Exercise has seemingly countless benefits, and one of those benefits is it can help you lose weight. Exercise helps with weight loss in several ways. It burns calories, so if you are trying to burn more calories every day than you consume (which you need to do in order to lose weight), exercise is an important part of that strategy.
Exercise also helps build muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more likely you are to keep your metabolism running well. If you diet without exercising, you will lose fat and muscle. And when the portion of your body that is made of muscle shrinks, your metabolic rate can drop. So in addition to burning some calories, exercise helps keep your metabolism healthy so it doesn’t slow down too much when you reduce the calories you eat and drink.
Another way exercise can indirectly help with weight loss is by helping improve your mood and reduce stress. Because many people eat more when they feel stressed, exercise can keep you away from the stress-induced eating that adds extra calories that are often the wrong kind of calories.
When it comes to weight loss, not all exercise is created equal. If you’re considering starting a new exercise routine, you should always talk to your doctor about what type of exercise is safe for you. But once you get the green light, you should combine both aerobic exercise and strength-training exercise.
Aerobic exercise, also called cardio, includes running, fast walking, riding a bicycle, swimming, taking aerobic classes, hiking – pretty much anything that gets your heart rate up and into the fat-burning zone for an extended period of time. This type of exercise doesn’t build muscle at the same rate as strength training does, but it is a good way to burn calories. Aerobic exercise is also good at burning fat in the abdominal area, which is important for preventing conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Strength training, also called resistance training, involves doing weight-bearing exercises to help build strength, agility, and muscle mass. As adults age, they will lose between three and eight percent of their muscle mass every ten years if they don’t stay active and include strength training exercises in their exercise routine. And since bodies with a higher composition of muscle have an increased metabolism, doing weight-bearing exercises can also help both lose weight and keep weight off.
Ideally, all people will combine strength training and aerobic exercise into a regular exercise routine. While neither of these things guarantee weight loss, they are a vital part of remaining healthy and strong, and they can contribute to a healthy lifestyle that encourages weight loss.
Benefits of regular exercise
Regular exercise has countless benefits—for physical, mental, and emotional health. Experts are now saying that a sedentary lifestyle (with little or no exercise) is at least as bad for your body and long-term health as smoking is. Incorporating regular exercise into your life can help you lose weight, but it also helps:
- Reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attacks; it can also help keep heart disease from getting worse
- Lower your risk of developing high blood pressure and can reduce blood pressure in some people with high blood pressure
- Reduce your risk of high blood sugar and diabetes
- Improve overall cholesterol numbers by raising the HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and lowering LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides in your blood
- Improve the function of your heart and lungs
- Reduce stress and the physical and mental effects of stress
- Improve your mood
- Decrease your risk for getting osteoporosis
- Prevent some types of cancer
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Increase your energy
- Focus your attention
When you consider the huge health benefits of exercise, it’s clear that even if exercise alone isn’t a surefire way to lose weight, it does help manage weight, and its power to improve health and prevent disease is astonishing. So even if you don’t lose a lot of weight from exercising, your body will reap the benefits in other ways.
Exercise and fat reduction
If you exercise regularly and aren’t losing weight, keep going with the exercise. You are burning fat, and that is an important part of improving health. If you diet without exercising, your body will also likely burn muscle, so you may lose weight, but you may not lose much fat, leaving you lighter, but weaker as well.
The best way to burn fat when exercising is to combine regular aerobic exercise with strength training, as we discussed above. When you hit the “fat burning” zone during aerobic exercise, you will burn fat most effectively. Talk to your doctor or trainer about what that zone is for you. The strength training helps build muscle, and muscle is a helper when you’re trying to burn fat.
Most of the health benefits of exercise come from better fitness, increased metabolism, and improved muscle ratio – not just weight loss.
Don’t rely on the scale to tell you the whole picture about your body composition and health. Instead, measure your waist and ask your doctor or a personal trainer to measure your body fat percentage. The composition of your body is a better indicator of the success of your exercise routine than how much you weigh.
Exercising too much
Have you heard the saying that too much of a good thing can be bad? That is true with exercise. There are several risks involved with exercising too much. One of the most frustrating problems with over-doing it in the gym is that excessive exercise can make people feel hungrier, which can lead to overeating (and gaining weight).
There are also some people who may work out hard and then think they’ve burned enough calories to splurge or eat something as a reward. But even an hour of aerobic exercise isn’t likely to burn enough calories to make up for a chocolate shake at your favorite ice cream place. So if you eat more calories than you burn (naturally and through exercise), you will gain weight.
Excessive exercise can also lead to health problems. If you exercise too hard or too long, you put yourself at risk for injury and even some health conditions.
The skinny on exercise and weight loss
Many people who want to lose weight will ask whether exercise or dieting is more important. The easy answer is that both are important. A healthy, balanced diet with the right number of calories combined with regular exercise is the best way for most people to go about losing weight.
Another common question is whether cardio/aerobic exercise is better than strength training, and again, it’s a combination that’s ideal. One is better at burning fat, and the other is better at building muscle. And both burning fat and building muscle is important for optimal health.
So if you’re ready to commit to your health and you want to lose weight, the first step is to consult with your doctor to make sure you do it in a healthy, safe way. Your doctor may also recommend a dietician or a nutritionist who can help you understand what you should eat and what type of diet is best.
If you’ve tried dieting and exercise together and you’re still struggling to lose weight and improve your body composition, a medical weight loss program may be an option for you. Doctors at Beaumont can help you set and meet goals for dieting, weight loss, exercise, and overall health. Call 800-633-7377 to request an appointment.