Does physical activity account for only a small portion of daily energy expenditure?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 04, 2012 at 3:36 AM

I found this New York Times article to be interesting. The article, Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout, has this to say about the "Hadza people of Tanzania, one of the few remaining populations of traditional hunter-gatherers":

The Hadza live in simple grass huts in the middle of a dry East African savanna. They have no guns, vehicles, crops or livestock. Each day the women comb miles of hilly terrain, foraging for tubers, berries and other wild plant foods, often while carrying infants, firewood and water. Men set out alone most days to collect honey or hunt for game using handmade bows and poison-tipped arrows, often covering 15 to 20 miles.

We found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States. We ran a number of statistical tests, accounting for body mass, lean body mass, age, sex and fat mass, and still found no difference in daily energy expenditure between the Hadza and their Western counterparts.

The article draws this conclusion:

All of this means that if we want to end obesity, we need to focus on our diet and reduce the number of calories we eat, particularly the sugars our primate brains have evolved to love. We???re getting fat because we eat too much, not because we???re sedentary. Physical activity is very important for maintaining physical and mental health, but we aren???t going to Jazzercise our way out of the obesity epidemic.

What do you think of this article? Will people use it to excuse themselves from performing any exercise? I think movement is really important for a number of reasons, although I agree with the article that we shouldn't expect movement to burn many calories.



on September 08, 2012
at 03:14 AM

LOVE this line: "Physical activity is very important for maintaining physical and mental health, but we aren’t going to Jazzercise our way out of the obesity epidemic."


on September 04, 2012
at 02:41 PM

great question. I totally agree that the focus should be on diet. In my experience, the exercise (even primal style) doesn't do much for me unless I'm a fat burner.

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4 Answers



on September 04, 2012
at 02:13 PM

I've been saying this for years! Go look at my past answers for examples. Exercise and activity in general does not burn much extra energy. AND as you exercise more and get better at it, your body becomes more efficient and burns even LESS for the same workout.

You can never exercise weight off, you need a good diet for that. Exercise has tons of other benefits. Weight loss just isn't one of them.


on September 04, 2012
at 07:30 AM

I think this article has a good point. If you look at the statistics, obesity arose with changes in diet, not activity levels. We have become increasingly sedentary as a species since the good ol' days of hunting and gathering, but obesity didn't become a problem until we changed our diet. (Eating more carbs and processed sugars, and cutting out dietary fats).


on September 04, 2012
at 12:42 PM

See: http://skylertanner.com/2012/06/04/the-truth-about-exercise/. He says that research shows that exercise alone will not help you lose weight. You simply MUST eat less as well. (Exercise does have other metabolic advantages, however so we should exercise.)


on September 04, 2012
at 04:10 AM

Well I guess we'd have to ask ourselves which is better, eat poorly + exercise or eat well + no exercise? Very few do either one, but if there was only one option...

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