Which Exercise Is Best for Weight Loss?

The answer to that burning question will differ from person to person. Let your own preferences help you figure out which exercise is best for weight loss.

If you want to lift weights to maximize muscle building and calories, an interval session might involve lifting weights for one minute, followed by three minutes on a nearby treadmill.

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Deciding which exercise is best for weight loss can be a dilemma for anyone who doesn’t already play a sport or exercise regularly. The very fact that we may be hunting for an answer to that question acknowledges that we want to accomplish our weight loss goal as quickly as possible. If only it were that easy.

Choosing the right exercise to lose weight begins by accepting these notions:

  1. You’ll need a realistic exercise program. You’re going to keep up your exercise routine only if the program you choose is one you enjoy and requires an amount of time your schedule allows.
  2. A balanced diet matters. It’s an undisputed exercise fact. You’ll need to pay attention to your diet: how you eat, how much you eat, and what you eat, with an eye toward cutting calories.
  3. Set exercise goals you can achieve. Even with the best exercise for weight loss, weight loss takes time. According to the Centers for Disease Control, healthy weight loss is one to two pounds per week until you reach your desired weight.

Muscle Mass and Calorie Burning

Although the combination of diet and exercises that incorporate the most areas of your body will net the most long-lasting results, you can focus on just increasing muscle mass and burning calories with these exercises:

  • Squats
  • Jump rope
  • Lifting weights/dumbbells
  • Stationary bike
  • Stair-climbing
  • Power yoga
  • Running
  • Lunges
  • Kettleball swings

These exercises will work, but the undisputed best exercise for weight loss is interval training, an activity that combines both aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

What is aerobic exercise, and what is anaerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise involves a longer period of time at a lower intensity. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aerobic activity “moves your large muscles, such as those in your arms and legs. Running, swimming, walking, bicycling, dancing, and doing jumping jacks are examples of aerobic activity. Aerobic activity also is called endurance activity.”

Aerobic activity will get your heart beating faster than usual, and you’ll breathe harder. “Over time,” as noted at NIH, “regular aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs stronger and able to work better.”

Anaerobic exercise is intense and done for shorter durations. If you’re finding it difficult to talk while you’re doing an exercise (some call it “the talk test”), it’s an anaerobic activity.

Anaerobic exercise will burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. It will build muscles and strength, and give your body an overall trimmer look.

The goal of interval training is to sandwich the intense periods of activity (anaerobic) between recovery periods of lesser effort (aerobic). Keep that “talk test” rule of thumb in use, and you’ll stay on target. Interval training can be adapted to nearly any sport or exercise.

Study Results: “Which Exercise is Best for Weight Loss?”

A study at Duke University compared aerobic training, resistance training, and a combination of the two to see which exercise is best for weight loss.

“Given that approximately two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight due to excess body fat, we want to offer clear, evidence-based exercise recommendations that will truly help people lose weight and body fat,” said Leslie H. Willis, MS, an exercise physiologist at Duke Medicine and the study’s lead author.

“No one type of exercise will be best for every health benefit,” Willis added. “However, it might be time to reconsider the conventional wisdom that resistance training alone can induce changes in body mass or fat mass due to an increase in metabolism, as our study found no change.”

If your chosen exercise is to walk, an example of an interval training session, according to verywell.com, would be moderate walking for 2½ minutes, followed by a 30-second sprint. Repeat five times. To increase the intensity, you can increase the sprint times or use hills for a more intense workout.

If you want to lift weights to maximize muscle building and calories, an interval session might involve lifting weights for one minute, followed by three minutes on a nearby treadmill. You can repeat that or incorporate a combination of other anaerobic activities with a less intense aerobic activity. The key is to keep moving and increase difficulty via resistance training when you build up your strength and stamina.

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Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.

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Cindy Foley

Cindy Foley is the editor of several health reports, including Managing Your Cholesterol, Core Fitness, and Brain Power & Nutrition, among others. Foley has worked in the private medical practice field … Read More

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