By Katie Carpenter
With the new year upon us, many of us have vowed this is the year to focus on our weight loss goals. Changing your dietary habits is the most important action you can take for losing weight and keeping it off; however, don’t discount the importance of exercise to help you reach those goals. Incorporating exercise can make weight loss results more pronounced.
Typically, when individuals lose weight, up to a quarter of that lost weight comes from lost lean body mass that includes muscle mass, according to a 2014 Pennington Biomedical Research Center review. By adding exercise into a weight loss plan, individuals can minimize muscle loss and lose higher amounts of fat than those who lose the same amount of weight without exercise.
Exercise also might help with keeping off the weight once it’s lost. According to a 2017 study on successful weight loss maintainers, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, as much as an hour of exercise per day is associated with successful weight loss maintenance or avoiding weight regain.
Add High-Intensity Interval Training
One type of exercise that may have especially pronounced benefits is high-intensity interval training, or “HIIT.” Try adding sprint intervals into your next jog or cycling session by including 60-second bursts at an all-out pace followed by three minutes of recovery at a comfortable pace. Another option is to add exercises like jump squats, high knees, or burpees to your routine. Complete 30 seconds of each exercise followed by a 10 to 15-second rest and repeat.
By adding high-intensity intervals to your exercise routine, you can stimulate your metabolism for up to 24 hours postexercise. These brief, all-out bursts of activity rev up your calorie burn and keep it elevated long after your workout ends.
Lift Weights or Use Resistance Bands
Resistance training exercises can help build muscle and burn fat. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so your overall calorie burn will be higher throughout the day, and the typical drop in metabolism that comes with most weight loss will be prevented. You’ll also look leaner if you have more muscle and less fat.
Start with two or three sets of 10-12 repetitions of bicep curls, overhead presses, squats, and lunges, using light weights until your body has adapted and you become comfortable. Then increase the weight and number of repetitions as you get stronger. If you don’t have dumbbells lying around, you can use everyday items around your house, such as canned soup or water bottles.
Don’t Forget the Cardio
While most cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, cycling, etc.) will not build muscle, it will help you burn calories and lose fat mass. Studies show that those trying to lose weight who include cardio in their plan lose more weight compared to those who don’t include exercise, but only modify their diet.
In addition, researchers have demonstrated that those who perform cardio are more likely to lose visceral fat. Visceral fat is the dangerous kind of “belly fat” that exists internally and can increase risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart attack, and Type 2 diabetes.
Reduce Your Chance of Weight Regain
Most people who lose weight regain it all back and then some within three to five years, but regular exercise makes it more likely that you’ll maintain your ideal weight.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine position stand “Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults,” those with a goal of preventing weight regain should complete 250 to 300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity — such as brisk walking, mowing the lawn, and swimming. The overall calorie burn should be between 1,200-2,000 calories per week, which is considered enough to prevent weight gain greater than 3% in most adults.
Make Time for Fun
While all these guidelines are useful, the best exercise is something you can commit to regularly. If you hate running, maybe signing up for a half marathon isn’t the best idea, and cycling may be something more suited for you. If you’re bored with your workouts, consider going to a workout class with friends, taking a weekend hike, or going on a family bike ride to switch up your routine and add some variety. Keep in mind that it may take several tries to find the perfect exercise routine for you.
Incorporating exercise into your lifestyle will not only contribute to benefits in your overall health but will aid in your weight loss journey as well. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise regimen. Once you’re cleared, you’re ready to make this your most fit year yet.
Katie Carpenter, Ph.D., has been with Isagenix International, a global health and wellness company, since 2017 on the Research and Science team, most recently as a senior scientific content specialist. Prior to Isagenix, she was director of the diabetes program at Native Health Central and NHW Community Health Center. Carpenter received her Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Houston and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota. Her doctoral research primarily focused on the effects of obesity and exercise on the immune system. Carpenter has published over 25 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals.