You’ve seen the pictures. Online, on TV, or in a magazine, someone promotes their ‘best exercise for weight loss’ with those before and after pictures. In the one on the left, they look like they need to lose weight. In the next picture, they look toned, tight and sexy.
Those before and after pictures provide a compelling case for the exercise program. That is, if they’re real, right?
Ads with images like these – along with all the hype surrounding weight loss – prompt a good question:
Is there a best exercise for weight loss?
If you’ve asked that question, you’re not alone. Researchers have asked that same question. And they’ve discovered that the answer is…Yes!
The Best Exercises for Weight Loss
Losing weight isn’t the only great benefit researchers discovered when they studied the exercises that promote weight loss. They found two more, perhaps even greater benefits: these exercises are low cost and they don’t require a lot of time.
That’s right! You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a gym membership, training gear or exercise equipment. All you really need is a good pair of gym shoes and some comfortable clothing that let you move, and that you don’t mind sweating in.
And you don’t need to commit hours a day to do it. In fact, the exercises don’t even take 30 minutes. A lot of them can be done in 20 minutes.
Now, researchers didn’t identify specific exercises, say like push-ups (although those are great!). Instead, the studies they did identify the type of exercise that leads to the most weight loss. It turns on the body’s fat burning processes and keeps them going all day long.
What were those exercises? Well, researchers have identified two that turn on your body’s fat-burning processes, don’t cost a lot and can be done in less than 30 minutes. Here they are…
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
You’ve probably heard something about this one as it’s become super popular for people looking to lose weight. HIIT has a lot of benefits in that the workouts are generally short, you don’t need much, or really any, equipment, it’s adaptable to your individual ability and, as researchers have found, it works.
One study that evaluated the results of HIIT exercise concluded that done regularly it had the same effect as a 90-minute bike ride.[i] The reason for this has everything to do with energy deficits.
Light exercise creates a small energy deficit. Moderate exercise creates a slightly bigger one. High-intensity exercise creates the biggest. Here’s how it works…
When you do high-intensity exercise, your muscles burn through the glucose they’ve stored up. They also burn through the oxygen they have. Your body struggles to deliver oxygen to the muscles is the reason you get out of breath.
At the same time though, your body’s converting all the glycogen stored in the liver into glucose. With a high-intensity exercise, you burn up your glycogen stores fast. Then it turns to the next available source of energy – fat.
The reason HIIT works so well to burn fat has to do with the huge energy deficit you create. You see, the short burst, high-intensity of the exercise leaves your cells starving for fuel and oxygen. Converting fat into energy (glucose) takes energy, which means you need to burn more fat.
You also need to restore oxygen to every cell which requires more energy. Removing lactic acid, the waste built-up during a work-out also requires what? You got it, energy. But with HIIT, you’ve burned up all your stored sugar, so all you have left to burn for energy is fat.
In one study, young women who were overweight or obese and had struggled with it for a long time were put on a HIIT exercise routine adapted to their specific abilities and needs. Over the course of the study, they lost 10% of their total fat![ii]
One other study reported that the participants who did HIIT exercise lost 48% of their belly fat in 8 weeks.[iii]
Quite simply, HIIT works. But it’s not the only one that does.
Moderate Intensity Exercise
Researchers at the University of Missouri compared HIIT to moderate intensity exercise. Moderate exercise could include activities like a brisk walk, bicycling or simply a slower paced workout.
For the study, participants were selected who all were overweight or obese and all suffered from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition of excess fat build-up in the liver. Many people who struggle with weight have this condition. Some of the people did HIIT while others did the moderate exercise for the 4 weeks of the study.
By the end of the study everyone showed a decrease in liver fat. Now, the moderate exercise group did not lose weight as significantly as the HIIT group. The loss of liver fat does mean that the exercise had turned on the body’s fat-burning engines. This suggests that the long-term effects would show better weight loss results.
Of course, weight loss isn’t all about exercise. There are other factors to consider as well.
Other Factors to Consider If You Want to Lose Weight
The importance of diet to weight loss cannot be overlooked. High fat, high sugar foods will overload the liver with too many calories and excess energy. The amount of food eaten needs to relate to your energy output. If your job requires you to sit for a lot of the day, you don’t need as much energy as someone who works on construction sites.
A diet of natural foods, especially nutrient-rich raw foods delivers the best results. Not only does it supply you with vitamins and minerals, but fresh fruits and vegetables contain enzymes which help with digestion and keep your digestive tract healthy.
Plant protein is another clean source of protein that’s easy to digest. We might not think of plant’s as natural sources of protein, but some like pea and hemp offer a lot of nutrient-dense proteins.
Finally, you should always take into consideration any current health conditions you might have when you decide to lose weight. Losing weight and getting toned is a great goal but should be done to improve health. Working with your doctor or a licensed physical therapist or dietician can go a long way to ensuring maximum results.
[i] Burgomaster KA1, et al. Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Jun;100(6):2041-7. Epub 2006 Feb 9.
[ii] Haifeng Zhang, Tom K. Tong, Weifeng Qiu, et al., “Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women,” Journal of Diabetes Research, vol. 2017, Article ID 5071740, 9 pages, 2017. doi:10.1155/2017/5071740
[iii] Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.