Weight Loss: Can You Do It With Exercise Alone?

Exploring the role of diet and calorie reduction

If you want to lose weight, wouldn’t it be great to ditch your calorie-tracking apps and focus solely on your workouts? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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Exercise while ignoring your diet just isn’t a good weight-loss strategy. Here’s why. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume or eat fewer calories than your body uses each day. If you don’t have a caloric deficit, you will not lose weight.

It also depends on the type of exercises you do. Cardiovascular exercises, such as running, walking or biking, are important, but you also need some weight-bearing exercises to fuel your weight loss efforts.

Here are some other recommendations to help you stay on track.

1. Do use a calorie-tracking app

OK, so you do need to track calories. Doing so will give you the insights you need to lose weight.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever before with apps like MyFitnessPal, Lose It! and FatSecret. These apps do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to calculating calories. Some apps also track exercise to help you understand what your caloric deficit is each day.

Once you see the data, you may be amazed at how much you’re overeating or how many calories you’re consuming.

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For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 230 calories. An average alcoholic beverage contains between 100 to 200 calories. Those are empty calories that your body doesn’t need. And they really start to add up over time.

2. Don’t focus on the scale

This may sound counter intuitive, but I advise people not to focus on the scale. Rather, they should pay attention to how they’re feeling and what their energy level is. Those are key factors, especially at the beginning.

The pounds will come off. Your scale number may not change when you get on it. You may add muscle mass and muscle weighs more than fat. It’s more about how your body feels, how your clothes fit, and how you’re perceiving yourself.

3. Aim for 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 

The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes per week (30 minutes, five days a week) of moderate-intensity activity.

Whether you walk, bike, jog or run, try to work in that 150 minutes of exercise. And, you should focus on getting at least 10 minutes of consecutive exercise at a time. Don’t worry about how fast you’re moving. Just move and keep moving.

4. Hit the weights 

Strength training will help you the most when it comes to losing weight. That’s because you will burn more calories throughout the day by increasing your resting metabolic rate.

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If you’re a member of a local gym, ask one of the trainers to show you some strength-training exercises or help you create a routine. You could use free weights, machines, or both.

If you’re not a gym person, you can also buy some dumbbells and a weight bench to use at home.

5. Use a heart-rate monitor

A heart-rate monitor will tell you how many calories your body burns while you exercise. Heart rate monitors can be stand-alone devices or you can find them built into some fitness trackers. They are generally more accurate than an exercise machine’s built-in monitor.

Are your ready to start? Just be sure you’re healthy. Talk to your doctor, and once you have a clean bill of health, go for it.

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Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.
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