Working out doesn’t always mean shedding extra pounds.
Many studies show that exercise alone won’t help you shed the extra pounds, but a few studies suggest that it works for some people.
Losing weight is one of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2019.
Many people turn to exercise to help them achieve their goal — which is why you see a spike in gym memberships in January.
But can you lose weight just by exercising more?
Research on the matter is mixed.
Here’s a quick overview to help you decide if you should focus on diet or exercise to shed a few extra pounds.
Expected weight loss from exercise
A July 2018 review of previous research, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, breaks down what you might expect to lose initially with different types of exercise:
This is better than nothing. But clinical guidelines recommend that people who are overweight or obese lose at least 5 percent in order to see improvements in risk factors like lipid levels and insulin sensitivity.
In most of the studies reviewed, doing exercise by itself falls short of this. But it can work with “high volumes of aerobic exercise training,” write the authors of the paper.
Intense exercise can promote weight loss
Joseph E. Donnelly, EdD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is an author of several of the studies in the 2018 review. He’s also a big proponent of exercise for weight loss.
“If you can get people to exercise at a certain level, you can produce 5 to 7 percent weight loss in almost anybody, and that is clinically significant,” said Donnelly.
In one of his studies, young adults did five aerobic workouts per week for 10 months.
They were divided into two groups: burning either 400 kilocalories or 600 kilocalories per workout. There was also a control group of people not assigned to exercise.
By the end of the study, people in the 400 kilocalories group lost an average of 4.3 percent of their weight, and those in the 600 kilocalories group lost an average of 5.7 percent.
Women and men lost about the same amount of weight. However, some people lost more weight and some less.
To put this in perspective, in order to burn 400 kilocalories, a 160-pound person would need to do one hour of water aerobics. To burn 600 kilocalories, they’d have to run at 5 miles per hour for an hour.
The average daily intake is 1,600 to 2,400 kilocalories for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for adult men.
It’s not surprising that people in Donnelly’s study lost weight — they were burning an extra 2,000 to 3,000 kilocalories per week.
This amount of exercise essentially burns off an entire day’s worth of food each week.