If you listen to our podcast, you may have heard us talk about the “compensatory engine”, a subconscious mental system that kicks in when we starve ourselves or burn a ton of calories through exercise.
The compensatory engine is an ancient system that is designed to protect us from starving to death by compelling us to seek out food or to burn fewer calories when energy was scarce, which, by the way, was most of our existence.
In a nutshell, when we diet or exercise too much we get a little lazier and/or a little hungrier so that we burn less and eat more.
A recent study suggests that moderate activity in the morning may allow you to burn calories without activating the compensatory engine within the brain! This is the holy grail of hormonal weight loss because we want to change the hormones in such a way that make us naturally less hungry and more active…
In this study, researchers took some normal weight and overweight folks and had them perform 45 minutes of light exercise in the form of brisk walking. Then, within an hour of finishing their workout, the researchers performed brain scans while showing the subjects pictures of food or flowers (which acted as control).
After one week, the subjects returned to the lab where the researchers ran the same study under identical conditions, this time, however, the subjects did not exercise…
Here are the fascinating findings:
- A morning program of brisk walking decreased activity within the areas of the brain associated with food seeking behavior
- The morning walkers were compelled to be more active during the day, while all day activity dropped on the day when they did not walk
- The morning walk did not result in an activation of the compensatory engine, in fact, the subjects ate less and moved more on the days that they walked!
How to use this information:
- Starting the day with brisk walking appears to offer dividends that benefit you all day long! So…walk more, especially in the morning.
- Don’t assume that all exercise will have the same effect. This study determined that a 45 minute brisk walk in the morning decreases all-day appetite and promotes all-day activity. Other more aggressive exercise sessions, such as long jogging or cycling sessions, may result in the opposite effect. More research is needed to assess how we respond to various forms of exercise.
- We don’t yet know if we receive the same lasting benefits when brisk walking is performed later in the day. At least a portion of the benefit of walking in the morning comes from the “metabolic dividends” that work for you during the day when food is available. Even if the walking provides the same benefits when performed in the afternoon or evening, you normally don’t eat while you sleep so the benefits to satiety may peak at a time when they don’t benefit you.
- Walking is an effective form of exercise for fat loss, this study simply reiterates that benefits of certain types of exercise go well beyond the calories burned by the activity.