Stop Exercising to Lose Weight

As a personal trainer, I meet with a lot of individuals who want to lose weight. The first thing they ask is, “What is the best exercise to lose weight?”

Exercise alone will not be effective for weight loss. You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. You can easily eat 1,000 calories in 10 minutes—just look at the back of a Hungry Man nutrition label, or the calories in a Sonic milk shake. You would have to run for 90 minutes, jump rope for 75 minutes, or swim laps for 150 minutes to burn off those calories (Campbell, 2015).

I don’t want to deter you from exercising. Exercise has many benefits for your mental and physical health—it may help reduce depression symptoms, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decrease the risk of certain types of cancers, and help control type 2 diabetes.

Overall, people who do the recommended levels of physical activity can reduce their risk of premature death by 20–30 percent. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that activity level was more of a risk factor for cardiovascular disease than fatness. “Unfit, lean men also had a higher risk of all-cause and CVD mortality than did men who were fit and obese” (Lee, Blair, & Jackson, 1999).

An example of all the research done on exercise and the reduction of cardiovascular disease from the a statement from the American Heart Association, “A review of 9 trials examining the effect of exercise training in 337 patients with type II diabetes reported an average reduction of hemoglobin (Hgb) A1c of 0.5 percent to 1 percent… At least 44 randomized controlled trials including 2674 participants have studied the effect of exercise training on resting blood pressure… [and] A meta-analysis of 52 exercise training trials of >12 weeks’ duration including 4700 subjects demonstrated an average increase in HDL-C levels of 4.6% and reductions in triglyceride and LDL-C concentrations of 3.7 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively” (Thompson, et. al., 2003).

Another non-weight loss benefit from exercise is strengthening your bones. Muscles pulling and tugging on your bones during exercise stimulates bone-making cells, which strengthens your bones. If your bones are stronger, you have a reduced risk of breaking your bones when you are older.

How does exercise help mental health?

Exercise can release feel-good hormones that may ease depression (ever heard of neurotransmitters, endorphins, or endocannabinoids?) It also reduces immune system chemicals that can heighten depression.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions in the United States (Craske, 2012). Duke University conducted a study 1999, that looked at 156 older adults with Major Depressive Disorder. Participants were randomized to four months of either aerobic exercise, an antidepressant, or a combined exercise and antidepressant group. Participants in the exercise group exercised in a group setting three times a week at 70-85 percent of their heart rate reserve. Participants in the antidepressant condition were prescribed antidepressant consistent with standard clinical treatment for depression. Following the 16 week intervention, groups had similar levels of depressive symptoms, suggesting that exercise and standard antidepressant treatments were equally effective. Interestingly, a follow-up examination of these participants conducted 10 months after the completion of the treatment period showed that participants in the exercise group showed lower rates of depression relapse in comparison with both the antidepressant and combined groups (Blumenthal, et. al., 1999).

Another side effect of exercise that may increase psychological well-being is a boost in confidence. Exercise can help you take your mind off your worries. Using exercise as a distraction can give your mind a break from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression (Craft & Perna, 2004).

Instead of looking at exercise to lose weight and look better, try finding a motivating factor that will keep you exercising during and after you’ve lost the weight. Maybe you sleep better, eat healthier, or just feel happier when you exercise. The long-term benefits of exercise go well beyond weight loss, and I hope that we can exercise for more than just the number on the scale.


Blair, S. N., Lee, C. D., & Jackson, A. S. (1999). Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Body Composition, And All-cause And Cardiovascular Disease Mortality In Men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(373-380).

Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Moore, K. A., Craighead, W. E., Herman, S., Khatri, P., et al. (1999). Effects Of Exercise Training On Older Patients With Major Depression. Arch Internal Medicine, 159(19), 2349–56.

Campbell, M. (2015). Exercises That Will Burn 500 Calories. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from

Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from

Craske, M. G. (2012). Transdiagnostic Treatment For Anxiety And Depression. Depression and Anxiety,29(9), 749-753. doi:10.1002/da.21992

Dick, A., Suskin, N., Cd, L., Sn, B., & As, J. (1999). Fitness, Fatness, and Mortality in Men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 9(3), 187. doi:10.1097/00042752-199907000-00017

Thompson, P. D., Buchner, D., Pina, I. L., Balady, G. J., Williams, M. A., Marcus, B. H., … Wenger, N. K. (2003). Exercise and Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: A Statement From the Council on Clinical Cardiology (Subcommittee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention) and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism (Subcommittee on Physical Activity). Circulation, 107(24), 3109-3116. doi:10.1161/01.cir.0000075572.40158.77

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