Everyone knows that exercise is a vital piece to losing weight and maintaining weight loss. There is evidence that exercise will positively influence the drive to eat or not eat through the modulation of hunger and adjust the sense of fullness and satisfaction after eating. Exercise is vital to successful weight loss1. Many of my patients ask me these things about exercise and weight loss:
1. I hate exercise! Can’t I just skip that?
Unfortunately, no. Human beings were designed for movement and movement burns calories. You might be able to reduce your caloric intake enough to lose weight, but to keep it off long term and stay healthy; you’ll need the exercise component. If you hate exercise, try experimenting with different forms of movement, it doesn’t have to be a gym workout.
It could be rollerblading, ice skating, swimming, biking, belly dancing, tennis, squash, baseball, ultimate Frisbee or any other of a multitude of ways to get moving. Even walking counts, but it should be brisk enough to feel a little out of breath. Exercise can even be a social occasion, enlist a buddy to walk with every morning for the moral support and to be held accountable on the days you are low in motivation.
2. Do I have to go to a gym? I find it so intimidating there!
Absolutely not. Certain people thrive at the gym, others find it too intimidating or demoralizing seeing so many well-toned fitness aficionados in one place. Gyms can provide inspiration and motivation and social support and fitness classes are fun for those that like to move to the music. If you’re not into it, find another outlet for your exercise. Something as simple as lifting soup cans can provide an arm workout at home and fitness DVD’s and YouTube videos are plentiful if you prefer the convenience of a fitness class in your own living room.
3. What’s the best time of day to exercise for weight loss?
The optimal timing for exercise for humans hasn’t yet been determined, however, studies in mice found that:
- Eating in the morning or at noon followed by exercise in the evening
could prevent weight gain more effectively than exercise in the morning
followed by eating at noon or in the evening.
- Eating followed by exercise may be effective for minimizing
increases in body and fat weight as well as maximizing increases in
skeletal muscle weight and increased skeletal muscle weight is good for
4. What kind of exercise is best for weight loss?
There are studies arguing for high intensity training and others for more moderate sustained exercise, such as jogging or brisk walking. The best exercise is the one that you enjoy, that you will stick to and that you can do consistently. Several recent studies suggest that high intensity interval training or HIIT workouts appear to induce superior improvements in aerobic fitness.3 HIIT workouts involve a short period, say 30-60 seconds, of maximum intensity effort such as sprinting, and followed by 30-60 seconds of active rest such as walking.
Interval workouts are also time efficient for those who are pressed for time. One study reports that duration of exercise (at least 150 minutes per week of brisk walking) was more important than vigorous versus moderate intensity in achieving weight loss and improved cardiovascular fitness goals.4 A third suggests that a combination of resistance training (weights) and aerobic exercise is the better for weight and fat loss than either of these alone.5 Conflicting information to be sure, but everyone agrees that regular exercise of any kind is important to overall health, but also to maintain weight loss.
5. How long should I exercise for and how many times per week?
Aim for 30 minutes 6 times per week. That way if you fall a little short, you’ll still get 5 times per week and achieve the goal mentioned above of 150 minutes per week. It’s best to mix it up, some cardio, some intervals and some weight training in order to reap the benefits of all three types of exercise.
6. Why do I gain weight when I exercise? It’s very discouraging!
I’m sure you’ve heard or read it before, muscle weighs more than fat.
This isn’t exactly true, one pound of muscle equals one pound of fat. A pound is a pound whether it’s a pound of feathers or a pound of iron. What’s different is that one pound of fat takes up considerably more space in your body because it’s less dense than muscle. So converting a higher fat body to a leaner more muscular one means you’ll shrink in size. At the onset, however, before you’ve burned off that fat and as you’re adding muscle you may go up in weight because you’re building muscle weight. In fact, your body weight may never go down, but your size should. Body weight alone is not the best marker for improved fitness or fat loss. Taking body measurements and blood pressure weekly may help keep you motivated better than weighing yourself. Take a before and after picture. Do a starting fitness test for strength, endurance and flexibility and again each month.
Even if weight loss is minimal, the look of your body should evolve and overweight individuals with a good level of cardiorespiratory fitness are at reduced risk for cardiovascular mortality over lean but poorly fit subjects.6
7. How can I fit exercise into my busy schedule?
This is probably one of the biggest challenges for my patients. Between work, kids, domestic chores, and social occasions their lives are just too busy to exercise.
Tips for busy people:
- Get off the bus or park the car half an hour from work and walk the rest of the way
- Take a quick walk on your lunch hour
- Squeeze in a quick walk as soon as you arrive home from work before starting dinner
- Get up earlier and workout before work. Early morning workouts are less likely to get side tracked by other demands and it sets you up for a great day.
- Workout at home with DVD’s or free weights
- Schedule it – if you don’t specifically allot time for it and make it a priority it won’t happen.
- Think of it as not negotiable, just like having a shower or brushing your teeth. Exercise and taking care of yourself is vital to your ability to look after everyone else.
- Every half hour or so, get up from your desk, throw on some upbeat music and bust a move, drop to the floor and do 20 push-ups or sit-ups or do some quick stretching and deep breathing at your desk.
8. Should I eat before I exercise, if so, what? What should I eat after I exercise?
To build muscle and strength, you need protein. Protein is a building block for muscle, but is also important for bone health and the immune system. Have a small serving of protein (5-8 grams) about 15-30 minutes before working out and again immediately after. Examples for before and after exercise snacks would be one serving of Greek yogourt, some hummus and veggies, 2 tablespoons of almond butter or 20 almonds. Take a protein shake to the gym and have half before and the other half after you workout. Beware juice smoothies as they are loaded with sugar, even though it may be natural sugar from fruit, it’s still a lot of sugar to gulp down in a short amount of time. A whole fruit is a much better option. A piece of fruit and a handful of almonds makes a great, portable post-workout snack to have right at the gym.
Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND has been in practice as an ND since 1999 and previously worked for 20 years as a
medical laboratory technologist. She is Clinic Director of Forces of Nature Wellness in Toronto and was twice voted “Best Naturopath in Toronto”. Pamela maintains a busy, diverse practice with particular expertise in naturopathic treatment of PCOS, PMS, menopause, acne, infertility, uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Pamela’s interests include fitness, triathlons, yoga, healthy cooking, tennis and volleyball.
- Blundell JE1, Gibbons C, Caudwell P, Finlayson G, Hopkins M. Appetite control and energy balance: impact of exercise. Obes Rev. 2015 Feb;16 Suppl 1:67-76.
- Sasaki H1, Ohtsu T, Ikeda Y, Tsubosaka M, Shibata S. Combination of meal and exercise timing with a high-fat diet influences energy
expenditure and obesity in mice. Chronobiol Int. 2014 Nov;31(9):959-75.
- De Feo P. Is high-intensity exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise for weight loss? Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Nov;23(11):1037-42.
- Chambliss HO. Exercise duration and intensity in a weight-loss program. Clin J Sport Med. 2005 Mar;15(2):113-5.
- Ho SS, Dhaliwal SS, Hills AP, Pal S. The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC Public Health. 2012 Aug 28;12:704.
- Poirier P, Després JP. Exercise in weight management of obesity. Cardiol Clin. 2001 Aug;19(3):459-70.