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The relationship between exercise and weight loss

Last Modified: 10/15/2020

weight loss

This post was written by Hannah Thompson, RDN, LD, PPG – Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery.

Exercise has numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, strengthening of muscles and bones, improved sleep, and decreased depression and anxiety. Exercise also plays a critical role in weight loss when paired with a healthy diet and behavior modifications. Weight loss occurs when calories that are burned exceed calories that are consumed. Exercise can be a great way to increase the number of calories that you burn.

All pounds are not created equal

Exercise also helps to retain lean body mass while losing fat mass. If weight loss is attained through caloric restriction alone, more muscle mass will be lost along with body fat. When losing weight, it is optimal to minimize muscle loss while maximizing fat loss. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat mass, so having more muscle mass helps you to burn more calories. Muscle is also much denser than fat, so a pound of muscle looks much different than a pound of fat. The number on the scale and body mass index (BMI) do not indicate muscle mass versus fat mass. This explains why an individual with a large amount of muscle mass may be considered overweight or obese based on BMI, even though they are metabolically healthy. A body composition assessment is necessary to determine how much of each tissue is in the body.

Physical activity vs exercise

Physical activity and exercise are not synonymous. Physical activity is any movement that requires energy. In other words, any movement done throughout the day is considered physical activity. Exercise, on the other hand, is planned, structured, intentional movement with a purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness. Individuals participating in physical activity, even if not intentional exercise, will experience the many benefits of movement. Starting with small ways to incorporate movement such as parking farther away, standing instead of sitting or doing yoga while watching TV, will result in some health benefits – some activity is better than none. Reach out to a fitness professional if you are interested in a structured exercise program for your goals.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Muscle strengthening activities, involving all major muscle groups, should be performed 2 or more days each week, as these exercises provide even further health benefits.

Finding an exercise routine that you enjoy will increase accountability and keep you motivated throughout your weight loss journey. Individuals who are consistent with their exercise routine and do not just use it as a short-term weight loss tool are more likely to maintain the weight loss over time. Try an exercise class, take the dog for a walk or do any other exercise that you enjoy. It may also be helpful to have a friend of family member to exercise with and hold you accountable.

For more information or to take the first step in your wellness journey, visit us at Weight Management & Bariatric Surgery. We want to help you on your journey to a healthier life.



CDC - Benefits of Physical Activity

ACE - Physical Activity vs. Exercise - What's the Difference?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans


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