Do you need to exercise to lose weight?

Emma White - Certified Personal Trainer | 06 May, 2024

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The age-old question – do we need to exercise in order to lose weight? The answer is not straightforward.

It's widely accepted that following a calorie-controlled diet is the most important factor when trying to lose weight. In fact eating in a calorie deficit is crucial to your weight loss efforts. If you are consuming a surplus of calories but only doing moderate exercise, even though you are exercising, it may not be enough to result in weight loss. Which leads nicely onto our first point: just how much exercise would be needed to lose weight without cutting calories?

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How many calories are you safe to cut out?

We know that for some people, the exercise isn't an option (for reasons of a health condition or restricted mobility). So let's say you decide to cut your calorie intake instead of doing any exercise - can this still result in weight loss? The answer is yes, providing your are tracking your calorie intake accurately and creating a calorie deficit i.e. using more calories than you consume (follow the target daily calorie allowance Nutracheck sets you). However relying on food reduction alone may mean we need to adjust our expectations on the speed of weight loss. Depending on how much weight you have to lose, cutting calories from food intake alone might require quite a drastic reduction, and rather than setting yourself a daily calorie allowance that feels hard to stick to, we recommend choosing a level that you feel will be sustainable for you – sure and steady progress will get you to your goal, even if it takes a little longer. A minimum level of 1,200 – 1,400 calories per day is our guidance, trying to stick to an intake below this is extremely challenging and not recommended as you may not be getting adequate nutrients to keep your body healthy and support your daily activity levels.

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Train more to lose more?

What about using exercise alone, is it possible to carry on eating as 'normal' and starting to exercise to try and lose weight? The answer really depends on what exercise you are doing, how frequently and how many calories this burns. If you wear a activity tracking device or look up the calorie burn of many exercises in the Nutracheck database, you can see that you need to exert a lot of effort to burn a fairly modest number of calories. And you would need to sustain this day in, day out if you are relying on extra exercise alone to create a calorie deficit. The challenge of this approach is that when we exercise a lot, it can make us feel hungry. This is a natural and necessary response by our body to replace used calories. If we are trying to use the exercise to create a calorie deficit, it is important to control the number of calories we eat back in order to ensure we have not completely eliminated the deficit. This is why it is easier and generally recommended to try and use the principle of weight loss: which is to create a calorie deficit through eating less AND exercising more.

Our verdict?

The best approach to weight loss is the one that works for you. If you are unable to exercise, then you may need to reply more on monitoring your food intake accurately and setting yourself a sustainable and successful rate of 0.5lbs – 1lbs weight loss per week. If you are able to achieve a balance of following a calorie-controlled diet with an increased level of exercise (compared to what you were doing before), then you should see a slightly faster rate of weight loss. However – and we stress – weight loss is very individual and is influenced by a wide variety of factors, so this is very general figure. If you regularly exercise intensively then it will be really important to eat back calories to refuel your body. If weight loss is your goal, it comes down to balancing the energy expenditure and intake, and ensuring there is a deficit.

Emma White (Certified Personal Trainer) has always loved fitness. She's passionate about the many benefits of regular exercise, particularly the positive impact on mental health and overall quality of life, as well as how it provides the key to successful weight management.

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