Weight gain is a multi-factorial process. Genetics, hormonal controls, diet, sleeping habits, lifestyle, physical activity, and stress all have an impact. These factors, and more, can lead to an imbalance in the energy equation.
While some people seem to be able to lose weight more quickly and more easily than others, everyone loses weight when they burn up more calories than they eat. On the other hand, everybody’s body also operates the same when it comes to weight gain: if fewer calories are burned than are eaten, weight is gained.
To lose weight, fewer calories need to be consumed, or the number of calories burned through physical activity must be increased, or both.
While you don’t have much control over the speed of your basal metabolism, you can control how many calories you burn through physical activity. The more active you are, the more calories you burn. We’ve all heard people claim to have a fast metabolism, but in truth it’s probably that they’re more active, and maybe fidget more, than others.
You can burn more calories with:
- Regular aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories. Aerobic exercise includes activities such as walking, bicycling and swimming. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. Remember my G.R.A.D.E. diet? It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes at one time, it can even be walking in place while brushing your teeth. Do a few jumping jacks while waiting for the doctor. Use that heavy briefcase or purse to do upper body exercises. It will all add up at the end of the day.
- Strength training: Strength training exercises, such as weightlifting, at least twice a week help prevent muscle loss, especially due to aging. Since muscle burns more calories than fat does, muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and building muscle can help increase your metabolism. This means you will burn more calories each day, even at rest. In one study, 48 overweight women were placed on a diet of 800 calories per day, along with either no exercise, aerobic exercise or resistance training. After the diet, the women who did the resistance training maintained their muscle mass, metabolism and strength. The others lost weight, but also lost muscle mass and experienced a decrease in metabolism.
- High-intensity exercise: This involves quick and very intense bursts of activity, in between more mild levels. It can help you burn more fat by increasing your metabolic rate, even after your workout has finished. One study in overweight young men found that 12 weeks of high-intensity exercise reduced fat mass by 4.4 pounds, and belly fat by 17%. Make sure you get cleared by your healthcare provider before you start.
- Lifestyle changes: Any extra movement helps burn calories. Just keep active. Even standing or altering positions throughout the day can help increase metabolism. In fact, compared to sitting, an afternoon of standing up at work can burn an extra 174 calories. Look for ways to walk, stretch, and move around a few minutes each day. Park further away from your destination and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Gardening, washing the car, and housework all burn calories and contribute to weight loss.
The bottom line: just get, and stay active.
- 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/
- Bray GA. Obesity in adults: Role of physical activity and exercise. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/
- Obesity for Adults, Prevention and Management of. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement: https://www.icsi.org/guidelines__more/catalog_guidelines_and_more/catalog_guidelines/catalog_endocrine_guidelines/obesity__adults/.