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10 Reasons Why Exercise is Good for Your Weight

exercise, weight lossA recent Time magazine article, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin," is misleading at best. Exercise is critical to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, especially when paired with healthy eating habits.

Countless studies, numerous experts who study exercise, and the millions of people who have lost weight all attest to the fact that working out works.

  1. Exercise zaps belly fat

      Regular moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise has the greatest impact on reducing abdominal fat -- the dangerous fat that increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

  2. Exercise controls calories

      You need to burn more calories than you consume in order to lose weight. Regular exercise uses up excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.

  3. Exercise keeps lost pounds MIA

      Ninety percent of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off for a year do about an hour of physical activity a day.

  4. Exercise boosts metabolism

      You'll lose fat when you diet without exercising, but you'll also lose muscle, which means you'll burn fewer calories. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you'll burn.

  5. Exercise does more than the scale shows

      If you gain 3 pounds of lean muscle and lose 4 pounds of fat, you've actually experienced a 7-pound improvement in your body condition, despite the scale only showing 1 pound of weight loss.

  6. Exercise curbs emotional eating

      Working out has been proven time and time again to help regulate mood, which has a direct effect on people who eat when they're stressed or upset.

  7. Exercise creates a healthy chain reaction

      Healthy habits tend to cluster together. When people make positive changes, like getting more exercise, they tend to work on other health improvements as well, such as eating better.

  8. Exercise brings on the fun

      Rock-climbing is more exciting than eating a celery stick. That's why it's sometimes easier to be active to stay slim than to maintain a strict diet.

  9. Exercise stops hunger

      People who exercise and diet are actually less hungry than those who only diet, according to at least one study.

  10. Exercise increases energy

      Regular physical activity increases stamina by boosting your body's production of energy-promoting neurotransmitters. That gives you even more motivation to get moving and shed pounds.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Many of you may not realize that I have been passionate about exercise for 41 years. Ever since I first read Dr. Ken Cooper’s book Aerobics, I was hooked. Unfortunately, for over 30 years I primarily pursued aerobic type of exercises. Nevertheless I have been exercising regularly since then.

It is one of the primary reasons why I went to medical school. I wanted to integrate exercise into health care. One thing you can count on in life is change, and by the time I finally started my medical practice nearly 25 years ago, exercise had become widely adopted in the culture and it was not a struggle to convince people of the value of exercise.

So I progressed into other areas such as clinical nutrition and eventually mind body medicine, which has the most profound influence of all on your health.

Just as my views on health have evolved, my exercise views have also morphed over time. Now aerobic activity is actually a minority of my workout. My favorite aerobic workout is hiking up mountains over 10,000 foot elevation in the summer. It is absolutely awesome. Unfortunately I don’t live in the Rockies so I only get to do that occasionally.

But now I balance elliptical training with strength training, anaerobic cardio interval type training, and active isolated stretching every night. Eventually I would like to develop a regular yoga practice as I believe that is an extraordinary tool to keep fit.

I remain absolutely convinced that exercise is one of the most important tools that you can implement to gain optimal health. In my view it is not possible to be healthy without regular exercise.

You probably know that next to optimizing your vitamin D levels, lowering your insulin levels to below 2 is one of the healthiest physical goals you can have. Exercise is one of the most effective tools to normalize your insulin levels and can radically reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Time Magazine Really Blows it

That is why I was so shocked to see Time, one of my favorite magazines to stay current, run such a negative article on exercise.

Last week they published “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,” which downplays the benefits of exercise, and quotes a so-called expert saying that, “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.”

It is just shocking to me how such trash gets published. The poor lay person with little to no formal health education has an enormous challenge sorting through this maze of health information.

Hopefully one of roles I help to serve for people is to provide them with a grounded observation of this type of misinformation, so they can have a consistent perspective which will move them towards health.

Can You Be Optimally Healthy Without Exercise?

No, you cannot. A healthy diet and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to creating and maintaining optimal health. But especially if you are struggling with your weight, exercise is clearly one of the key factors that can synergize the effects of healthy food choices.

Keep in mind that if you are overweight, you will need at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to experience any weight loss benefits. Major studies have shown that 60 minutes a day is best, and in my experience, these findings hold true.

The key is to get the right type of exercise. Avoid the mistake I made for over thirty years and just assume that aerobic cardio type exercises are going to do the trick for you. I can confidently tell you that you need to have a comprehensive exercise strategy that includes far more than cardio.

Maximize Your Weight Loss Efforts with the Right Kind of Exercise

One of the “secrets” that can boost your weight loss is called ‘interval training,’ meaning you take a short break in between each exercise.

I’ve published many stories about the benefits of interval training, which has led me to incorporate interval training (sprints) with endurance cardio training (running) in my own routine. But you certainly don't have to run to achieve these benefits. You can receive similar effects by using properly supervised weight training.

Several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session. This has been shown to hold true even when the session is not done at an extremely high intensity.

In one such study, those who cycled for 40 minutes, alternating four-minute bursts at 90 percent effort with two minutes of rest, improved their cardiovascular fitness by 13 percent, and were able to burn 36 percent more fat during a later hour-long moderate cycling session.

Another study took it even further, showing you can burn more fat exercising for 20 minutes than for 40 minutes!

In their trial, women either exercised for 20 minutes, alternating 8 seconds of sprinting on a bike with 12 seconds of exercising lightly, or exercised at a regular pace for 40 minutes. After exercising three times a week for 15 weeks, those who did the 20-minute, alternating routine lost three times as much fat as the other women.

The researchers believe this type of exercise works because it produces a unique metabolic response. Intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which allow more fat to be burned from under your skin and within your muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation is thought to drive the increased weight loss.

An added boon of interval training is that it cuts down on the amount of time you need to exercise, which is great if you don’t have time for hour-long cardio workouts.

Additionally, another important aspect for weight loss is to make sure you also incorporate strength training into your exercise routine. As described above, muscle consumes more calories, even at rest, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn around the clock.

Examples of Anaerobic Cardio Interval Exercises

You can certainly do running sprints. This is the classic. You simply run for 50-200 yards all out, and then walk until you recover. You can do a few of these to ten or more depending on your fitness level.

This was my first experience in interval training and although I certainly did these when I was younger and used to compete in college, when I retried them I wound up getting a bone fracture on my butt bone (ischeal tuberosity) because my muscles literally pulled the bone apart when I ran. This was probably related to my age and lack of flexibility from not being engaged in a good stretching program.

So I learned there are literally dozens of other activities you can do to achieve the same benefit, with virtually none of the risk.

I’ve listed two examples of these below from the new fitness series that we hope to launch later this year. I hope to have over 100 exercises initially and hundreds eventually. Most of the anaerobic cardio exercises can be done with little to no equipment.

Other Recommendations to Get the Most Out of Your Exercise Regimen

Your key to exercising effectively is to make sure you address certain variables. By doing so, you will get the most out of your routine. I’ve already covered the benefits of incorporating interval or sprint-type exercises and strength training– both of which will optimize calorie burning and fat loss.

Here are three additional variables to keep in mind to squeeze out the maximum benefits from your exercise routine:

Length of time – Start where you are, meaning if you can only do 10 minutes a day, then start there and build up slowly. I would encourage you, however, to increase the amount of time you exercise gradually until you reach 60 to 90 minutes a day.

Frequency – If you are overweight, you’ll want to exercise daily. This should be your “treatment dose” until you’ve normalized your weight or insulin levels. Once normalized, you will only need to exercise three to four times a week.

Intensity -- Exercise hard enough so that it is difficult to talk to someone next to you. (When you exercise “hard enough,” your cardiovascular system is under such significant amount of stress that the mere act of talking makes it difficult to provide your body with enough oxygen.) However, if you cannot carry on a conversation at all, then you have gone too far and need to decrease your intensity.

Exercise is the Only Drug that Should Be Part of Your Lifestyle

Please remember I recommend viewing exercise as a drug that needs to be precisely prescribed to achieve maximum benefits. The simple act of “writing out a prescription” for exercise is an excellent approach to taking a proactive approach for your health and weight.

If there is any way you can pull it off, I would strongly encourage you to consult with an exercise professional. There are many outstanding trainers out there and there hasn’t been one trainer I have worked with that hasn’t been able to teach me some great exercise tips.

Also remember that exercise is far less expensive than any other medical intervention, and it will radically reduce your risk of most every disease you can come down with.

BUT, most importantly, it makes you feel GREAT.

I don’t exercise because I want to avoid becoming sick, I do it because I LOVE the way it makes me feel.

It is the most wonderful sensation in the world to have plenty of energy, no pain when you move, and enormous flexibility to participate in just about any activity you can possibly think of.

Guess you can tell I am slightly passionate about exercise, but that is only because I know what it has done for me, the tens of thousands of patients I have seen, and what it can do for you.

I've devoted many pages on my web site to all the wonderful health benefits of exercise. If you need some direction to get started, I urge you to review my beginner's exercise page, which includes links to my most important exercise articles, and a free table you can download to keep track of your fitness goals and progress.

+ Sources and References