The relationship between exercise and weight loss is almost universally misunderstood in mainstream culture. Most people think that weight loss is a matter of diet AND exercise.
There is some truth to that, but it is really more like at least 90% diet and at most 10% exercise. And the exercise part is NOT what most people would guess. You could EASILY lose weight by dieting alone, but it would be almost impossible to exercise yourself into weight loss.
It is much easier to not eat extra calories than it is to burn them!
But incorporating exercise into your program can help as long as you still keep calorie counts in line. And there are some helpful things to know to maximize the effect of your exercise in your weight loss program.
Can I Lose Weight Without Exercise?
One of the most frequent weight loss topics is that of exercise, and especially the question as to its importance in weight loss. Well, if you’re hoping to lose weight without exercise I have some great news for you: One of the most pervasive myths going today is that exercise is necessary for weight loss.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am NOT saying that exercise is not important or that it does not promote health. But WEIGHT LOSS is ALL about caloric intake.
I have been a competitive runner since high school, and continue to be a health and fitness nut, and I personally would continue to exercise even if it was unhealthy and CAUSED weight gain. It’s just my lifestyle, and I enjoy it. And it is, in fact, good for you. BUT you don’t need to exercise to lose weight.
I’ll get into this in a lot more detail at Lose Weight Without Exercise.
Misconceptions about Exercise and Weight Loss
Exercise REALLY does not burn THAT MANY calories
No matter how much you exercise, if you’re still eating more than you are burning you are not losing weight. And although exercise adds to the “calories burned” column, it REALLY doesn’t burn as much as people think.
Allow me to illustrate. A man who weighs 180 lbs. burns around 400 calories running three miles. But a 180 lb. man burns around 100 calories per hour just sitting down. So if that three mile run takes a half hour, that man is only burning 350 calories over what he would have burned had he just sat home on the couch.
ONE SLICE of a large, loaded, regular-crust pizza has around 400 calories. Under normal circumstances the calorie math just doesn’t work out to make exercises like running a good deal.
As I point out at Lose Weight Without Exercise, unless you are a real runner already, running three miles will probably feel like torture, so later when it’s time to eat you’ll probably feel like you deserve that second slice of pizza which will completely outweigh the calories burned by the exercise.
Unless a certain exercise activity is something you already do, and something you enjoy, it will be much easier to just not eat the extra calories you hope to burn by exercising.
This does not mean that exercise cannot help your health and weight loss efforts. But some exercises are better for weight loss than others. Specifically, there are two primary kinds of exercise that will be best for most people.
Anaerobic exercise for weight loss
The kind of exercise that does more to contribute to weight loss, and to a greater increase in overall health, is anaerobic exercise. This involves activities like sprinting, jumping, lifting weights, etc., not long steady-paced running, cycling, StairMaster, etc.
Anaerobic workouts burn only a fraction of the calories of a long, steady aerobic workout (running, cycling, StairMaster, etc.), but they do a few things that contribute to greater calorie burn and weight loss in the long run.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of sprinting, jumping, and weight lifting if you are not an athletic person already. There are very effective and safe ways to perform good anaerobic exercises for people at nearly every age and level of fitness. I highly recommend that you read my Weight Training and Weight Loss page for more on that.
Specifically, these anaerobic exercises promote the body’s own natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone (T), and other “good juices”, which in turn contribute to increased muscle mass, which in turn leads to a “larger engine” that naturally burns more calories even when at rest.
I KNOW, I KNOW, “But I don’t want to bulk up like a body builder!” That’s the first thought that comes into many peoples’ minds when they first hear “weight lifting”, “increased muscle mass”, and “testosterone”.
But trust me, if bulking up like a body builder were that easy, you would see a LOT more bulked up people at gyms. And, those that ARE very bulked up didn’t get like that spending 30 minutes in the gym three times/week and eating healthy. They probably work out almost daily, maybe even twice on some days, push VERY heavy weights, do very specific workouts, and take gobs of supplemental protein, and probably use anabolic steroids.
Low-intensity exercise for weight loss
When people think of exercise and weight loss, usually the first activity that comes to most peoples’ minds is running/jogging.
Although running/jogging burns more calories per pound per hour than almost anything else you can do, it is a REALLY HARD exercise for a non-runner to do frequently and consistently enough to make any difference.
And even though running burns calories at a faster rate than almost any other activity, as mentioned above, it really isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things.
Of course if running (or any other high-intensity cardiovascular exercise) is something you already do and enjoy, then keep it up. Just calculate the calories burned and make sure you still run a deficit.
But for people who aren’t already real runners/cyclists/etc., the key to a good, calorie-burning, weight-loss activity is SUSTAINABILITY and CONSISTENCY.
Walking may be the best example of an exercise that fits this criteria. Walking does not burn quite as many calories in as short a period of time as running does, but most people can walk a reasonably fast pace (4 mph) for an hour or more almost every day.
Because it is low-intensity and enjoyable and not as traumatic as running, you can keep it up. And even though this kind of exercise isn’t a hard core calorie bonfire, it’s better than sitting on the couch.
Almost any low-intensity activity like this that you can do frequently is good, even better if you LOOK FORWARD to doing it.
On linked pages I’ll discuss a few popular weight loss activities and evaluate their value relative to your weight loss goals.
- Cycling to Lose Weight
- Interval Training for Weight Loss
- Jogging to Lose Weight
- Swimming for Weight Loss
- Walking to Lose Weight
- Weight Training and Weight Loss
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