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Physical activity and energy balance

  • Marleen A. Van Baak (a1)

Energy expenditure rises above resting energy expenditure when physical activity is performed. The activity-induced energy expenditure varies with the muscle mass involved and the intensity at which the activity is performed: it ranges between 2 and 18 METs approximately. Differences in duration, frequency and intensity of physical activities may create considerable variations in total energy expenditure. The Physical Activity Level (= total energy expenditure divided by resting energy expenditure) varies between 1.2 and 2.2–2.5 in healthy adults. Increases in activity-induced energy expenditure have been shown to result in increases in total energy expenditure, which are usually greater than the increase in activity-induced energy expenditure itself. No evidence for increased spontaneous physical activity, measured by diary, interview or accelerometer, was found. However, this does not exclude increased physical activity that can not be measured by these methods. Part of the difference may also be explained by the post-exercise elevation of metabolic rate.

If changes in the level of physical activity affect energy balance, this should result in changes in body mass or body composition. Modest decreases of body mass and fat mass are found in response to increases in physical activity, induced by exercise training, which are usually smaller than predicted from the increase in energy expenditure. This indicates that the training-induced increase in total energy expenditure is at least partly compensated for by an increase in energy intake. There is some evidence that the coupling between energy expenditure and energy intake is less at low levels of physical activity. Increasing the level of physical activity for weight loss may therefore be most effective in the most sedentary individuals.

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