I get asked this question a lot - what's the best exercise for weight loss? Truth is, there are many and the best one for me might be different than you. Read on if you're curious how to find the best exercise just for you!
If you ever watch a running race, I guarantee you will see two very distinct body types – those lean, fast runners that are typically the first to finish, and then there’s the larger, heavier finishers.
You might wonder how two people can run for the same race, conceivably do the same amount of training exercise over the same amount of time and yet have two completely different body compositions.
Why is that? Exercise actually has a lot less of an impact on metabolic rate that we think. Actually, you’d probably be shocked to understand how little true “exercise” we really need to "lose weight" (hint: we just need to literally MOVE more, not necessarily sweat more).
There are two reasons why exercise is not a panacea for weight loss.
Reason 1: the more we work out, the hungrier we get.
I can point to various studies that prove this, but I bet you’re aware that when you were at your most physically active in your life, you were probably also really freaking hungry all the time. That’s your body’s natural physiological response to exertion. It needs to force you to eat more calories to compensate for the expenditure. It’s programmed to do just that.
Reason 2: Attitude + Preferences Matters
For example – let’s say you go out for a run in the morning, not because you love running (you actually kinda hate it), but because you’re trying to lose weight. You come home, and your body tells you to eat more because it’s doing it’s caloric balancing thing. You tell yourself “oh, I just ran 5 miles, so I deserve that extra piece of toast and peanut butter”. So you have it. No problem.
But the reality is that the extra calories you consumed at breakfast actually negate the calorie spend while doing exercise. Certainly, I don’t want you to think that the trade of calories for sweat is that exact, but you actually don’t burn as many calories as your Garmin might be telling you.
But even more interesting is a new study that shows that we are more inclined to allow ourselves an overindulgence of food when we feel that our exercise is a chore. When we feel like we’re forcing ourselves to workout, it’s work. And work requires reward, which in this case comes in the form of M&M’s, extra toast, or whatever strikes your fancy in the moment.
The study I’m referring to compares two groups of walkers. One group is encouraged to focus on their walk as exercise and monitor exertion throughout the 30 minute routine. The second group is given the same 30 minute walk prescription, but is instructed to listen to music and told to focus on their enjoyment of the walk.
So same exercise, same exertion, very different results – those who focused on the exercise, sought rewards when they were done. Those who focused on fun, didn’t need it.
Suffering through Workouts Won't Help With Weight Loss
Reps, sets and heart rate are important, but ultimately, it’s more about moving consistently in a style that you enjoy, then suffering through workouts you hate.
Now, I do hope you can find some way to “enjoy” strength training exercise at least twice a week as there’s a definite extra benefit to that, especially if you’re in your 50’s and beyond, but just start with something you enjoy and go from there.
There is no universal rule that implies you must run races or join a gym to lose weight. Just go outside and put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the view.
Yes, it can be that simple.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and ADHD Coach. As the founder of The Fit Habit, she shares ADHD-friendly self-care, food & fitness inspiration, along with practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.