Along the lines of this question on activity and weight loss, there was a study published in 2016, that essentially found that the body will self adjust, to keep calorie expenditure relatively stable regardless of the amount of physical activity. This was done across a moderate sized cohort (330+ people) across several locales.

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As seen by the above graph, the common assumption is that "other" (BMR, etc) is one set, and as you increase physical activity, Total Energy Expenditure (TDEE or TEE) just grows.

What the study found, is that the body will self adjust, and lower the daily cost (by fidgeting less, resting more, etc) so that the total expenditure plateaus. If correct, this would explain the plateau effect on weight loss, as muscle builds to reflect current activity. By extension, that means that only by actually changing the physical requirements of the body (muscle burns more than fat to maintain) can we achieve a sustainable fat loss.

So as health professionals, should we be turning more towards weightlifting as a primary activity to physically change the metabolic requirements of the body?

Related studies for further reading:

  • Can you, by any chance, find at least one or two more studies that conclude about the same, because these conclusions do not sound realistic to me. In the study, physical activity was measured using wearable tri-axial accelerometers. In this study they compared physical activity estimates across different accelerometer wear locations, wear time protocols, and data processing techniques and the "estimates varied by 52% across techniques, and by as much as 41% across wear locations."
    – Jan
    Jun 21, 2019 at 16:40
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    The plateau in some other studies was associated with weight loss - at lower weight you burn less calories with the same activity.
    – Jan
    Jun 21, 2019 at 16:44
  • @Jan - Through link surfing and browsing google scholar, I found a few. Nothing directly supporting the Cell publication, and surprisingly (at least under my search) little independent studies on accelerometer validity. (Found a few paid for by wearable companies, so conclusions are suspect).
    – JohnP
    Jun 21, 2019 at 17:08
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    The additional studies mention how people change behavior - with increased exercise they increase energy intake, which is why they don't lose weight. The main problem with the original 2016 study is that it was done in free-living people and nobody directly measured their calorie intake or observed their physical activity - the study method is unreliable and so they are the results.
    – Jan
    Jun 21, 2019 at 17:19
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    I was thinking to, but from the very start, the study was just not convincing to me, so I don't feel like bothering further.
    – Jan
    Jun 21, 2019 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


You should be immediately skeptical against any revelations that denies the laws of physics. The law of physics say that every action against force costs energy. Every movement of the body is an action against the internal and external resistance. The body adapts and optimizes the energy output to some extend, but no wonders are possible. If you do move a lot, you'll need a lot of calories.

Of course bigger muscles will consume more energy. Strongmen need over 10k calories a day, while physically active people (I mean, really active, like whole day hiking) about 6k a day. However, there might be some limit in metabolism or digestion system, that will make it impossible for a regular person to achieve the energy output of the strongmen. 6k is the barrier that I've stumbled upon from very many sources, like the high mountain / antarctic hikers, ultra cyclists etc. The energy output of strongmen come from their youtube channels where they explain their diet.

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