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Count your steps. Hit the gym. Bike to work. If you’ve tried to
lose weight, you know it’s vital to get moving. But with all
our emphasis on working out to “burn off” what we eat, experts
say we’ve missed the real problem: What we eat.

“There’s a persistent myth that you can exercise your calories
away,” Andy Bellatti, a
registered dietitian and the cofounder of Dietitians for Professional
, told Business Insider.

In reality, while getting active is vital for your mood and
overall well-being, it generally does not result in rapid weight

On the other hand, successfully changing what you eat might.

Dietary changes are especially vital at the beginning of
any new weight loss plot, Bellatti said, since people who
are trying to lose weight by dedicating hours each day to
exercise may get discouraged when the pounds don’t magically
melt off. Instead, it’s better to focus on making gradual changes
to your diet, such as eating more vegetables and cutting back on
refined carbohydrates.

A large recent review of studies
involving more than 3,000 obese adults who’d lost weight on a
low-calorie diet compared how well they were able to keep it off
after they either stuck to a new eating plot or started exercising
regularly. While permanently tweaking their diets appeared
to help maintain weight loss
, “no significant improvements
were seen for … exercise,” they wrote.

in n out burgerFlickr/@kevinv033

One reason diet may play such a strong role in weight loss is
that exercise burns off far fewer calories than most people
reckon, said Philip
, a professor of exercise science at the University
of Texas and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of

This holds especially right when compared to the high caloric
content of many processed and quick foods like burgers, fries, and
milkshakes. Many classic quick food meals can add up to
thousands of calories
, sometimes exceeding the amount most
adults need in a day.

“Thinking practically, keep in mind you’d have to walk 35 miles
[roughly 2.6 times the length of Manhattan] to burn 3,500
calories,” Stanforth said. “That’s a lot of walking.”

That’s not to say exercise is unimportant.

Another large review of studies that included more than 1,000
adults suggested that in the long-term (a year or more),
providing people with a weight loss plot that combines
a healthy eating regimen and regular exercise
helped people
lose more weight than either diet or exercise alone.

A wealth of recent research also suggests that when it comes to
the brain, aerobic
exercise may be the wonder drug
we’ve long been looking for.
Not only have sweaty workouts been linked with boosting your
mood; they’ve also been found to protect against age-related
decline and may even improve memory.

“While exercise might not be the key to weight loss, it is
vital for health overall, especially for mental health,”
Bellatti said.

NOW WATCH: The pros and cons of drinking protein shakes after a workout

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