Is Exercise Really Effective For Weight Loss? An Evidence Based Answer

One of the trusted methods of losing weight is exercise. Any kind of physical activity cannot be termed as exercise.

Movements of the parts of our body which requires muscle activity and energy expenditure is known as physical activity whereas exercise is planned repetition of a specific form of physical activity which results in enhancing physical fitness.

The most common form of physical activities including our daily habits like walking, climbing stairs etc.

However, these aren’t exercises.

Exercise includes some kind of rigorous training schedule of physical activity like running, resistance training etc.

However, there remains certain discrepancy regarding the effect of exercise on weight loss and weight management.

This article dwells on that impact of exercise.

Is Exercise Alone Enough to Help in Weight Loss?

Exercise seems to play a major role in weight loss. There remains conflicting data regarding its efficacy but overall it seems to play a pivotal role.

12 months clinical trial illustrated an 8.5% weight loss for low-fat diet consumption, 2. 4% weight loss for aerobic exercise and 10. 8% for the combined effect of two.

A clinical trial showed the effect of exercise in weight loss. 6months of such exercise bore results and continuation of it sustained the weight loss for 18 months.

But along with exercise, diet was an essential criterion here.

Study in older obese patients has lead to a conclusion that exercise causes substantial weight loss which further aids in enhancing body frailty, cognitive ability, bone density and metabolic.

However, this weight loss is coupled with a diet and exercise regime.

Another ongoing trial has gone one step further and seeks to compare the effects of supervised and unsupervised exercise on weight loss.

So far the primary outcome is showing predicted results of the change in body weight, physical fitness and blood pressure (more in case of supervised exercise than unsupervised ones).

Exercise alone results in a lesser extent of weight loss due to lower energy expenditure and higher calorie intake.

A collection of data from 43 studies have to lead to the conclusion that exercise alone isn’t that much effective in weight loss as in some individuals it might induce hunger and hence a greater appetite.

Exercise coupled with a proper diet has the maximum effect.

What does this mean? Exercise alone isn’t capable of substantial weight loss. This is because it may stimulate appetite and also may not compensate for excess calorie consumption. Combined with a proper diet it has a greater impact.

Does Exercise Fasten Weight Loss Outcome of Diets or Calorie Restriction?

Exercise coupled with diet seems to reduce obesity parameters like lowering inflammation, oxidative stress level, and type 2 diabetes risk, thus increasing the potential of diet-induced weight loss.

A study has observed the effects of diet and diet plus exercise-induced weight loss on hunger hormones and metabolic rate.

While both groups showed a decrease in body fat and fat mass yet the diet plus exercise-induced weight loss had greater metabolic rate and lesser hunger hormone levels.

Diet and exercise together improve the oxidative stress level and insulin sensitivity in weight loss, thus having a greater impact on metabolic health in combination than alone.

Another study explored the effects of exercise and diet on inflammatory cytokines (a type of proteins regulating the immune system)level.

They found out exercise plus diet-induced weight loss had had a positive impact on inflammatory cytokines compared to their individual ones.

This is due to a larger weight loss outcome in a combined group. Exercise alone had no effect on these cytokines.

Researchers at Texas A&M University concluded that 12 weeks of routine exercise and structured diet-induced weight loss program lead to substantial improvement on body fat composition and physical fitness which is observed by decreased inflammation.

Diet-induced weight loss can trigger 30-35% visceral fat loss. Exercise alone, on the other hand, leads to a negligible fat reduction in women compared to men.

Exercise and diet together have a similar effect on visceral fat loss as shown by diet alone.

What does this mean? Exercise along with a healthy diet has a greater impact than exercise alone on weight reduction.

Exercise Really Effective For Weight Loss

Does Exercise Help Prevent Weight Gain Post Weight Loss?

Exercise plays a crucial role in maintaining weight after weight loss.

The major health parameters affected in obesity is the metabolic profile (blood glucose, cholesterol level etc). It is of primary importance to focus on it during weight loss and maintenance.

Moderate level of exercise for 30 mins 3-5days a week achieves a weight loss of 0.5-1 pound per week. This enhances the overall metabolic profile and weight maintenance.

Analysis of 4 clinical trials shows a directly proportional relationship between physical activity and weight maintenance.

A 1 year follow up study by Wadden et. al highlighted this effect. It was seen 77 obese women after 48 weeks of exercise and diet-induced weight loss has started to regain weight.

However, participants who indulged in moderate exercise in these 4 months follow up period regained less amount of weight.

What does this mean? Moderate level of regular exercise helps in weight maintenance by preventing greater weight regain.

Does Exercise Really Help in Losing Body Fat?

Exercise alone or along with a proper diet has a potential role in reducing body fat percentage.

Analysis from various studies points out towards this evidence.

It shows 12 weeks of aerobic exercise without diet results in a significant reduction in body fat; more in men than women.

Different results of different intensity and endurance level exercise on visceral fat mass reduction were observed.

The greater impact on visceral fat mass reduction was observed in high intensity and moderate endurance level exercise.

Another, 6months study showed similar results. 11 miles of walking per week reduced a substantial amount of abdominal fat and visceral fat.

12 months of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise (60mins/day for 6days a week) showed a decreased waistline, BMI, body fat and total fat mass.

An increase in pedometer measures per day or minutes of exercise per day resulted in an increased fat reduction.

Another study compared the duration of exercise and its effect on body fat mass reduction. A 30min exercise regime for 4 times per week shows the highest fat reduction.

What does this mean? Exercise has a great potential of reducing body fat percentage and fat mass, with or without diet. Minimum 30 minutes exercise 3-4 times a week helps lose fat fast.

7 Best Exercise Types For Healthy Weight Loss

As we have seen in the above section that exercise is essential for weight loss. But it is even more essential to know the correct type of exercise to perform.

It is important to note that we lose excess fat and not the muscle during weight loss. The right kind of exercise boosts lean muscle strength.

1. Aerobic Training

Aerobic training is a type of exercise which enables the heart to pump greater amounts of oxygenated blood.

It is also known as cardio and results in increased heart rate and breathing. Running, treadmill, jumping are types of cardio.

Accumulated data from 14 trials highlights the effectiveness of aerobic training in weight loss. It shows 6-12 months of aerobic training leads to weight loss and reduction in waistline in obese men and women.

A study analysis compared the effects of aerobic training and high-intensity interval training on weight loss.

Interestingly continuous aerobic training is found to be more than beneficial in HIIT. It results in higher fat loss from the abdomen, waist, hips and thighs.

16 weeks of aerobic training for 2-5 days per week helps in reducing abdominal fat.

How much aerobic exercise do I need for weight loss? The prescribed duration of aerobic training in all these studies follow US guidelines of 30-60mins of exercise per day. Other studies advocate aerobic exercise 4 times a week or 6 days a week.

2. Resistance Training

Resistance training is a form of exercise which enables muscle contraction against the weight of a certain form of resistance.

Lifting of weights are form resistance training. It increases muscle and bone strength.

Resistance training prevent muscle loss and strengthens the muscle. It also enhances bone density.

It increases walking speed, movement control and physical performance.

It plays a crucial role in weight maintenance. 6 months of resistance training prevented weight regaining as per this study.

A 5 month clinical trial showed resistance training plus calorie restriction diet decreased body fat but resistance training alone didn’t.

It improved muscle strength and physical strength.

A comparison study of aerobic and resistance training suggested that resist is suitable for increasing the lean body mass and AT for visceral fat loss.

How much resistance training do I need for weight loss? The US guidelines advocate a 8-12 or 10-15 repetition cycles of exercise of this form for 2 non-consecutive days. This should include 60-70% load and 1-2 min intervention with lighter loads.

3. HIIT-  High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training is a specialized form of exercise which has alternating phases of short anaerobic exercise and low intensity long recovery periods.

This is a form of exercise can be done for a duration of 30 mins.

It is primarily used by athletes.

8 weeks of combined HIIT and conventional training had a greater impact on total fat mass and visceral fat reduction than conventional modes of training alone.

HIIT effect the enzymes required for oxidation of fats in muscles. Thus it enhances muscle metabolism and reduces body fat.

30 secs or a few minutes of HIIT followed by 1-5min recovery periods is better for weight loss compared to aerobic training.

It is beneficial for people with a cardio-vascular disease and diabetes risk

5days of HIIT for 12 weeks showed a greater impact on heart rate, oxygen intake capacity and breathing capacity in overweight patients than in moderate training.

How much HIIT per week do I need to lose weight? HIIT 3-4 times a week for a few minutes with 1-5minutes recovery period and total 30 minute duration helps in weight loss.


Yoga is a form of free hand exercise which involves sitting and standing in different postures. It is a form of meditation.

It is started in India and spread to different part of the world.

5 day/week residential yoga program reported significant weight loss after 1 year. Not only this is also improved cognitive abilities, stress level and overall well being.

An ongoing 3 month long trial provides insights into the possible role of yoga in weight loss. Another trial reports improvement of anxiety and obesity in overweight patients.

A recently conducted 12 week study highlights the effect of yoga on abdominal fat reduction.

Further review of gathered data from clinical trial highlights the role of yoga in preventing obesity and promoting weight maintenance.

How much yoga do I need for weight loss? Yoga should be practiced for life. It is a slow form of exercise and the results on weight are slow but it helps in improving metabolic health and relieving stress, anxiety that may improve food habits. 30-60 minutes of yoga daily can help in weight loss.

5. Qi-Gong

Qi-Gong is a Chinese healthcare exercise laying stress on different yogic techniques and breathing like yoga.

A 12 week trial on 41 people showed the effect of Qi -Gong in weight loss. The result showed improved weight, reduced waistline, and improvements in leg strength and insulin resistance.

Another 12 week trial of Qi -Gong regime showed greater health benefit in weight maintenance than other programs.

How frequently do I need to practice Qi Gong for weight loss? Qi-Gong like yoga is a mind body practice and needs to be practised over long time periods. 35-60 minutes practice of qi-gong 3 days a week can help in weight loss.

6. Tai-Chi

Tai-chi is similar to yoga but has its origin in China. 12 week Tai-Chi and walking exercise illustrated their effects on weight loss.

Both the groups showed a moderate weight loss and substantial improvement in waist circumference.

A 10 week pilot study and 6 months follow of Tai Chi intervention showed fat reduction and improvement in heart rate, blood pressure, mood.

Another 12 week clinical trial of Tai Chi showed similar results with lowered BMI and waistline.

Comparison of results from various Qi-Gong and Tai-Chi randomized trials have to lead to the conclusion that they have similar effects on weight loss.

How frequently do I need to practice Tai Chi for weight loss? 30-60minutes of Tai Chi 3 days per week can help in weight loss. Tai Chis is a mind body practice and needs to be followed for long time periods for best results.


Exercise is appropriately trusted as a potent tool for weight loss but in order to get maximum benefits, it should be combined with a proper diet regime.

HIIT training is found to work the best for weight loss but those who don’t want to get involved in rigorous training, aerobic exercise shows some great promise.

Resistance training on the contrary is essential for enhancing your body strength and physique it has a negligible effect on weight loss.

Alternative forms of exercise such as yoga, tai-chi, qi-gong and kung fu also aid in weight loss.


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