Does exercise really affect weight loss? What research says?

Physical exercise is any bodily activity which improves or maintains your physical fitness and overall wellness. It is performed for many reasons like strengthening muscles and the cardiovascular system, as well as for enjoyment. And most important for weight loss or maintenance. Physical exercise doesn’t always mean losing extra pounds.

Several studies show that work out alone won’t aid you shed the extra pounds, but some studies propose that it actually works for some people. But can you lose weight just by working out more?

Expected weight loss

A July 2018 assessment of preceding research, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, describes what you might expect to lose with different types of workout;

  • Resistance training: 0 to 1% weight loss
  • Aerobic exercise: 0 to 3% weight loss
  • Aerobic and resistance training: 0 to 3% weight loss
  • Diet (aka caloric restriction) with aerobic exercise: 5 to 15% weight loss

For an individual having a weight of 160-pound, a 3% weight loss comes out to around 4.8 pounds. This is far better than nothing. But clinical guidelines mention that individuals who are obese or overweight lose at least 5% to see improvements in risk factors such as lipid levels and insulin sensitivity.

In most of the reviewed studies, doing a workout by itself falls short of this. But according to authors, it can work with high volumes of aerobic exercise training.

Vigorous exercise can promote weight loss

Joseph E. Donnelly, EdD is the author of several studies in the review of 2018. He is also a big supporter of workout for weight loss. You can get 5 to 7% weight loss in almost anybody by making people exercise at a certain level. And that is clinically very significant.

In one of his researches, young adults did five aerobic exercises per week for 10 months. The participants were divided into two groups: burning 400 kilocalories or 600 kilocalories per workout. There was a control group as well.

By the end of the study, he found that individuals in the 400 kilocalories group lost about 4.3%. And the people in the 600 kilocalories group lost an average of 5.7% of their weight. Men and women lost almost the same amount of weight. But, some individuals lost more weight than others.

To put this in view, so as to burn 400 kilocalories, a 160-pound person would  do one hour of water aerobics. And to burn 600 kilocalories, they’d have to run at 5 miles per hour for an hour.

For adult women, the average daily intake is 1,600 to 2,400 kilocalories. But for adult men, it is 2,000 to 3,000 calories.

It is not astonishing that persons in Donnelly’s study lost weight, as they were burning an extra 2,000 to 3,000 kilocalories per week. Hence, this amount of exercise really burns off a whole day’s worth of food each week.

Exercise doesn’t always lead to weight loss

The results of the lab are different from what happens in the real world. Same is the case with weight loss studies in the laboratory which are different from what actually happens. So there is no assurance that you’ll lose weight with a workout.

There are many other factors which can affect how much weight you lose. Like it includes your sex, exercise type, body size, and metabolic changes.

You have to stick with it to turn exercise into weight loss that is also true of dietary changes. But, this is difficult in the modern world.

According to the researchers, when it comes to diet and physical activity, people usually do what they have to do. But when you no longer have to be active physically, the situation is perfectly set up to gain weight again.

In our daily routine, we have easy access to high-calorie foods, cars, elevators, and televisions to keep us inactive. In order to lose weight, you also have to exercise continuously at a modest or vigorous intensity. Researchers in the lab use high-tech tools to make sure people burn some kilocalories.

Outside of the lab, and in physical activity guidelines, we usually use hours to track exercise as it’s easier. But people overestimate how hard they are working out, so your hour-long training might only comprise 30 to 40 minutes of actual effort if even that.

There’s also the risk that you’ll undo your hard work through a high-calorie treat after your training. Like, some chocolate chip cookies or a sugar-loaded coffee drink. These kinds of dietary compensation, though, is not a given.

In this study, people in the 400-kilocalorie group did not eat more than those in the control group. The 600-kilocalorie group ate a little more, but not enough to counter the weight loss.

One of the researchers stated that, if you do vigorous exercise, you are going to start to consume more. But you won’t eat more than the energy you spend. Therefore, this is the reason that you can lose weight when you work out.

Choose what works in the long run

It is very important to note that combining dietary restriction and exercise leads to greater weight loss. Hence, you are burning more calories by reducing your intake. So, where should you focus? On exercise or on diet… or both?

One study found that individuals who focused on both, in the beginning, did a great job of meeting their physical activity and diet goals over the long run. However, those who started with the only diet had difficulty meeting their physical activity goals afterward.

The real aim of any program is keeping the weight off for a long time. For this, exercise is most important.

One study found that 38.8% of people who sustained their weight loss after 4 years were still doing as a minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous workout.

Obviously, it shows some persons were capable to keep the weight off even with less exercise. Not everybody will be able to do five 600-kilocalorie trainings per week. Like some people may have some household chores or physical limitations like arthritis or super busy work.

So you should find what actually works for you, and what you will stick with. At present, there’s no “magic” formula which can help people to focus on exercise versus diet.

But an online tool is available which could help people in doing so. It is provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). It lets people modify their diet and exercise to reach their weight loss goals.

It is also worth mentioning that regular physical activity has many other health welfares beyond weight loss — including improving mood and boosting energy. It also helps to reduce the risk of stroke, depression, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases. Hence, exercise and physical activity are a great way to boost your health and have fun.


Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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