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In the world of weight loss and exercise, the age-old adage states that if you don't feel pain, you won't see a gain. In other words, losing weight means work. Hard work.

However, a new study is questioning that truism and highlighting the fact many of us may be unwittingly sabotaging our efforts.

The study, by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, found that moderate amounts of exercise may actually lead to greater weight loss.

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Sound surprising?

The researchers followed 61 sedentary, moderately overweight men who were divided into three groups: one that remained sedentary, one that exercised roughly 30 minutes a day, and one that exercised for approximately an hour a day. The researchers told participants to maintain the same diet and monitored their consumption through food diaries.

At the end of 13 weeks, the men who exercised only 30 minutes a day lost the most weight. They shed about seven pounds, on average. The intense exercisers (an hour a day) only lost an average of five pounds each, far less than the researchers anticipated.

The sedentary group didn't lose any weight. (Sorry, weight loss isn't that easy.)

Do the results mean that it's pointless to start a high-intensity exercise program? Definitely not.

While the moderate exercisers lost the most weight, the explanation likely lies in how much that group was eating. Countless studies have demonstrated that many people who take up an exercise regimen feel like they can compensate by eating more. And sure, exercise can work up an appetite. But if you're simply replacing the calories you burn with more food, you won't lose weight. It's as simple as that.

But it's also worth noting the study clearly demonstrated that any physical activity is a good thing and that sitting on the couch isn't doing your waistline – or your health – any favours.

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