What if I told you that most people have been wrong when they have equated aerobic exercise and weight loss as the ultimate combination? Don’t get me wrong. I love running and cycling for sustained periods of time and I try to motivate many people to enjoy these activities as well.
I’ve competed as a track and field athlete, so running has been in my blood for many years. When I see folks out there running solo, with friends and family, or competing in the local 5k race, I get pumped! Seeing all those people out there setting goals, taking care of themselves physically, and pushing through mental barriers makes me happy as a Health & Fitness Coach.
What kills me is when I see people use aerobic exercise as the main ingredient in their weight loss plan. To be blunt: If you want to lose weight and keep it off long term, making aerobic exercise primary is the WORST way to do it.
Now aerobic exercise does burn a lot of calories, which affects your weight initially. However, overall weight and fat weight are not the same thing. Aerobic exercise is not the best prescription for fat loss. Of course, if you’re just getting started it will help you burn some fat, but the evidence (research) shows this is not sustainable over the long haul.
What does the research say? One study conducted over a ten-year period found increases in aerobic exercise and other physical activity did not result in a reduction in overall obesity rates. In another study, comparing two groups exercising 30 minutes versus 60 minutes per day over a 12-week period, found the 30-minute group lost more overall weight than the 60-minute group. Fat loss was not significantly different among the two groups either. I can cite many more studies, but I think the point is clear. Increases in aerobic exercise, whether over time or in the same exercise setting, does not seem to play a central role on weight or fat loss.
Let’s not get it confused; aerobic exercise is an AWESOME way to improve overall health and wellbeing and should be part of every exercise program. For instance, it provides mental clarity, elevated mood or contentment, and immune system support; improves function of the heart, lungs and circulatory system; burns an amazing number of calories; and boosts overall health, fitness and performance.
The best way to burn fat and keep it off is to do more anaerobic exercise as part of your cardio training plan, and of course strength training. Strength training, however, is the hidden gem to fat loss. When you build muscle your metabolic rate increases, which is fat burning even when not exercising. And strength training also stimulates hormone health, a powerful fat loss influencer.
Do not misread the above information. Aerobic exercise is an important part of every exercise plan, but it shouldn’t be the main ingredient when the goal is weight loss. It’s all about proportion.