Many people believe that joining a gym and adopting an exercise program is the solution to their weight loss problems. If this were true we’d see far more success stories leaving the gym each day, but of course this simply isn’t the case. To get past this, you have to accept that becoming overweight or obese is a complex problem that can’t be solved with a single solution.
Exercise is always at the forefront of our minds because it’s so heavily marketed to us. We are inundated with fat loss programs and tools that promise great results everyday, so it’s no wonder people believe their salvation lies in exercise.
It’s important to think of exercise and physical activity as important components of any weight loss program, but it’s by no means the main factor that will dictate your rate of success. But before you run off and cancel that new gym membership, you need to stop thinking of the scale and start thinking about your health.
Although the exact mechanism in which exercise influences weight loss is not fully understood, there are so many great reasons to include a properly designed fitness program into your weight loss plan.
Benefits of exercise for weight loss
Including controlled exercise into your plan will provide a host of physiological and psychological benefits, that diet alone cannot do. Some of these benefits include:
- Increases your energy expenditure
- Helps decrease muscle loss that often occurs in weight loss
- Reduces your risk of heart disease
- Decreases your insulin resistance and risk of Type II diabetes
- May encourage better dietary compliance
- May decrease abdominal fat and promote further overall fat loss
- Improves your mood and general well-being
- Improves your body image
- Increases your self-esteem and self-efficacy
- Serves as a coping strategy for life’s stressors
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Improves your sleep patterns (falling asleep more quickly & longer periods of deep sleep)
- May be an important factor for long-term weight maintenance
As you can clearly see, exercise can influence weight loss in many important ways that affect your health, compliance and long-term results. Sounds pretty good, right? But how do you get started and what are the best exercises for weight loss?
Let’s take a look at how to implement exercise into your plan . . .
Best exercise for weight loss
First you have to accept that there are no perfect programs for losing weight. Likewise, there are no “best” exercises for losing “belly fat”. This might be hard for some to believe, but it’s true. Second, you have to accept that your results will come primarily from lifestyle and diet factors and that your exercise is in place to promote health. This in turn will bring forth better results in your weight loss. With this understood, the exercises you choose will depend on how far along the overweight continuum you are.
For obese individuals (women over 30% body fat and men over 25% body fat) who have a lot of weight to lose, your exercise should be focused on primarily on caloric expenditure. Chances are you’ve been sedentary and inactive for some time and likely have some nagging joint issues to deal will as well. Walking is an excellent place to start. In the gym, you should focus on exercise that keeps you in safe and comfortable positions. Avoid deep knee bending, squatting and definitely no running or jumping. Low-impact step aerobics, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers are all viable options for burning plenty of calories. Do this at least 5 days a week for 40-60 minutes at a low to moderate intensity.
Add some resistance training exercises (to get the benefits listed above) that work the whole body with 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Do this 2-3 days a week. Start slowly, working on your lifting skill initially and progressing to higher levels of fatigue as you adapt. Avoid circuit training for a few weeks if you are new to exercise or have been inactive for a while.
I should also state that these are my recommendations for otherwise healthy adults, if you are concerned about your exercise readiness, consult your doctor.
For overweight individuals (women over 25% body fat and men over 20% body fat) who need to lose fat but are looking for more tone or muscle definition, weight training becomes an even more important piece of the weight loss puzzle. The lower you reside on the overweight continuum, the more likelihood that you’ll experience muscle loss while dieting. Lifting moderate to heavy weights 3-4 x/ week would be optimal at this stage.
Cardiovascular training should be spent in the anearobic zone and include intervals and circuit training. You need to be careful not to create too high a caloric deficient with your cardio because the danger of muscle loss and burnout are very real for you at this stage.
Depending on your age, if you are very unfit or are new to exercise, you may have to follow my recommendations for obese individuals until you can tolerate higher levels of exercise.
Hopefully you can see how exercise fits into the weight loss picture. I also hope this provides you with some basic insight into the type of exercise that is effective for weight loss. It’s not a “magic bullet” and will ultimately need to be adjusted for every person. While you can certainly lose weight without working out, you’ll never really be truly healthy unless you do.
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