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Throughout my years working with patients for weight loss, I’ve learned that while a good nutrition plan is foundational to helping patients lose weight, regular physical activity is necessary for weight loss and maintenance. This month’s article reviews the type, amount, and intensity of exercise recommended for long-term success.

Type of Exercise

When patients ask what type of exercise they should engage in, generally my answer is whatever activity they enjoy and can incorporate into their lifestyle on a regular basis. I’ve seen patients successfully lose weight by walking, swimming, playing sports, strength training, and cycling. If you’re new to exercise, joining a class or team, working with a trainer, or exercising with friends can be an extra source of motivation and accountability to keep you on track.

If you’ve reached a plateau with your exercise routine, consider changing it up by incorporating interval training. A recent study compared moderate-intensity continuous exercise to interval training and found that while both types of exercise led to weight loss, those in the interval training group lost almost 30% more fat mass. Don’t let interval training intimidate you – there were over 1000 participants in the study that ranged in age from 10-70 years old. Types of exercise included walking, running and cycling, with intensity levels dependent on participants’ baseline fitness.

Amount of Exercise

Current Health Canada guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of exercise for better health. However, a study comparing the effects of exercise in postmenopausal women found 300 minutes per week to be the optimal amount for weight loss. This could easily be achieved by walking for 45 minutes daily. Remember not to overdo it! Exercising for more than 300 minutes per week at a high intensity will not necessarily fast track your results and can actually stall your metabolism by elevating your stress hormones.

Exercise Intensity

To lose weight and achieve the health benefits from exercise, moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity is recommended. For those who are new to exercise, it is appropriate to start with short sessions at a lower intensity and then gradually increase the frequency and intensity to meet the guidelines. Keep in mind that if your life is already running at a high pace, and your stress levels are high, the best way to exercise is ‘moderately’. A moderate workout depends on your current fitness level, but generally this means avoiding high-intensity interval training and keeping cardio sessions to 45 minutes max. Use the extra time at the gym to stretch and practice deep breathing, both of which will help reduce your stress hormones and help your body wind down and relax.

Additional Benefits of Exercise

I have found that my most successful patients engage in activities that they enjoy and benefit from in other ways besides weight loss. Exercise is like a magic pill that improves our health in countless ways:

  • combats stress and anxiety
  • boosts mood, improves mental health
  • increases energy
  • improves sleep, memory and skin health
  • reduces the risk of premature death, certain types of cancer and chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis)

This month I challenge you to choose your reason beyond the number on the scale and to get moving!

Note: The above are general guidelines. It is recommended you consult with your primary health care provider prior to engaging in an exercise program to understand the types and amounts of physical activity appropriate for you.

References:

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2019). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults. Retrieved from https://csepguidelines.ca/adults-18-64/

Friedenreich, C.M., Neilson, H.K., O’Reilly, R. (2015). Effects of a High vs Moderate Volume of Aerobic Exercise on Adiposity Outcomes in Postmenopausal Women. JAMA Oncology 1(6):766-776. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2396584

Viana RB, Naves JPA, Coswig VS, et al. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53:655-664. Retrieved from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/53/10/655.full.pdf

World Health Organization – Physical Activity and Adults. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/