Regular exercise is one of the most powerful weight loss boosters you can find—and it doesn’t need to be rigid or rigorous for you to get good results.
Not only is the “no pain, no gain” adage proving to be false, high-intensity exercise and the resulting pain can be counterproductive and even life-threatening. For example, the leading sports for sudden death are racquetball, handball, running, and jogging. Instead, I recommend gentler forms of exercise that are both simple and fun.
The three best exercises for weight loss are walking, dancing, and weight training. These gentler forms of exercise, which I’ve long encouraged in my patients, help keep your metabolism high, and allow you to loosen up, let go, and relax. But if you prefer tennis, golf (without the golf cart), skiing, or other recreational activities, you can get similar results.
1. Walking Revs Up Your Metabolism
Walking helps to improve your metabolism, so you burn more calories even at rest. Plus, walking regularly lowers your risk for heart disease, lowers your blood pressure, helps to prevent diabetes, and even lowers your risk for certain cancers.
Ideally, you want to walk for 30-45 minutes five times a week. But if you aren’t already walking, start gradually and slowly. In fact, researchers have found that speed doesn’t matter; it’s the length of time you walk that's important when you are walking to lose weight.
Start out on the “installment plan,” walking 10 minutes every other day for one week, gradually increasing by increments of 5 to 10 minutes each week. In a month, you’ll be taking 30-minute walks. Walk every other day and you’ll have a good workout routine. Five days a week is optimal.
2. Dancing Boosts Metabolism & Improves Flexibility
I like dancing because it incorporates the whole body and engages the muscular “floor” or base of the pelvis, which is a major energy center if our bodies. When you rotate it while dancing, your entire body moves. All that body movement means you really can dance and lose weight.
I’ve often heard people say: “But I don’t know how to dance” or “I have two left feet.” I would reply that we all know how to dance. As adults, we may have forgotten how temporarily, but your body’s ability to respond to music can be reawakened if you let it happen. If you’re ever around small children, watch what happens when music starts to play. They immediately start moving, and their delight is obvious. That kind of spontaneity is very freeing. Why not rekindle your inner child and allow yourself to experience it, while enjoying the health benefits of one of the best exercises for losing weight.
If you want to learn specific moves, many community recreation programs offer a variety of dance classes. Consider signing up for a class to learn new steps or brush up on your dancing skills. Remember, your living room can always be the site of an impromptu dance session. Just turn on your favorite music and let yourself enjoy it with your entire body.
3. Weight Training Builds Muscle So You Burn More Calories
Muscle burns more calories than fat, so improving muscle mass is important for weight loss. Plus, a simple weight training program tones your body, while significantly reducing your insulin levels and blood pressure, and consequently lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Before you begin a strength-training routine, check with your physician to discuss any possible restrictions you may need to follow. Go easy with strength training—10-20 minutes two or three times a week, and always take a day off between strength training sessions to give your muscles time to heal. Weightlifting actually creates microscopic tears in the muscle that, when healed in a day or so, create stronger tissue than before.
Keep these weight-training tips in mind:
- Don’t Overexert: Choose a routine that is challenging yet won’t cause you to overexert yourself. For example, you can use light hand or ankle weights (2–3 pounds for women; 5–10 pounds for men), or exercise bands that you stretch with your arms and legs. Regular abdominal crunches and push-ups count as strength-training exercises too, and don’t require any equipment.
- Warm Up: Begin with a few minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking, and gentle stretching before you begin lifting weights, stretching your bands, or doing sit-ups or push-ups. Work slowly and smoothly, inhaling as you lift your arms or legs, and exhaling as you lower the weights.
- Establish a Comfortable Pace: A strength-training “set” consists of 8–12 lifts with weights or exercise band stretches, and remember to rest between sets. You can work your way up to repeating a set two or three times. Increase the number of sets gradually, and add more weight as you gain strength, but don’t push yourself to the limit. Doing too much too soon increases your chance of injury, leaves you with sore muscles, and lessens the likelihood that you will continue.
- Remember to Cool Down: After you’re done weight lifting, stretch gently to give your heart rate the opportunity to come down, and to improve your flexibility.
Why These Exercises Improve Weight Loss
Getting a balance of aerobic exercise and weight training kicks your weight-loss efforts into high gear in several important way. It revs up your metabolism and helps to build muscle, so you burn more calories even at rest. The higher your metabolism, the more quickly you’ll lose those extra pounds.
Exercise also improves your mood, which helps you to avoid cravings for high-carbohydrate sugary snacks. That’s because it boosts the level of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals responsible for the “runners high.” In fact, studies show aerobic exercise is a quicker mood elevator than antidepressants.
Plus, exercise improves your sleep and there’s a strong link between a lack of sleep and overeating. The reason is that a lack of sleep decreases your levels of the satiety chemical leptin. So your body thinks it’s hungry even when you don’t need additional food. Exercising several hours before bedtime can improve sleep.