Exercising on low calories? Not great for your bones (and bad for weight loss too)

Intensive diet not compatible with intensive exercise: not for your bones, not for your skin, not for your weight loss effort either

A research paper was published yesterday on a subject that touches many women, especially in today's fitness obsessed world.

Many women make the mistake of exercising intensively AND dieting intensively at the same time. This study shows that this is a bad idea, at least for bone health, and especially for older women.

The study proves that intensive dieting is as detrimental for bone health as excessive eating is. And it proves that exercise is really beneficial for bone health. But what about the combination of dieting and exercising? The study explains the exact reason why the combination is not very helpful, especially for older women.

Low calorie dieting, exercise and bone health

Exercise increases bone mass, diet combined with exercise decreases it

Low calorie dieting together with exercise has always been a bad idea for weight loss and now it sounds even worse, especially for women in their 40s or older.

A research paper published yesterday shows that as little as 30% caloric restriction, equivalent to 1400 calories per day for women, can lead to bone loss, if it is combined with exercise.

The University of North Carolina researchers compared the effects of exercise on mice fed a standard diet and 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 30% less calories.

To put this in context, 30% is the typical caloric reduction that people undergo when they diet "reasonably". Further caloric restriction, as in starvation diets, would have even more detrimental effects on bone health.

We all know that exercise increases bone mass and reduces bone fat, while excess calories tend to increase fat in the bones, leading to osteoporosis. So one would expect that combining exercise and diet should lead to even better bone health. Yet, this study shows the opposite.

So what is it that makes the combination of diet and exercise so bad for our bones?

The secret lies in bone energy reserves.

When we diet, to minimise bone mass, we tend to accumulate fatty acids in the bone marrow to serve the local energy needs in the bone. Indeed, 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, leaving bone cells starving and unable to repair and build bone mass.

Do not combine intensive exercise and diet, especially if you are a woman aged 40+

So the moral of this story is that if you want to lose weight, do not combine diet with exercise, especially if you are a woman in your 40s or older, when bone quality starts to naturally decline with the gradual advent of menopause.

Intensive dieting and exercise: bad for your skin and bad for weight loss too

In any case, most dieting experts would agree that trying to lose weight on very low calories combined with intensive exercise does not work, as it leads to exhaustion and then to a rebound effect with increased appetite and psychological disappointment.

Furthermore, it is also a bad idea for skin, as 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.

The best way to lose weight is to first diet for a few weeks, combined with only mild exercise (e.g. walking), and then gradually ease off your diet and increase your exercise intensity and duration. In this way you lose the bulk of the weight with a strict - but never extreme - diet and then maintain it with exercise and healthy eating.

Building bone mass

In regard to building bone mass, the results of this study were clear: exercise and do not diet and your bone mass will improve. Add exercise into the mix and your bone mass will deteriorate.

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