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Diet & exercise: Small changes, big gains

Have you packed in your weight loss diet yet? Many people will have done so by now and a few others will be hanging on in there for another couple of weeks before returning to their old behaviours. As someone once wryly remarked “The problem with willpower is that it usually lasts six weeks and dissolves in alcohol”. 

Our own Healthier Weight support forum reveals many patients are feeling fed up because their weight loss has slowed down since a little Christmas indulgence and they are finding it hard to re-focus on their weight loss efforts. One of the reasons for this is that many see weight loss in terms of black and white – it’s all or nothing. 

Instead of making big gestures which have a high probability of failure or waiting “for the ideal dieting conditions” (there aren’t any), it would be so much more beneficial to choose a modest, realistic goal for 2012 of a brisk daily walk. 

Lots of websites will tell you how many calories you burn when walking. Unfortunately many over-estimate the effect because they don’t take into account the calorie burn which would have occurred had you chosen to sit on the sofa doing nothing. This is important if we are to understand the true impact of walking on body weight. For example, if you weigh 200lbs and walk for 20 minutes at 3mph, your total calorie burn is 106 cals. But had you decided to stay on the sofa, your calorie burn would still have been 46 cals. So your net calorie burn (NCB) over the 20 minutes is actually 60 cals not 106. As a general rule, if you walk at 3mph your NCB per mile is 0.3 x your weight in pounds. 

A 30-minute walk each day has been shown to improve general fitness and muscle strength, to lower blood pressure and to reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. It is also excellent weight loss exercise, using anywhere between 60-100 extra calories/day. Over a 12-month period this equates to a fat loss of 6-10lbs. So for 2012 make a good walk part of your daily routine and use your saved gym fees to reward yourself with a holiday – an activity one of course!


Dr David Ashton MD PhD
25th January 2012

A version of this blog appeared in the January issue of Reader’s Digest 

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