Does exercise promote weight loss?

Do you want to lose weight? Here’s part 13 of 17 in a series of blog posts on the subject. You can read them all on the How to Lose Weight page.

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13. Exercise

Do you wonder why this weight-loss tip doesn’t show up until number 13 on the list? It’s because few things are so overrated for weight loss as exercise is.

Have you ever watched “The Biggest Loser”? The participants take leave from their jobs (and family) for months. They are allowed only small portions of food, and work out as though it was their full-time job – 40 hours a week, sometimes more. This method is clearly unsustainable for your average person in the long run.

Just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or getting off the bus one stop earlier, isn’t going to change the numbers on your bathroom scale. It’s a myth. Sorry about that. Studies show that if you just start exercising, you’re going to need at least one hour of tough workouts every single day to noticeably lose weight.

Basically, the effect of exercise on our weight is vastly overrated. That’s why it’s only number 13 on this list. There are other things you need to take care of first. It’s not a good idea to eat bad food, drink sugar water (so-called “sports drinks”) or be on medications which force you to train for hours daily just to compensate. Metaphorically that’s like digging a hole, into which you put your ladder, on which you stand and paint the ground level windows of your house.

Exercise cannot compensate for other issues in your life. Those must be addressed first.

The good news

If, on the other hand, you’ve already taken care of steps 1-12, you should have a rested and recharged body which is already happily burning fat. In this case, increased activity will accelerate your weight loss, and act as an nice bonus. You’ll be burning even more fat from the very first step.

For example, you could take long walks (golf), cycle, dance, or play any sport you’re happy and comfortable with.

Exercise also burns the body’s glycogen stores, which are essentially carbohydrate. This means that after a workout, you can eat a little more carbs than you otherwise can permit yourself, without negative effects on insulin or fat storage. Also, don’t forget that the non-weight-related health effects of exercise are quite impressive.

Hormonal effects

For even more impressive effects on body composition: aim for exercise forms which elicit a positive hormonal response. This means lifting really heavy things (strength training), or interval training. Such exercise increases body levels of the sex hormone testosterone (primarily in men) as well as growth hormone. Not only do greater levels of these hormones increase your muscle mass, but they also decrease your visceral fat (belly fat) in the long term.

As a final bonus, exercise can both make you feel and look better.

What kind of activity suits you?

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Read all posted tips on the How to Lose Weight-page.

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60 comments

  1. I personally participate in HIT. Roughly 15min a week only. It keeps my body strong for any situation from getting up in the morning, playing with my 4 years old son Sebastian, chasing a bus, sports and sex. I look at it in a simple way stronger your muscles stronger you body for whatever may come at you. It is like a basic body hygiene. But whats the most important is I have all the remaining time to focus on more important things in mu life.

    Great post.

    Regards. Adam Budnik of naturalbuild.pl

  2. Galina L.
    There are a lot of heated argument about usefulness of exercise for a weight loss. As a person who experimented with both approaches , I came to the opinion - never expect too much from exercise when it comes to a weight loss. If you get overoptimistic, two things may happen - you will overdo exercises and increase the possibility of some sport injury and you will get more careless about your eating. It is about priorities, not about denying benefits of exercising for one's health.
  3. Any kind of exercise other than extreme that could lead to sports injuries has got to be good for general health. As a method of weight loss for the average person, I have my doubts. For type two diabetics moderate exercise such as walking and swimming will help burn up excess glucose. The stand out method for weight loss has to be low carbing. Calories do count, but what you eat is more important than how much you eat. Cut the carbs, eat less and move more.

    Kind regards Eddie

  4. Although it may be argued that exercise per se doses not induce weight loss, I personally consider exercise to be an essential part of any weight loss program. Exercise has repeatedly been shown to improve general health, wellbeing and risk of heart disease.
  5. JAUS
    Exercise is not for loosing weight but for keeping your body in good shape (better strength, stamina, cardivascular system etc..)

    Too much exercise on the other hand is not healthy, because then you break down your body without giving it a chance to recover.

    Low intensity exercise like walking should be the base, strength exercises should be a few times a week with rest berween or a little everyday; cardio should be high intensity with pauses (like interval runing).

  6. Sophie
    From what I understand *some people* lose weight with aerobic exercise, but they are a minority, and exercise must come to them naturally. It must be a natural impulse.

    I am one of those people. The times when I was the thinnest were times when I ran everyday, and I know exactly at what intensity and what duration I can do it without suffering cravings for food after.

    As my aerobic capacity increased, I started running longer periods and lengths. This did not help me lose weight. What it did is create intense cravings for food that I could not resist. But when I did that it was against my natural desire for exercise. I was trying to improve my performance.

    This is why when I exercise I have to do it at either a high intensity for a relatively short period, or at low intensity for much longer periods. Either way I have to commit to doing it everyday, but it DOES trigger significant weight loss when I do it. If I follow my physical desire for exercise, I can walk all day, or run for one hour everyday. Most days I can't help but walking for at least 2 hours. It's like having a shower everyday. I can't help it. I have done that since I was a teenager.

    Reply: #8
  7. It seems to me many people who become over weight are middle aged or older. Hard exercise is not an option for many reasons. However, a sedentary way of life helps no one. Gardening, walking and working around the house keeps most in good condition. Forget the lift take the stairs, don’t pay someone to clean your car, clean it yourself, ok you’ve got the idea. For young people get involved with sport, join a club. Make new friends and get healthy. Dump the junk and eat fresh food. Keep away from factory produced Frankenstein foods.

    Do not become a victim of global junk food companies and big pharma. Be your own person and beholden to no one. Take control of your health, it is the most valuable thing you will ever possess.

    Kind regards Eddie

  8. FrankG
    How do you define "significant weight loss"?
    Reply: #9
  9. Sophie
    Until recently, I never weighed myself and only gauged my weight with the way my clothes fit and how I looked.

    I am currently on a low carb diet and the weight loss is really slow (yet sustainable) compared to what I observed (in the way my clothes fit and the size I wear) when I found the time to do intense aerobic exercise for one hour almost every day of the week. For me it is really quick and the visual results are quite dramatic.
    I am getting good results with changing my diet too, but it's nowhere near as fast as with exercise.

    The other issue I see with the variability of the potency of exercise for weight loss is simply strength. Some people simply don't have the physical strength to sustain an physically intense exercise routine.

    Again, it's important to acknowledge that we all have our own machine that works differently one from the other...

    Reply: #10
  10. FrankG
    Forgive me Sophie but it seems like you are describing "vanity pounds" rather than what many of us have experienced over many years or decades of being truly overweight, or obese.

    As Dr Andreas discuses in this post: physical activity will of course improve muscle tone and the way we look (and the fit of our clothes) along with other health improvements but for someone who is say 30, 40, 50 or more lbs overweight it is unrealistic to expect exercise to make much difference to the excess fat mass.

  11. Sophie
    I agree, and I did not realize "vanity pounds" were excluded from the dialogue. It takes years to become 30 to 50 pounds overweight, and it all starts with a few vanity pounds. I was well on my way to overweight, given my family's eating habits. I once measured borderline overweight at a medical appointment.

    If we are strictly talking about "true overweight" then I shall fully agree with you.

    I will concur by saying that it seems that what makes one 30 to 50 pounds overweight are nutritional habits that are probably more difficult to change than it can be to start exercising. The "truly overweight" people that I know have very deeply ingrained eating habits that are, as Dr. Andreas says, rocky grounds to build an exercise program on.

    I love the Biggest Loser but I always feel like these people lose weight because their food is controlled, and it seems the exercise they do at the pace at which they do it would not impact so much on their weight loss. Of course advertisers are going to gloss over the fact that they are losing weight because they no longer eat carbs all day...

    Reply: #12
  12. FrankG
    Nor did I say that vanity pounds were excluded from the discussion but I hope you also agree it is important to consider that terms like "significant weight loss" clearly mean different things to different people :-)
  13. finn
    Hey doc, I don't know where to put this but here. So in the 60s in Finland, corporations used dead animals' grease to produce margarin. First it was in the news and then police investigated it to be true. mmmmmm cat margarine.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=fi&tl=en&js=n&...

    http://yle.fi/uutiset/mirrista_suvikultaa_-_60-luvun_kuvottava_margar...

  14. Johnnyv
    I would rather have fat loss than weight loss.
    With strength training and HIIT my weight keeps going up but my waist keeps getting slimmer.
  15. Jakob
    Can you please comment on this? or other HIIT studies?

    http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/fitness/forget-the-jog-slog-and...

  16. 1 comment removed
  17. There is technique you can use, if you have the courage that will help you achieving weight loss goals. It is based on the idea, of social pressure.

    Think about this; lets say you want to lose a certain amount of weight. You can set the goal privately and tell yourself, I am going to achieve this goal by August 1. On the other hand, you can make the goal public by telling all of your friends and family what you intend to do and even give a date for your desired completion.

    As soon as you make that goal public, you change your state of mind. No longer are you at the mercy of your personal self-discipline. Now you have a much more powerful force dictating your day to day actions and decisions.

    Studies have shown publicizing goals with another person make them more likely to be achieved. For example, Researchers at the University of South Carolina found the support and accountability provided by posting to a social networking site made a difference in how much weight people lost.

  18. Obese-Guy
    Yes it does, but HABIT is a biggest killer...we do exercise but leave in between...thats why I got my bariatric surgery done for weight issues got complicted by diabetets in the year 2011. I liked it most as it got done in India at imas sir ganga ram hospital,www.letusfighthefat.com for only 10k dollars the cost which was a huge saving for me. i lost around 30 kg in 3 months time and felt good for my health. I am still feeling good.
  19. Good forms of exercises can help you burn calories faster. It is better to be extremely cautious about the diet you choose. The right diet can take you places and help you become healthier and fit.
  20. let me add another vote for HITT training. Reading about the Tabata protocol was a real eye-opener for me. If you're not familiar with that it's well worth googling. Basically Dr. Tabata found that, after warming up, doing eight intervals of 20 seconds full-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest produce better results then 45 minutes to an hour at 70 to 80% intensity.

    I used to do 2 to 6 miles running five or six days a week followed by weight lifting three days a week. Now most of my workouts last less than 20 minutes and I seem to be getting results that are at least as good. Recently I've been doing a lot of body weight exercises that move in three dimensions following various interval protocols.

    If you're really in shape the CrossFit program is excellent (and free if you get the workouts online). My only complaint with it is that many of the routines call for doing complex and potentially injury causing maneuvers such as snatches in an exhausted state. Unless you're extremely careful I think there is a serious risk of injury.

    Thanks for all the good information on the site. I really appreciate your balanced, thoughtful approach.

  21. I haven't exercised for weeks but by restricting my calories I have been able to very, very slowly lose weight. Don't get me wrong, I do want to do some light exercise for the fitness benefits but rarely have the time or are too tired from staying up late on the computer.

    I'm not very overweight but I just want to lose my small "love handles", so I'm not in much of a hurry, as long as the weight is moving in the right direction.

  22. Well, I agree, diet is key to losing weight. I mean there are many people who exercise, but 'reward' themselves with junk foods; is there any wonder why they are still fat?
  23. Mich
    Can anyone let me know how good swimming would be for weight loss. when I go to the gym, I just seem to get hungry - thanks
    Reply: #24
  24. Zepp
    Well.. exercise is good for your healt.. perticuly if you is a sedentary person otherwise!

    But one dont burn that much calories on ordanary exercise!

    If you get hungry of exercising.. its becuse you burn glucose.. and low blood sugar supose to make you eat more!

    But get on with.. what exercise you like to do, it have other benefits.. some medical, like better insulin sensetivity, preserving of muscle mass, better fat burning capability and overall better shape!

    One supose to be hungry if one have used some of the stored energy!

    But.. its about to be a fat burning one, and it could take some time!

    And to the topic of weightloss and exercise, its not that importen, exercise is to gain weight, by incresed muscle mass, or to conserv that you alredy have!

    And then.. if one have as a goal, to geting a nicer body figure, then exercise is a way to remodel ones body, but the food is as important, to get the muscles in the right places and to burn the extra fat!

    Do the exercise you like, its a life style, like your food!

  25. Kiods
    That's a good tips about it
  26. 4 comments removed
  27. Zepp
    Its cheaper to drink Coffe!
  28. 2 comments removed
  29. Alison
    I was exercising on a regular basis but wasn't losing weight. I think exercise can definitely tone your body but to lose weight you need to diet as well.
  30. 1 comment removed
  31. Jane Sanchez
    In science, we reason from EVIDENCE. Too many people commenting on here have PERSONAL BELIEFS and reason from what they WANT TO BELIEVE, RATHER than from evidence.

    No. In science, we reason from EVIDENCE. The EVIDENCE from numerous experiments and studies shows very clearly , thus far , that exercise does NOT affect weight loss much. However, there are many other health related things it has been shown to affect in a positive way.

    Weight loss and fat loss is just not part of it. Beliefs do NOT matter. I had to reject my own beliefs on this.

    Body weight is NOT affected over the LONG TERM much by voluntary factors. Dr. Jeffrey Friedman has mentioned this numerous times.

    If you are obese and do not suffer from cardiovascular, diabetes or othopedic problems , there is NO evidence that weight loss will necessarily improve your health.

    FORGET WEIGHT. Focus on healthful lifestyle and improving health. Sometimes a litle weight loss happens naturally, other times it does not. Your setpoint is your setpoint. Tghere is no current way knownm to lower it.

    ALL you can ever do for now is stay at the lower end of your body fat/weight setpoint. This alone takes enormous work.

  32. 1 comment removed
  33. Does Coffee Speed Up Your Metabolism
    I think that over-work exercises weight loss and diet is severe fatigue leads first to the psychological and physical body. Actually is very exhausting
  34. 1 comment removed
  35. Fasting for Weight Loss
    Nor did I say that vanity pounds were excluded from the discussion but I hope you also agree it is important to consider that terms like "significant weight loss" clearly mean different things to different people
    http://www.weightlosstipps.com/fasting-for-weight-loss-a-good-or-a-ba...
  36. 2 comments removed
  37. Scott UK
    I accept that exercise doesn't reduce your weight… but does it change your body composition, replacing fat with muscle? If so, then exercise would reduce fat, which is really what everyone is after, and so we should be encoring people to exercise from the get-go...
    Reply: #43
  38. Zepp
    Yes.. ofcourse.. for those how want a fit body.. excersice is a good thing.. it have other healt benefits too!

    And fore sure.. one gain muscles.. in the right places.. much nicer then flobby fat!

    But.. not everybody have the time or are interest in excersice.. long walks, gardening, bird watching, hiking, fishing and other such things is altso good.. as long one use ones body.

    I say that losing weight is the first thing, then comes often the ability to do what you like to do after that.

  39. Galina L.
    Many people do exercise in order to eat what they want without feeling guilty. They interpret the popular misguided mantra "Eat less, move more" as "The more you move, the more you can eat" . It backfires for many. I am a sport club member. The most ridiculous thing to see there is a male with overbuild muscles , protruding belly and love-handles. Fat Zumba instructors also look like a contradiction to the standard health advice. Sure, being fit is good, but for the people who are not naturally thin, diet comes first.
  40. paul
    I think weight control is all about the ratio of carb intake vs carb burn and therefore if you want to control your weight its important to understand both. Carb intake is what you eat, carb burn is how you expend your energy. getting the right balance will control your weight. I found a free website ptprograms.com.au which explains this and gives some good exercise programs to follow. And it free
  41. 2 comments removed
  42. weightloss
    Well done Michael , a pound remains a pound! I look forward to your next goal !

    ( I won 2 pounds this week thanks to a visit from Aunt Flo . )
    Hello everyone. My name is Nora , I'm 56, happily married , a grandmother to 3 and work full time at a nuclear plant. Michael , Matt , Felicity and others, I am very happy to meet you. You guys are doing great. I have 120 pounds to lose, 290-277 'm down , but I still have a long way to go. I am a type 2 diabetic and I have a knee replacement . I'm looking forward to getting the other done next summer so I can start walking again.
    Thank you, Felicity . I'm sure we'll see a nice loss next week

    Nora , welcome ! Bet your knees will feel much better with a little "loading" them - that goes very fast. My knees and ankles feel much better - it was getting very painful just up from the chair - now I can jump almost immediately . 'm No doctor, but I've heard that many people have "cured " their diabetes with weight loss . It would be wonderful if that could happen to you.

  43. weightloss
    It was too hot to work last week, so I went swimming instead.I day was a day of fasting, so I missed breakfast and went swimming.The other day was not a day of fasting , so we took a coffee and cake with a friend later.
    I was stunned to see that I've lost 2 pounds last week !
    I fasted yesterday and missed breakfast and went for a swim. I intend to swim and fast another day this week.I hope to repeat the performance.
  44. Zen Cleanse
    After waking up in the morning drink 5 glass of warm water, it can burn extra body fat and help you lose extra weight.

    April. Tome 1 teaspoon honey, lemon juice 3 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix all ingredients in a cup of water and drink. Doing so for 3 months can cause weight loss.

    5. Tome 1/2 tsp honey and 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger and mix well, now they intake water or chewing products mix. If you do this regularly can help in weight loss.

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