Three Longs & Three Shorts

The Calorie Counter: Evolutionary anthropologist Herman Pontzer busts myths about how humans burn calories—and why

Herman Pontzer, a scientist at Duke University, has conducted research and shown what some of us have long suspected: exercise and a more active life does NOT help you lose calories. What exercise does is it helps you stay healthy, stay fit i.e. those who exercise more tend to suffer fewer illnesses as they age. If you want to lose weight there is only one way to do so – control your diet: “Pontzer is happy to expound on weight loss…but his real mission is to understand how, alone among great apes, humans manage to have it all, energetically speaking: We have big brains, lengthy childhoods, many children, and long lives. The energy budget needed to support those traits involves trade-offs he’s trying to unravel, between energy spent on exercise, reproduction, stress, illness, and vital functions.
By borrowing a method developed by physiologists studying obesity, Pontzer and colleagues systematically measure the total energy used per day by animals and people in various walks of life. The answers coming from their data are often surprising: Exercise doesn’t help you burn more energy on average; active hunter-gatherers in Africa don’t expend more energy daily than sedentary office workers in Illinois; pregnant women don’t burn more calories per day than other adults, after adjusting for body mass.”