For a lot of us, our lifestyles are becoming more sedentary. From jobs that might involve sitting at a desk for hours on time to our evenings spent in front of the television, nowadays, our daily routines often have little energy expenditure.
Over time, a high-calorie diet packed with processed foods combined with a lack of movement has led to many of us gaining weight. We can now see evidence of this by looking at how obesity rates have tripled worldwide in just a few decades.
This article will explore the benefits of exercise and its impact on weight loss.
The benefits of exercise
There are many different types of exercise, from taking your dog on a walk around the park to Olympic weight-lifting. While there are so many different forms of exercise, they are equally diverse when it comes to improving our mental well-being, brain health and blood pressure. The good news is that you don’t need to be at the Olympics pumping iron to gain all or some of these benefits.
A lot of us want to exercise to lose weight, whether that’s to improve health markers, lower our body mass index (BMI), or just to feel more confident with our body. Exercise has been found to help reduce our BMI, while also increasing the proportion of muscle maintained and fat lost when losing weight.
Weight loss vs fat loss
When we talk about weight loss, what we’re actually talking about is fat loss. Many people can be discouraged when they have been regularly exercising, yet the scales have hardly budged – it seems there has been little progress despite all the hard work involved.
Fortunately, our bodies are still transforming, even if we can’t see any changes on the weighing scales. As we increase the amount of exercise we undertake, our body adapts, increasing our muscle mass. The scales haven’t moved, but we might have reduced our fat mass while simultaneously increasing the amount of muscle mass we have.
More muscle mass has a whole range of benefits, from increasing our metabolic rate to helping improve our blood glucose control.
Exercise also helps us to prioritise fat loss, as we begin to notice any weight loss is actually down to losing fat tissue.
What are the best types of exercise for fat loss?
Before we go any further, it’s worth taking a closer look at the two fundamental types of exercise.
The first is aerobic exercise, which improves our cardiovascular health and includes running, jogging, swimming and cycling.
The second type is resistance training, which builds skeletal muscle strength and endurance. This can include weight lifting, or bodyweight exercises such as squats, planks and press-ups.
Both of these types of exercise have different benefits. For instance, aerobic exercise reduces fat mass and overall body mass.  When undertaking aerobic exercise, we should aim toward the UK guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Avoiding long sedentary periods is also essential as this can increase blood glucose levels and lead to poor blood glucose control.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take part in resistance training too, as it can still help reduce fat mass and has a wide range of other health benefits, including:
- Maintaining and increasing muscle mass
- Improved bone health
- Improving physical performance and functional independence
- Supporting the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes through positive changes in visceral fat, HbA1c, and insulin sensitivity (7).
Aerobic exercise combined with less sedentary time is the way to go when looking to achieve fat loss. However, we shouldn’t overlook the additional benefits of resistance training. Finding the time to include both aerobic and resistance training into your routine will give you the best of both worlds – improving your muscle mass and metabolic health while reducing body fat.
1) World Health Organization. (2021). Obesity and overweight. Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight#:~:text=Facts%20about%20overweight%20and%20obesity&text=In%202016%2C%2039%25%20of%20adults,tripled%20between%201975%20and%202016. Last accessed 27th April 2022.
2) Ruegsegger GN & Booth FW. (2018). Health benefits of exercise. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(7): a029694.
3) Van Dyck D, Cerin E, Bourdeaudhuij ID, Hinckson E, Reis RS, Davey R, Sarmiento OL, Mitas J, Troelson J, MacFarlane D, Salvo D, Aguinaga-Ontoso I, Owen N, Cain KL, & Sallis JF. (2015). International study of objectively-measured physical activity and sedentary time with body mass index and obesity: IPEN Adult Study. International Journal of Obesity (London), 39(2): 199-207.
4) Miller et al. (1997) – exercise added to dietary interventions may not cause more weight loss, but the proportion of fat lost may increase.
5) Willis LH, Slentz CA, Bateman LA, Shields AT, Piner LW, Bales CW, Houmard JA, & Kraus WE. (2012). Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(12): 1831-1837.
6) Fritschi C, Park H, Richardson A, Park C, Collins EG, Mermelstein R, Riesche L, & Quinn L. (2016). Association between daily time spent in sedentary behaviour and duration of hyperglycaemia in type 2 diabetes. Biological Research for Nursing, 18(2): 160-166.
7) Westcott WL. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(4): 209-216.