People who exercise are more apt to stay on a diet plan. Exercise improves psychological well-being and replaces sedentary habits that usually lead to snacking. Exercise may even act as a mild appetite suppressant. Moreover, exercise improves overall health even with modest weight loss.
Be aware, however, that the pounds won't melt off magically. Losing significant weight requires both intensive exercise and calorie restriction. In addition, if a person exercises but doesn't diet, any actual pounds lost may be minimal, because denser and heavier muscle mass replaces fat. Nonetheless, regardless of weight loss, a fit body will look more toned and be healthier. In addition, exercise benefits the heart even with modest weight loss.
The following are some suggestions and observations on exercise and weight loss:
- The more strenuous the exercise, the better the chances for short-term and long-term success. With intense exercise, the metabolism continues to burn calories before returning to its resting level. This state of elevated metabolism can last for as little as a few minutes after light exercise to as long as several hours after prolonged or heavy exercise.
- Of the standard aerobic machines, the treadmill burns the most calories. It may be particularly effective when used in short multiple bouts during the day. In fact, frequent exercise sessions as short as 10 minutes in duration (about four times a day) may be the most successful exercise program for obese people.
- Resistance or strength training is excellent for replacing fat with muscles. It should be performed two or three times a week.
- As people slim down, their initial level of physical activity becomes easier and they burn fewer calories for the same amount of work. The rate of weight loss slows down, sometimes discouragingly so, after an initial dramatic head start using diet and exercise combinations. People should be aware of this phenomenon and keep adding to their daily exercise program.
- As people age, they also need to exercise more to keep off the same amount of weight.
- Changes in fat and muscle distribution may differ between men and women as they exercise. Men tend to lose abdominal fat (which lowers their risk for heart disease faster than reducing general body fat). Exercise, however, does not appear to have the same effect on weight distribution in women. In one interesting study, women in aerobic and strength training programs lost fat in their arms and trunk, but did not gain muscle tissue in these regions.
Spot Exercising. Anyone seeking to lose weight must expect that the results may not be as cosmetically satisfying as one would wish. Spot exercising (training particular areas of the body) is ineffective in reducing fat in specific locations because exercise draws on fat stores throughout the body. Gimmicky devices such as bust developers, vacuum pants, and exercise belts do absolutely nothing to reduce fat or add bulk in specific locations. Electrical pads wrapped around the waist, arms, or thighs were reported to cause burns and fires.
Warning Note. Because obesity is one of the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, anyone who is overweight must discuss their exercise program with a doctor before starting. Sudden demanding exercise, in such cases, can be very dangerous. [For more information, see In-Depth Report #29: Exercise.]
Review Date: 04/14/2010
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital (4/14/2010).