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The Effect of Physical Activity and Exercise on Weight Loss

Overweight man jogging to loss weight

The Effect of Physical Activity and Exercise on Weight Loss

Source: Harvard, School Of Public Health. Obesity Prevention Source. Physical Activity.

Obesity and overweight results from energy imbalance caused by too much calorie intake and less calorie burned. There are factors such as genes, body size, and age that affect how many calories a person burns each day. However, the most variable or easily modifiable factor is the amount of physical activity done each day.

An active lifestyle can help people stay at a healthy weight or lose weight. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and some cancers, as well as reduce stress and improve mood. A sedentary lifestyle do just the opposite.

Although physical activity and exercise in general are sometimes used interchangeably, these terms have different meanings. Physical activity describes routine body movements that burn calories daily, such as physical activity, play, work, housework. Exercise, on the other hand, describes planned, repetitive activities that consciously aim to improve health.

Despite all these benefits of physical activity or an active lifestyle, people in the world are doing less physical activity day by day. About one in three people worldwide does very little physical activity. It is clear that this decline in physical activity is a major contributor to the global obesity epidemic and thus to the increasing rates of chronic diseases.

Technological and social developments are the most important reason for the decrease in people’s physical activity. Factors that reduce physical activity such as easily having a car, having technological devices that do housework at home, and being able to work from home have increased in the last 50 years. In addition, sedentary activities such as watching TV, video games and using computers have also increased due to technological and social changes.

How Much Physical Activity Do People Need to Prevent Weight Gain?

The intensity of physical activity is measured in metabolic equivalent (MET). A MET is the amount of energy a person burns per minute at rest and equals 1.25 calories. For the average adult, this is about 70 calories per hour. Moderate-intensity physical activity is defined as activities that are strenuous enough to burn three to six times the energy a person would burn at rest, or 3 to 6 METs per minute. Vigorous-intensity activities burn more than 6 METs.

The World Health Organization recommends that adults do two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity or exercise each week to stay healthy (2). Children, on the other hand, should do even more, for at least one hour a day. However, there has been some debate among researchers about how much activity people need each day to maintain a healthy weight or aid weight loss. Recent research shows that a total of two and a half hours per week is simply not enough.

For example, in a 15-year study conducted on 34,079 middle-aged women (3), it was found that among women with a general diet, those who maintain their normal weight or those who gain less than 2.3 kg do moderate exercise for at least 1 hour a day.

In other study, 18,000 people were followed for 16 years. Although an average of 20 kg of weight was gained in this process, it was shown that, who increased their physical activity gained less weight than whose activity levels remained the same. It was also revealed that the type of activity made a difference. Accordingly, it was determined that while cycling and brisk walking prevented gaining excess weight, the effect of slow walking was not much. (4)

How Much Activity Does He Need to Lose Weight?

Exercise can help support weight loss. However, it works best when combined with a lower-calorie diet or obesity treatments such as gastric balloon and gastric sleeve. This means that if people do not reduce calories in their diet, they will likely need to do long-term or high-intensity exercise to lose weight.

For example, in one study, researchers examined 175 overweight, non-vigorous lifestyle adults in 3 groups (low-intensity walking 20km per week, moderate-intensity walking 20km per week, high-intensity-30km brisk walking per week). Participants were asked to stick to their normal diet. After 6 months, those assigned to the high-intensity regimen lost belly fat, while those assigned to the low- and moderate-intensity exercise regimens had no change in belly fat. (5)

How Does Physical Activity Prevent Obesity?

Physical activity increases total energy burned, which can help people stay in calorie balance and even lose weight unless more is eaten to make up for the extra calories burned.

Physical activity slows the development of abdominal obesity by reducing fat around the waist and total body fat.

Lifting weights, push-ups, and other muscle-strengthening activities build muscle mass, increasing the energy the body burns throughout the day and making it easier to control the weight.

Physical activity reduces depression and anxiety, and this mood can motivate people to stick to exercise programs over time.


At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day most days of the week can help reduce the risk of chronic disease. But to maintain or lose weight at a healthy weight, most people will need more physical activity (at least an hour a day) to counteract the effects of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and strong societal influences that encourage overeating.


  1. Harvard, School Of Public Health. Obesity Prevention Source. Physical Activity.
  2. World Health Organization. Global recommendations on physical activity for health
  3. Lee IM, Djousse L, Sesso HD, Wang L, Buring JE. Physical activity and weight gain prevention. JAMA.
  4. Lusk AC, Mekary RA, Feskanich D, Willett WC. Bicycle riding, walking, and weight gain in premenopausal women. Arch Intern Med.
  5. Slentz CA, Aiken LB, Houmard JA, et al. Inactivity, exercise, and visceral fat. STRRIDE: a randomized, controlled study of exercise intensity and amount. J Appl Physiol.

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