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Will Exercise Help Me Lose Weight?

posted May 15, 2015, 7:21 AM by   [ updated Nov 4, 2015, 12:37 PM by ]

Which is more important when you’re trying to lose weight—what you eat or how much you exercise? Most people who successfully lose weight use a combination of the two strategies, but weight loss experts generally agree that what you eat plays a much bigger role in weight loss than how much you work out. Why is that? Let’s look at an example:

  • Let’s say you’re a 5’10” man who weighs 154 pounds. One evening, you decide to go for a run. You end up running for 30 minutes at a pace of about 12 minutes per mile. You’ve just burned 295 calories according to the USDA. You feel so virtuous after your run that you decide to treat yourself to a cup of chocolate ice cream for dessert. That cup of ice cream contains 287 calories, so you’ve nearly cancelled out the calories you burned during your run.

This example illustrates how easy it is to “undo” the calories you burn through exercise with high-calorie indulgences. That’s not to say that exercise isn’t important during weight loss. Exercise can help you lose weight more healthfully, by reducing the fat you carry around your middle and by helping you maintain your muscle mass as you lose fat.

And while exercise may not be the key to weight loss, experts do agree that it is important for weight maintenance—in fact, the CDC says that regular physical activity is the only way to maintain weight loss.

So how much exercise should you be doing if you want to lose weight and keep it off? 

  • Start with at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (spread across at least 3 days a week) and 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening exercise as the government recommends.  But many people need to do more than the minimum of 150 minutes per week in order to lose weight and keep it off, plus more exercise is even better for your health. The best thing to do is to keep track of your weight and activity, so you can increase your activity if you notice your weight plateauing or creeping up.  

For more information on the science of behind physical activity and weight management, check out Harvard’s Nutrition Source.