How Exercise Helps You Control Your Weight

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Exercise does help you control your weight, but maybe not in the way you think. If you are trying to lose weight and begin an exercise program to achieve that goal, it is likely that you will see some positive changes in your body, including weight loss. But, research shows that changing eating habits by reducing overall calories will yield more substantial weight loss results.

But regular workouts provide many other benefits. Exercise really shines in helping you keep the weight off and potentially preventing weight gain in those that are at increased risk of obesity. Exercise is also critical for healthy aging and plays a significant role in cardiovascular health.

Exercise vs. Diet for a Healthy Weight

The truth is that cutting calories will allow you to reach your weight loss goals much more quickly than exercise. So then, why exercise?

Research studies do show that once you've lost some weight, becoming more physically active will help prevent you from regaining it. But there is substantial variation from one individual to another.

Other benefits of exercise for weight control and healthy aging include:

  • Maintaining Your Muscle Mass: As we get older, we tend to lose muscle and gain fat. In fact, between age 30 and age 80, about 15% of your lean muscle will disappear, resulting in a lower metabolism (and possibly weight gain). But you can use exercise to help maintain your muscles and keep your metabolism higher.
  • Muscle Building and Repair: After exercising your body must repair tired muscles and build up new ones. Since all of this takes calories to do, exercising more will help you control your weight.
  • Helping You Make Good Choices: Exercise reduces stress, helps you sleep, and makes you feel good. All of these reduce your tendency to eat poorly.​

Exercise also can help cut your risks for such conditions as heart disease and diabetes and may help you manage your risk if you've already been diagnosed with a chronic illness. It also can give you more energy generally and has been shown to improve older adults' quality of life.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults get about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. That can translate into 30 minutes of brisk walking five times per week.

Although exercise is safe for almost everyone, you should talk with your doctor about your exercise plans. She may be able to help you craft a weight control program that includes exercise and healthy eating and that will help you meet your goals.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Swift DL, Johannsen NM, Lavie CJ, Earnest CP, Church TS. The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenanceProg Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;56(4):441-447. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.012

  2. Foright RM, Presby DM, Sherk VD, et al. Is regular exercise an effective strategy for weight loss maintenance?Physiol Behav. 2018;188:86-93. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.01.025

Additional Reading
  • Evans WJ et al. Nutrition, Exercise and Healthy Aging. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. June 1997, p. 632–638.

  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute/North American Association for the Study of Obesity. The Practical Guide Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. October 2000.

  • NIH Medline Plus. Exercise is Key to Healthy Aging. Winter 2015 issue: p. 2-3.

  • Wilkin LD et al. Energy expenditure comparison between walking and running in average fitness individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. April 2012;26(4):1039-44.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, Ph.D., FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.