How Good is Exercise for Weight Loss?

How Good is Exercise for Weight Loss?

How good is exercise for weight loss? No doubt you realise this is something of a loaded question. We are about to jump into a complex topic where mindset, preconceptions and the strength of media marketing has had strong influences on the way we view this particular question.

You may have seen or heard many expressions like eat less move more or, you can’t out-train a bad diet. We all love a good buzz word or catch phrase and while technically these are true, it only takes a very simplistic view on the weight loss equation. We are constantly told that it’s all about the calories in versus the calories out. i.e eat less and exercise more to burn fat.

We are constantly told that to lose weight it’s all about the calories in versus the calories out. i.e eat less and exercise more to burn fat.
However, when we look at how the body burns off its daily calories we can actually see that only 10-15% of your daily calorie burn comes from exercise (if you have done some). Non-exercise activity on the other hand, can make up to 30% of your daily calorie burn (if you’re being active enough). This means you burn more calories from daily movement like walking than exercise alone. Perhaps not what you would have expected.

In addition to exercise and daily movement, your basal metabolic rate or BMR makes up 60-70% of your daily calorie burn. BMR is all our non-movement based daily functions. We can now quickly see that the majority of our calories are burnt up just functioning while the second largest calorie burn is attributed to movement and the third and smallest is exercise.

Lets break these down and look a little closer.


BMR or basal metabolic rate is the caloric requirement your body has just to function (60-70% of daily calories). This includes things like keeping warn, breathing, digestion, producing blood cells, fighting infection, the list is pretty long. These are all the things your body does without you even thinking about it. Look at it this way, if you turn your car on and just level it turning over it will still be burning fuel and will eventually run out even if you don’t drive the car anywhere. Your body is exactly the same and has a set number of calories or fuel just to function each day.

Non-Exercise Calorie Burn

Non-exercise calorie burn is made up of all the daily movements you perform. This can be walking, gardening, housework, fidgeting, and the many, many movements you perform each day. This figure excludes exercise so it’s actually quite easy to see how it makes up 30% of our daily calorie burn as it’s basically everything we do, from climbing the stairs to making a cup of tea this all requires energy to function on top of our BMR calories.

Exercise Calorie Burn

Finally, we have exercise which makes up 10-15% of our daily calorie burn. This usually shocks people because it’s so low and they feel they have been conned into exercising when they didn’t need to. Exercise has many extremely important functions in promoting good long term health. A few benefits of exercise include building definition, preventing injury, reducing stress, depression, lowering medication requirement, building a strong heart, lungs and circulatory system, boosting energy and a host of other benefits that are worthy of its own a catalogue of dedicated blogs. Assisting in weight loss is indeed one benefit, however, is not at the top of that list and in reality, it has never been.

Why have I been told to exercise to lose weight all this time?

Marketing and sales in the health and fitness industry are worth 4.4 Billion pounds a year in the U.K.  and it’s still growing, sadly not everyone is this sector is driven by your succes, unfortunately. So here’s the smarter way of looking at this equation. To lose weight we do indeed need to control the amount and quality of the food In our diets, this simply cannot be ignored if you are to achieve good results. If you are managing your diet well then the next best thing you can do to lose weight is to get your daily physical activity up, after all, it can make up to 30% of your daily calorie burn and will help put you into a deficit that burns off excess fat. An easy place to start is with hitting your 10,000 steps a day (now you know where that came from). This is often met with groans and disgruntlement but I think most people would rather go for a walk in the fresh air than pound out a session in the gym, especially when over a week it burns a lot more calories.

Finally, we come to exercise and assuming you are being physically active and getting close to that 30% daily calorie burn then you exercise sessions will be an additional bonus 10-15% calorie burn on top, helping to speed up progress towards your weight loss goals. When activity is low then exercise helps tops this up, but still, leaves you burning fewer calories over a week than if you had increased your daily activity levels and been able to exercise on top.

I often hear people tell me they exercise three to five time a week but they never lose any weight. This is very easy to do if we consider the way we burn calories. For example, if you have little control on your diet because you exercise five time a week you can still be consuming too many calories to lose weight. Regular exercisers often over reward and consume more calories in treats than they actually Burt off through exercise. If our regular exerciser spends the majority of their day in a car, at a desk or not moving around they will not be burning many calories though movement (the second highest daily calorie burn). This scenario is a classic way in which people try hard but fall down because they are not taking a broader look at their lifestyle and only focusing on one area.

Sustainable Weight Loss

The trick to sustainable weight loss is a well-balanced diet, plenty of daily physical activity and topped off with a good helping of weekly exercise. I realise none of this in new to you but I hope the context is more helpful.
No diet, exercise program of faddy weight loss product can escape these basic principles. As mentioned before this topic is a big one and we have only touched on the basics here today. For some people work and family commitments mean daily physical activity can be a real challenge and those booked exercise sessions are needed to top up your activity levels. Don’t feel disheartened by this as long you are doing what you can to be healthy, just understand slower progress doesn’t mean you are necessarily doing anything wrong or that you need to go on a crash diet. Instead, take every opportunity to be more active. Take the stairs, not the lift, get off the tube a station early and walk the last stretch to work, go for a walk in your lunch break or simply maximise your weekend and get moving more.

For more help with your diet, exercise or lifestyle change get in touch with Fundamentally FIT and we will teach you the specifics you need to be successful.

Andy Strong

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