tab) has revealed that just a 30% drop in calories (which is equivalent to 1,400 calories per day (opens in new tab) for women), combined with exercise, could lead to bone density loss (opens in new tab).
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina (opens in new tab). Scientists compared the effects on mice that were fed a standard diet and those with a diet with 30% less calories than normal.
The results showed that although exercise increased bone mass on mice fed a normal diet, it actually had the opposite effect on mice fed the fewer calories.
Why you should never diet and exercise at the same time
So, why is diet and exercise at the same time so bad for bone health? “We all know that exercise increases bone mass and reduces bone fat. And excess calories tend to increase fat in the bones, leading to osteoporosis,” says nutritionist Georgios Tzenichristos, director of London’s LipoTherapeia (opens in new tab) aesthetic practice. “So, one would expect that combining exercise and diet should lead to even better bone health. Yet, this study shows the opposite.”
And the reason why? “The secret lies in bone energy reserves,” reveals Georgios.
“When we diet, we tend to accumulate fatty acids in the bone marrow. This is to serve the local energy needs in the bone. This study has shown that fatty acid absorption inside the bone has increased by 4,088% on the diet mice. By adding exercise into the mix, those emergency energy reserves were depleted. This leave bone cells starving and unable to repair (opens in new tab) and build bone mass.”
What makes this especially bad for women over 40?
If you’re a woman over 40, the risk regarding bone health is higher, as bone quality starts to naturally decline, thanks to the menopause (opens in new tab).
It’s not just bones that are affected, either. In fact, low-calorie diets and exercise are also bad for the skin. “The body does not have enough nutrients to repair both muscles and skin with the reduced food intake and the increased tissue breakdown due to exercise,” says Georgios.
Instead, the best way to lose weight is to first diet for a few weeks, combined with only mild exercise,such as walking (opens in new tab). Then, gradually ease off the diet and increase your exercise intensity and duration (opens in new tab).
“In this way, you lose the bulk of the weight with a strict – but never extreme – diet, and then you maintain it with exercise and healthy eating,” says Georgios.
Lucy Gornall is the former Health & Fitness editor at Future and a personal trainer specializing in pre and post-natal exercise.
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