Why Exercise Is More Important Than Weight Loss

A thin dude running away from his fat shadow

In an effort to be our healthiest, we naturally try to adopt a wellness lifestyle. For many of us, that includes exercise and weight loss, which are linked to better health. Achieving your ideal weight has several health advantages, and the benefits of exercise have been well publicized. Despite both efforts resulting in positive health, however, they are not the same in every aspect. Specifically, the benefits of exercise appears to outweigh those related to weight loss in some areas. Research now shows that even without significant weight loss, physical activity can promote health in a number of ways. Because of this, it’s important to pursue both types of activities.

Over the last few decades, nations across the globe have suffered from an obesity epidemic. Excessive weight has been linked to a number of poor health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. Because of this, many incorporate exercise into their routines in hopes of losing weight. But without dietary changes, exercise alone is often limited in its ability to achieve these goals. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important benefits of exercise when it comes to health. In fact, those with the best outcomes pursue exercise and weight loss in a more comprehensive way.

“We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.” – Glenn Gaesser, Researcher at the College of Health Solutions, Arizona State University.

The Latest Research on Exercise and Weight Loss

When it comes to research studies examining exercise and weight loss, there isn’t any shortage of data. Over the last few decades, hundreds of studies have examined the effects of physical activity and weight loss on various health outcomes. But to date, compiling the results of this data in a cohesive manner has failed to provide definitive results. This is why researchers decided to analyze as many studies as possible to determine the impact of these lifestyle changes. In other words, did the benefits of exercise outweigh those of weight loss efforts, or vice versa? And did one have to achieve weight loss with exercise in order to benefit from its effects?

The research was conducted that examined roughly 200 studies involving exercise and weight loss interventions. One researcher, Glenn Gaesser, was a professor in exercise physiology at Arizona State University. The other, Siddhartha Angadi, was a professor at the University of Virginia in education and kinesiology. Both wanted to assess the impact weight loss efforts and exercise had on hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, metabolism, and longevity. Likewise, they wanted to know if weight loss was a critical factor.

Based on their analysis, they found that obese and overweight individuals received significant benefits from exercise alone. Overall, exercise resulted in a 30% reduced risk of premature death in this group. This reduced risk was present even if the participants didn’t lose any weight. In contrast, those with weight loss alone without exercise only reduced premature death risk by 16%. Plus, exercise also had more significant effects on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin activity. They concluded between exercise and weight loss, physical activity offered a much greater health benefit. (Research also points out that there’s no such thing as too much exercise–read about it in this Project Bold Life story!)

“Body weight is a highly heritable trait, and weight loss is associated with substantial metabolic alterations that ultimately thwart weight loss maintenance.” – Siddhartha Angadi, Professor at the School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia

Understanding the Research Findings

Perhaps, at first glance, the results of this latest research seems a bit confusing. After all, for decades, we have been told that we need to achieve an ideal weight in order to avoid poor health conditions. Obesity is linked to diabetes, problems with metabolism, heat conditions, and high cholesterol. Thus, weight loss should reduce our risks for these conditions. In actuality, weight loss can improve our chances for avoiding each of these health conditions and for living longer. But when comparing exercise and weight loss together, the benefits of exercise are much more profound. Thus, both wellness strategies are important in our pursuit of good health and a long life.

In terms of weight loss efforts alone, most people pursue dieting as the main strategy. Without question, changes in your diet gives you the best chance to lose weight and achieve your ideal weight. But unfortunately, the vast majority if people are unable to sustain any significant degree of weight loss. Instead, they cycle through weight gain and weight loss in a yo-yo fashion, which does little to promote lasting health. This is one reason why the benefits of exercise are more powerful than those of weight loss alone.

In contrast, physical activity offers a different set of health advantages. Notably, exercise often fails to burn an excessive amount of calories, and therefore, it tends to have little effect on weight. Likewise, after physical activity, many of us compensate by rewarding ourselves with a treat that also undermines weight loss goals. But the benefits of exercise are much more profound in other areas. Exercise reduces belly fat and improve your blood sugar, which is linked to diabetes, cholesterol problems, and poor metabolic health. It also improves cardiovascular health as well as mental positivity. Given the latest research findings, this suggests that the benefits of exercise are more substantial than weight loss alone.

Optimizing Your Health the Smart Way

Simply because the benefits of exercise exceed those of weight loss doesn’t mean both shouldn’t be pursued. But the goals for each of these activities should be different. Exercise should be used to improve blood pressure, metabolism, and heart function. Weight loss is better at reducing risks of arthritis, obstructive sleep apnea, and poor self-esteem. And both are beneficial in reducing diabetic and high cholesterol risks. In this regard, exercise and weight loss represent important wellness strategies for optimal health. And neither should be neglected if we want to live a long and healthy life.


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Through timely and thoughtful articles, the book Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, and other media, we deliver engaging content that educates, motivates and inspires you to live a Bold Life.
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