Is Physical Activity a Good Weight Loss Strategy?


Numerous scientific studies on the effects of different amounts of dietary fat reveal that human beings, especially women, tend to adapt their eating habits according to what they believe about their current weight.

Overweight individuals tend to think they are eating more than average people do and consequently reduce their food intake. On the other hand, lean persons eat less than normal, believing that they are eating the usual amount.

There is ample scientific evidence to support this conclusion.

For instance, in one study fifty-four men and women were asked to rate what they believed was their usual weight on a scale of 20 to 30 pounds (9–13 kg). The average answer was 23 pounds (10.5 kg) heavier than their real weight.

The subjects were then supplied with a “diet sheet” indicating the number of calories needed to maintain their figures,

It was stressed that this measure represented an average figure and that each person should choose his or her daily intake according to individual needs.

After several weeks, in which the participants received no further information, they were brought back to the laboratory and asked to rate again what they believed was their present weight.

The average answer fell 10 pounds (4.5 kg) below the initial estimate but it also marked a significant decrease in each person’s eating behavior; most of them reported that they now ate less than before.

However, when people learn of the correct daily caloric rates for their weight, they tend to eat even less than before.

How much less?

In another study, thirty-seven college students were fed like laboratory animals for several days and then supplied with lists of the number of calories involved in maintaining their weights.

The subjects were given no encouragement or exhortation; on the contrary, they were asked to keep eating the same amounts as usual.

Nevertheless, when the lists were discontinued it was noted that 24 of them ate about 10 percent less than before.

The experiment could be duplicated at home provided you have two scales—a gram scale and an ounce scale—and be able to measure your food very carefully for a week or more, recording everything you eat.

There are several good calorie-counting books available in bookstores.

The Effects of Exercise on Weight Loss

Exercise is a cornerstone of any weight loss regimen, but it’s not the magic bullet that many people think it is.

So how important is exercise?

And how important is it to lose weight in the first place?

A 2010 study involving more than 9000 people aged 45-64 found that physical activity was only weakly associated with weight loss.

Only about 10 percent of people who increased their physical activity lost weight.

Similarly, a 2012 study looked at 30 trials involving over 8000 people and found that increasing physical activity didn’t lead to weight loss, with most participants maintaining their weight or even gaining a little.

The authors concluded that minimizing the energy you expend in physical activity isn’t helpful for weight loss.(1)

Another large review paper published in 2012 came to the same conclusion after looking at 92 studies of more than 300 000 people; only a small fraction of weight loss was attributable to exercise.

But wait, there’s more: the benefits of exercise for heart health and general health probably outweigh any benefit for weight loss.

Some studies have even found higher mortality rates in people who lost weight using diet alone versus those using diet combined with exercise.

What does this mean for you?

First, don’t expect to see or feel any big changes if you increase your physical activity. You could easily end up losing not a single extra pound.

Second, don’t exercise solely hoping to lose weight; instead, do it for general health and wellbeing.

Third, make sure your weight loss plan includes enough protein — this will allow you to maintain your lean tissue as well as build more lean mass (which means that you’ll burn extra calories even at rest).

If you do exercise, a good indicator of whether or not it’s working is to monitor how your clothes fit.

If you do exercise, a good indicator of whether or not it's working on weight loss is to monitor how your clothes fit. Click To Tweet

If you’re losing weight but still wearing the same size of clothes, then your diet is likely to blame for any weight loss success.

If your jeans are starting to feel a little looser around the waist and thighs, then you’re on the right track.

Exercise should always be included as a fundamental part of a healthy weight loss plan, but don’t think it’s going to do all the hard work for you. (2)

If you’re not trying to lose weight, then feel free to skip it entirely — just be sure to adjust your diet accordingly if you’ve been having a lot of physical activity.

Exercise and Weight loss: What’s the Connection?

Weight loss is often thought of as simply a matter of ‘calories in, calories out.

We all know that to lose weight we need to consume fewer calories than we expend, whether that’s through eating less or exercising more.

But physical activity does not necessarily equate to weight loss.

A 2010 study involving more than 9000 people aged 45-64 found that physical activity was only weakly associated with weight loss.

In the study, men expended more energy through physical activity than women did. The most physically active participants were least likely to gain weight, but even the most active men only gained, on average, 1.3kg over four years.

The study also found that people who gained weight consumed more calories than people who stayed the same weight or lost weight.

While the most active people ate about 16% more calories per day than the least active, those who gained weight consumed almost 500 calories a day more.

This suggests that rather than focusing on physical activity as a weight-loss strategy, we need to look at why people gain weight.


>> Related: 18 Reasons Why You’re Gaining Weight


A 2014 Australian study found that snacking was the main cause of weight gain. (3)

The study tracked more than 3000 people for 12 months and found that eating between meals was the biggest contributing factor towards weight gain, accounting for nearly 40% of daily energy intake.

This suggests that to lose weight we need to focus more on eating less and reducing portion sizes, rather than just increasing physical activity.

So how important is physical activity?

A lack of exercise can cause serious health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Regular physical activity helps to improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility.

It can also reduce symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety while improving self-esteem.

Most people are not active enough for these benefits to occur.

Guidelines recommend that adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. So make sure you start your day with a brisk walk or head to the gym after work.


>> Related: 7 Simple Tips on How to Keep Fit at Home


But don’t think that more exercise will lead to more weight loss.

For weight loss, it’s much better to monitor what you eat and ensure your diet’s in check before adding more exercise to your routine.

Three Ways to Lose Weight Without Exercise

1.  Eat Less, Move More

The simplest and most effective way to lose weight is to increase the number of calories you burn through physical activity and reduce the number of calories you eat.

2.  Lose Weight Slowly

The most effective way to lose weight is slowly – aim for a loss of no more than 0.5 kg to 1 kg per week.

3.  Watch Portion Sizes

One of the main contributors to weight gain is snacking in between meals. Try not to exceed the recommended serve sizes and don’t graze when you’re cooking or preparing food.


>> Related: 33 Proven Ways To Lose Weight Without Working Out

How much physical activity do we need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a frequency of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for adults, or at least 75 minutes on five days each week. (4)

These are general guidelines only, which vary depending on age and other factors. They don’t apply to everyone.

Active people with an average body mass index (BMI) have more fat-free mass, including increased muscle mass than sedentary individuals of the same weight.

So if you’re an overweight person who exercises regularly while eating a healthy diet, you may have a lower percentage of body fat than someone who’s obese and inactive.

Physical activity by itself is unlikely to result in weight loss. It might help you maintain your weight, but it won’t help you lose enough fat to reach a healthy body weight.

You will need to match your energy expenditure with appropriate energy intake, by eating less food and/or exercising more.

Matching the energy you expend with the energy you take in is key for weight loss.

Energy expenditure must be higher than intake, over a considerable period, to produce lasting weight reduction.

In addition to regulating body mass, energy intake and energy expenditure also regulate body composition, which is the relative amount of fat and lean tissue in your body.

Aerobic physical activity is the main determinant of energy expenditure for most people, and strength and resistance training can also be used to increase it.

Increased physical activity results in greater energy expenditure, although the relative contributions of each type of activity vary depending on the individual.

Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity is generally defined as any type of exercise or sport that requires moderate effort, to the point of being challenging.

Aerobic physical activity may be combined with flexibility, balance, and/or coordination exercises to promote physical fitness.

Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity should be maintained at a frequency of 150 minutes per week for adults.

People who are sufficiently active in their daily lives, not just at the gym or during sports practice, also benefit from moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.

For most adults, this amounts to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week or at least 75 minutes on five days each week.

It’s not about how many minutes or hours you spend doing exercise, but how intense that activity is.

If you’ve just started an exercise program, it’s recommended that you start with moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, and gradually increase your frequency to five times a week.

You can also include resistance training in your routine, but only if moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity is performed on most days.

An interval training program can also be used — three minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity alternated with three minutes of high-intensity exercise, repeated for 30 minutes.

If you have a serious chronic health condition or are over the age of 65, you might benefit from even higher levels of physical activity.

If you’re not used to doing much exercise, check with your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional before starting a new program.

You should also make sure that it is safe for you to participate in a given activity, based on your age, sex, and other factors.

Exercise and avoiding Weight Gain: What’s the connection?

Exercise can also reduce the risk of further weight gain, even among people who are predisposed to weight gain.

Although physical activity may not cause much direct weight loss, it does help people avoid gaining weight and promotes the retention of lean tissue in older adults.

People who become more active can eat more without becoming obese or increasing their body fat percentage.

That’s because when we increase our energy intake without changing our activity levels, we store the extra energy as fat.

An Australian study found that aerobic exercise can increase daily energy expenditure by up to 300 kcal per day.

If people don’t increase what they eat, this would equate to a weight loss of 1kg per month or 10kg over one year through this mechanism alone.

7 Tips for Weight loss through Activity

1. Start small and build-up

Aim to make physical activity part of your daily life rather than doing intense exercise for short periods each week.

It’s better to build up to longer, more frequent sessions that are easier to maintain over time.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling) on most days of the week.

If you do shorter sessions, try to do them more frequently.

2. Be active every day

Be physically active in as many ways as possible and aim to get a balance of at least 60 minutes’ aerobic and 30 minutes’ muscle-strengthening physical activity every day.

Cycling and gardening are examples of moderate-intensity activities that can be done at home.

If you take a dog for a walk, that counts as your daily 30 minutes of exercise.

3. Challenge yourself

Try to do some strength or resistance training exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and squats about three times a week.

These exercises help you to maintain and build muscle mass, which is particularly important for maintaining weight loss in older adults.

4. Try activity trackers

Activity trackers such as Fitbits can encourage people to set achievable goals, stay motivated, and make positive changes.

They provide feedback on progress and remind people when they haven’t done enough.

5. Find a buddy

Having someone to exercise with can make it more fun and help you stay motivated, so why not give it a go?

Exercise partners don’t have to be exercise experts – just someone who has similar goals and is willing to share tips along the way.

The internet also allows us to research and find people to exercise with who are near us, which is particularly helpful for those living in regional or remote areas.

6. Watch your alcohol intake

Alcohol can increase the amount of energy we need, but decrease our motivation and ability to get physical activity.

If you do drink alcohol regularly, try to substitute some drinks with water and/or lower-calorie drinks (such as light beer, wine, or spirits)

7. Don’t forget your brain

Physical activity is good for thinking skills and memory, so it can support learning.

And exercise may help reduce stress levels which can affect our thoughts and behaviors.

5 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to Worry About Exercise for Weight Loss

1. Calories burned during exercise:

What’s the point of burning calories if you’re going to eat them all back?

The thinking behind this argument is that exercise should be used as a tool to burn excess calories and not as a weight-loss strategy.

But research also shows that exercise can prevent weight gain and promote its loss as we’ve already discussed. And if someone tries to eat the calories back, they’ll be less likely to gain weight as a result.

2. Exercise works best when combined with dietary changes.

This is a fair comment as it’s easier to promote a calorie deficit if someone reduces their food intake and increases physical activity at the same time.

However, even if someone just changes their diet and doesn’t do any extra exercise, they will still lose weight.

For example, a woman of average height (1.63m) who weighs 75kg and eats 2,500 calories a day would need to reduce her intake to 1,875 calories a day to lose weight.

That’s what happens when the energy in equals energy out.

3. Exercise is overrated: walking the dog counts, but it’s not going to make up for a bad diet.

This argument is very subjective, but it does make you wonder what kind of exercise they are talking about.

To burn off the same number of calories that someone eats in a day, you’d need to exercise for more than 8 hours. That’s not going to happen with the dog walk.

If someone has a bad diet, they’ll need to do much more exercise to burn off the excess calories.

4. Exercise is a stress reliever, but so is eating a bag of chips. Exercise isn’t going to reduce stress.

Exercise releases endorphins which relieve stress and can help people feel happier. But eating a bag of chips will also relieve stress.

5. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet: all the exercise in the world won’t make up for eating a bad diet.

This argument is just stating the obvious: if you eat 2,500 calories and don’t do any physical activity, you’ll gain weight.

Summary: Is exercising more important than dieting for weight loss?

No. Diet is the most important factor in weight loss. Exercise can help, but it’s not a substitute for reducing calories through dietary restriction.

Exercise is overrated to lose weight. Click To Tweet


Exercising is an essential part of losing weight because it can increase metabolism which can lead to healthier eating.

Exercise is overrated for losing weight. Diet is the most important factor in weight loss.

Exercise can help, but it’s not a substitute for reducing calories through dietary restriction.

Leave a Comment