Which Exercise Is Best for Weight Loss?

Ask a Doctor

I just turned 30 last year. I’ve noticed for a few years now that the two or three pounds I gain over Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t going away by themselves anymore. By now, I’m about 15 pounds overweight, so it’s time to start on a healthier lifestyle. I was never athletic and haven’t exercised much in my life, so when I started researching weight loss and exercise plans, I quickly got overwhelmed by the huge mass of often contradictory health and diet information. I just want a nice, not-too-strenuous routine that I can stick to in order to lose a few pounds. What’s the best exercise for weight loss?

Doctor’s Response

Physical activity combined with a balanced diet can help people lose weight. Regular exercise is an important component of any weight loss program.

There are different types of exercises with different goals:

  • Aerobic or endurance exercise increases cardiovascular and respiratory fitness
  • Strength or resistance exercise increases muscular strength
    • Examples include weight lifting, resistance equipment, push-ups, squats
  • Balance exercise helps improve balance and can prevent falls
    • Examples include tai-chi, yoga, or heel-toe walking
  • Flexibility or mobility exercise help maintain or improve range of motion
    • Examples include yoga, Pilates, stretching

Combining a proper diet with exercise can increase weight loss, but both aerobic exercise and resistance training can help you lose weight and reduce body fat, even without dieting. If you eat less and exercise more, you will lose weight. It's as simple as that. There are no magic pills. Diets that sound too good to be true are just that.

Effective weight loss plans include several parts:

  • Eating less: Unless you eat fewer calories than your body uses, you will not lose weight.
  • Physical activity: Any good diet plan will include physical activity. Physical activity burns calories and is one less opportunity to eat during the day. You should exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Regular exercise also has many other health benefits.
  • Change in habits and attitudes: Most people have enough willpower to lose weight for a few weeks. To lose enough weight to improve your health and keep it off, you will need to change the way you think about food and exercise. As you eat, try to understand some of the hidden reasons you eat. You can learn to spot situations in which you overeat and head off the overeating. You can learn to enjoy eating less and being active.
  • Support: Many people find that enlisting friends, family, and coworkers for support is helpful in losing weight. Others prefer groups such as Weight Watchers or Take Off

Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) to keep them motivated. The important thing is to seek the support you need to achieve your goals.

Drastic changes in eating habits, such as not eating at all (fasting), are usually unsuccessful. Eating too few calories causes your metabolism to slow down, meaning the body burns fewer calories.

Don't believe claims about losing weight while you sleep or watch TV, or plans that claim to cause weight loss without dieting or exercise. Such gimmicks just don't work.

They may even be unsafe or unhealthy.

Of special interest to women who have gained weight during pregnancy is that breastfeeding helps you shed some extra pounds. It is good for your baby too.

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Gayle M. Galletta, MD coauthored this article


Franklin, PhD, Barry A, Robert E Sallis, MD, FAAFP, FACSM and Francis G O'Connor, MD, MPH, FACSM. Prescribing exercise for adults. 22 August 2018. 10 November 2018 .