Exercise and / or Weight Loss

What to Prioritize For Healthy Weight Loss – Aerobic Exercise, Strength Training or Diet???

There are only so many hours in the days and weeks and making changes, creating new routines is hard to do.  In this article I am going to discuss how to prioritize these lifestyle changes for the purposes of weight loss and being able to maintain it.

The 3 most common strategies people look at doing in order to lose weight are  cardio/aerobic exercise, strength training and diet.  All of these have benefits for overall health but when it comes to weight loss especially once over the age of 40,  prioritizing these strategies in the right order will make a big difference in your results and in your ability to keep the weight off and save you a lot of wasted time.  

Let’s first look at the most common method many people use which is doing hours of cardiovascular exercise more commonly thought of as aerobic exercise.  In other words doing some sort of exercise for an extended period of time where you get your heart rate up and keep it elevated.  These include things such as speed walking, running, cycling, rowing, doing the machines in the gym like stairmasters.  Using this as your main strategy to lose weight can actually be counterproductive and result in your body working against you rather than for you.  

Here is why……

Once people are over the age of 35 their bodies begin to lose muscle so unless a person is doing some sort of activity that involves  strength training they will be losing muscle as part of the natural aging process.  The reason this is a significant change when it comes to weight loss is that as your body loses muscle it causes the metabolism to slow down.  This means that your body is burning less calories  at rest as you age.  As people age it is very important that they keep their muscle or else it makes it more difficult over the years to manage weight.  

Doing aerobic exercise for an extended period of time actually causes the body to break down muscle for various metabolic and hormonal reasons which I won’t get into in this article.  Needless to say as you keep doing more aerobic exercise to lose weight you will find that initially you may lose some weight but then the weight loss slows down or stops unless you keep doing more exercise.  This results in even more loss of muscle so now your metabolism is going to slow down even more.  

So not only will your weight loss results reduce now that your metabolism has slowed down, you will also find that you are much more likely to gain weight after you reach your goal if you reduce your exercise.  This is how people get caught in the trap of having to spend more and more time doing aerobic exercise.

Here is an approximate breakdown of caloric expenditure in your body.

Basal Metabolic rate accounts for 70% of daily expenditure of calories

NEAT – Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis (regular daily movements) accounts for 15%

Thermic Burn of Digestion accounts for approximately 10%

Thermic Burn of aerobic exercise accounts for only 5% – approximately

By doing more aerobic exercise you may  increase that 5% by only 1-2% which is not much over the course of the day.  If you do too much aerobic exercise you will lose muscle so your Basal Metabolic rate will be slowing down and that accounts for 70% of caloric burn.  So the Return On Investment in terms of time and energy expenditure from aerobic exercise for the purposes of weight loss is not very good.

The 2nd strategy that people will use for weight loss is doing more strength training to build up muscle.  This is the better strategy because as you do more strength training you will build muscle and this will result in an increase in your Basal Metabolic Rate.  As stated this accounts for 70% of daily caloric burn so increasing that burn is much more effective.  Also this means your body is burning more calories at rest and while you sleep whereas the increase in calorie burn from aerobic exercise is mostly just while you exercise with a little bit extra immediately afterwards.  As you build muscle and increase your metabolic rate this also means you will be much more successful at maintaining your weight after you reach your goal.  From an anti-aging standpoint it is better to build muscle and maintain it because as part of natural aging your body will lose muscle unless you are doing exercise to avoid the muscle loss.

Of course the downside of just using strength training to lose body fat is that it takes time to build enough muscle to see an increase in Basal metabolic rate which will then result in more fat being burned.  This is a slower process and you may find the scale even goes up at first  due to increased muscle, so it can be challenging from a mindset and motivational standpoint to stick with the training routine if you are not seeing more immediate weight loss results.

It is for this reason that starting a weight loss program that focuses on healthy nutrition  and appropriate amounts of food is the best way to start.  When done properly in terms of the amount of food and types of food, you will see faster results by changing eating patterns especially when integrating intermittent fasting into your healthy diet.  As you reduce inflammation and your body fat, especially that belly fat quickly, your hormones and metabolism will be more balanced making weight loss even healthier and faster.  

As part of a healthy lifestyle there is a place for aerobic exercise, strength training and healthy eating.  When trying to lose weight the best way to prioritize these 3 strategies is to start with a good clean eating food plan with an appropriate amount of food that will help with burning fat and add in some intermittent fasting for even better results and hormone balancing.  Then focus on integrating some strength training to build muscle so your body is working for you even at rest and finally as time allows in your lifestyle then add in some aerobic exercise for the cardiovascular benefits.  Ideally focusing on some sort of interval training pattern as opposed to just long periods of time doing steady state aerobic exercise will help preserve muscle, prevent hormonal induced muscle loss yet still achieve the cardiovascular benefits for your heart health.