Exercising to Lose Weight

By Katharine Paljug @kpaljug
July 26, 2017

Combining aerobic activity and resistance training is the best way of exercising to lose weight because you use up calories your body wants to store as fat.

Once you’ve put on a few extra pounds, it isn’t easy to take them off again. But while it may be tempting to resort to fad diets or weight loss medication, you’ll be healthier overall if part of your plan exercising to lose weight.


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How exercise helps you lose weight

When you exercise to lose weight, you use up calories your body has stored as fat. Studies show that exercise is less successful at helping you lose weight in targeted areas, such as the abdomen. Instead, it reduces your overall body fat and increases your muscle mass.

A review of studies found that losing weight through a combination of exercise and diet was preferable to losing weight through diet alone. Exercising to lose weight, the studies found, helped build lean muscle and improve cardiovascular health, which helped participants maintain their weight loss over the long term.

Best exercises to lose weight weight

In general, there are two types of exercise you can do to lose weight.

The first is aerobic exercise, such as swimming, walking, running, or dancing. This exercise gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe harder. The second type is resistance training, also known as weight training. This type of exercise builds muscle and can include lifting weights or body-weight exercises like pushups and squats.

The best exercises for weight loss are generally aerobic exercises, which help you use up calories from food. One study found that over 10 months of regular aerobic exercise five days a week contributed to statistically significant weight loss for 141 overweight and obese participants.

Resistance training, by contrast, is more helpful for building lean muscle than for shedding pounds. This means that while resistance exercise to lose weight may not be effective, they can help you maintain a lower weight over the long term.

High-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE), also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), has been shown to reduce both overall and abdominal fat. This type of exercise involves alternating moderate movement with short bursts of intense exercise, such as two minutes of walking followed by 30 seconds of sprinting.

Multiple studies have also found that extended high-intensity exercise reduces body fat more than moderate or low-intensity exercise, though it did not reliably lower participants’ weight. High-intensity exercises include vigorous running, cycling, swimming, dancing, or sports like tennis. Exercise in which your heart rate and breathing remain steady, such as walking, is considered low-intensity.

Some research, however, has found that the best exercises to lose weight are the ones you can do for the longest duration, rather than the greatest intensity. This means that if you want to lose weight, you’ll probably see better results from walking an hour every day than from 30 minutes of tennis once a week.

Why just exercise won’t make you lose weight

The benefits of exercise are well-documented, and a Cochrane review of weight loss studies found that exercise had a positive impact on weight in overweight and obese individuals. However, other studies have found that more exercise doesn’t automatically equal more weight loss.

Research shows that the way your body uses energy is a complex system that changes in response to your physical activity, diet, overall health, and many other factors. As you increase your level of exercise, you set off a chain reaction in your body that alters how your body uses calories and energy.

Exercise, it turns out, accounts for only a portion of your daily calorie burn. The rest is used to keep your bodily systems running and your brain functioning at optimal levels. Exercise can also cause you to feel hungrier than you would normally, which can lead to overeating and erasing any weight-loss benefit from your exercise.

That’s why most research concludes that a combination of diet, calorie counting, and exercise is necessary if you want to lose significant amounts of weight.

By focusing on high-quality nutrition rather than empty calories and sugars, you give your body healthy fuel. Portion control limits the number of calories you take in, requiring your body to use its stored fat for energy. And exercise converts those calories to lean muscle, rather than fatty tissue.

Why you should keep exercising after losing weight

Once you lose weight, unfortunately, your job isn’t done. Those exercises to lose weight are also important for maintaining your weight.

Weight loss causes your metabolism to slow down, which can make you more likely to regain weight. Exercise, especially muscle-building resistance training, keeps your metabolism working at a higher rate, which decreases the likelihood that your weight will rebound.

Though the amount of exercise you need to do varies from person to person, continuing to be physically active is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. By creating a long-term exercise habit, you set yourself up to not only lose weight but also keep it off permanently.


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN