In short, a mixture of both weight-bearing exercise (strength training) and cardio (aerobic exercise) is the most suitable for sustained weight loss.

The NHS recommends:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity; or 75 minutes of intense activity

to be undertaken in conjunction with

  • strength exercises on two or more days per week.

However, maintaining a balanced diet is equally important.

Why should we exercise?

Exercising can provide a whole host of potential health benefits.

  • It can reduce our chances of developing some major illnesses such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers.
  • It is also proven to help our mental wellbeing. The state of our physical body can affect our mind, in the same way that our thoughts and feelings can cause us to experience a physical reaction.
  • Moderate exercise has been found to trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These chemical substances are thought to contribute to a boost in our mood.
  • Most people who maintain a physically active lifestyle report a positive improvement in their state of mind. Those who don’t partake in any physical activity can be prone to low moods, depression and anxiety.

In recent generations, the human race has become less active. Many people spend in excess of seven hours sitting down on a daily basis, as an increasing number of occupations are primarily based in front of a computer screen and do not entail physical labour.

Therefore, physical activity now requires a level of personal commitment, as it is something many people have to pursue in their own time.

Committing time to exercise is therefore crucial for those who are trying to lose weight, but who have jobs which entail long periods of inactivity.

Exercise for weight loss

In order to lose weight through exercise you need to create a calorie deficit; whereby you burn more calories than those you consume.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is an advocate of attainable lifestyle changes instead of rapid weight loss schemes. Drastic diets are often unsustainable and may provide initial results but can lead to weight gain once stopped.

Physical activity can play an important role in weight management. People who are not physically active are more likely to gain weight.

The NHS suggests that adults take part in both strength and aerobic activities each week to stay healthy or improve health.

This might involve 150 minutes of moderate aerobic movement or ‘cardio’ (which might be fast walking, cycling or swimming) and two or more days of strength exercises (this might be lifting weights, yoga or bodyweight exercises).

Cardio (aerobic activity):

  • Burns calories
  • Increases stamina
  • Strengthens heart muscles
  • Reduces cholesterol

Strength exercises:

  • Increase muscle tone
  • Improve flexibility and balance
  • Boost metabolic rate

A training programme which combines both exercise types can aid weight management.

Higher muscle mass can contribute to a higher metabolic rate which allows for more calories to be burnt during physical activity.

However doing too much cardio can train your body to store fat as it shifts its focus to endurance instead of muscle building. Too much cardio can also drain your energy levels and cause you to overeat in compensation.

Diet vs exercise

In truth, maintaining or achieving a healthy weight should not solely be about diet, nor should it focus only on exercise. Instead by combining the two you are more likely to achieve a positive outcome.

A nutritious and varied diet paired with regular exercise should create the foundations for an overall improved health outlook.

Those who are prescribed weight loss medication by their doctor in order to help them limit the health risks associated with being overweight or obese will still have to undertake a programme of exercise and diet control measures.

Page last reviewed:  24/12/2020