The Single Best Exercise for Weight Loss


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/5/2013 6:00 AM   :  321 comments   :  722,432 Views

See More: fitness, weight loss,
Often people will ask me to share the best exercises for weight loss. They want to know what kind of cardio activity is going to help them lose weight faster than anything else. Even if they don't enjoy it, they are willing to try whatever is going to help them reach their goals more quickly. My response is always the same. So are you ready to hear what the magic exercise is? What's going to help you lose weight keep it off long-term, and get fit?

The answer is simple: Find the activities you enjoy doing and stick with them. It's true that some activities burn more calories than others. You'll burn more in 45 minutes of running than you will in 45 minutes of walking. But if you hate to run, chances are that you're not going to be able to keep it up forever. Exercise becomes a chore, something you dread instead of something that brings enjoyment to your life. I always cringe when I see people post things like this on the SparkPeople Message Boards: "I hate running and have no interest in doing it. But I feel like I have to run if I'm going to lose weight, so can you give me some tips for how to enjoy it?" My response is usually to try it if you haven't before, but don't be afraid to do something else instead of it's just not working for you. I've tried swimming before. It was a great workout, very challenging, but not something I enjoyed at all. So I decided that swimming just wasn't for me and moved on to other activities instead.

We all have those days when we don't want to exercise. Although I love running, I don't jump out of bed every single morning, full of energy and ready to go. There are some days when I'd much rather stay in bed. But for the most part, I've found something I enjoy doing, so it's easier to stick with it. And to keep things interesting, I like to train for different races, incorporate different kinds of runs and different routes into my routine. That way my body is continually challenged and I don't get bored.

Putting personal preferences aside, if you look strictly at what exercises are considered "best", you'll get a wide variety of professional opinions. Exercise physiologists will give answers based on what exercises burn the most calories, which ones provide the most strength benefits, which ones increase power or flexibility. It just depends on your goals and your body. Every body responds differently to different exercises, and everyone has different opinions about what activities we should be doing.

Regardless of the activity, the fact that you are exercising at all is most important. You don't have to train for marathons and spend hours at the gym to be healthy. "A recent meta-analysis of studies about exercise and mortality showed that, in general, a sedentary person’s risk of dying prematurely from any cause plummeted by nearly 20 percent if he or she began brisk walking (or the equivalent) for 30 minutes five times a week. If he or she tripled that amount, for instance, to 90 minutes of exercise four or five times a week, his or her risk of premature death dropped by only another 4 percent."

What do you think? Does your exercise routine reflect the activities you enjoy doing the most? Why or why not?

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  • 271
    That would make dancing a good exercise for most women, and maybe some men. Most men though I think would prefer to sit and watch the girls dance, and get their exercise from doing what are called 8 ounce curls. Or fishing, except without any bait so some fish doesn't come along and interrupt their beer drinking.

    I enjoy walking with a little running mixed in. And martial arts. I have to admit though that I don't like weight lifting, but I do it anyway, because nothing else I do has the kind of effect I get from weights, and I like that effect. When I was doing a lot of work with karate dummies I found that I tended to feel less beat up when weights were part of my program (not in the same session); when I wasn't lifting I could feel the full contact workout in my joints especially, but weights seemed to alleviate that. At my age now though (59 1/2) I don't do anything full contact, but I still do weights.

    Another thing that works for me is various practical chores done fast enough to become good exercise. Shoveling snow, yard and garden work, cutting and stacking firewood, even things like laundry are good, if they're done right. Riding a bicycle instead of driving when it's practical saves money and burns calories. Lots of possibilities if you take a close look at your lifestyle. - 1/2/2014   10:53:13 AM
    I had both knees replaced in 2011 after years of intense pain and finally not being able to walk...I was 66....Due to so many years of not being able to move much and intense pain, I have gained a lot of weight....I ate my way through the pain since I could not take pain meds. I have been working on loosing the weight for the last seven months. I have had to learn a new way to eat, vegetarian, and get established with exercise. For decades I was a runner (3-5 miles a day, 10K's on the weekends), skied (every weekend), swam (a mile a day), played competitive tennis (hours every day) and was in great shape....I miss those days...I cannot run, jump, or kneel so I have taken up biking....Right now on a stationary bike in my office at home and walking two miles a day. And I have a stress fracture in my right foot....Yea! A stress fracture because I was over doing....the good news, I can over do....I have decided to right 5 miles in the morning at 30rpm, 5 miles at mid-day and 10 miles at night....Then do some light weight reps in-between....I even purchased the Richard Simmons "Dancing with the Oldies" as I like to dance and used that video decades ago....I want to loose 40 pounds by the end of May....and then the last 40 pounds by 2015....I have already lost 24 pounds.....but have been on a plateau for some weeks, and traveling.....I could use a weight loss buddy or buddy's.... I want to learn Thai cooking this winter
    and I am working on a novel....I live in the mountains of Central Virginia so am rather isolated....Any takers?? - 1/2/2014   10:27:53 AM
  • 269
    I just do not enjoy running. I think that it is a competitive sport. That is not my personality type. Brisk walking is my choice. I enjoy it and it helps my entire day. I am happier, more relaxed and my mind is cleared. I have been doing it for decades. I won an Omron pedometer and it has added to my enjoyment. Now I have daily set minimum goals and I know instantly if I have met them when I check the readings thru out the day. - 1/2/2014   9:34:42 AM
    I just want to say ,because of an accident , I have a knee replacement ,I can't run and I can not kneel on my left knee which means a lot of my activities are limited. I also can not jump or things like that. - 1/2/2014   6:37:03 AM
  • 267
    I think it ok sometimes to hate activity like running. If your over weight and feeling tired all the time just about any exercise feels like it is going to kill you. I stated training for 5k because it was on my bucket list of things to do, I never thougt that two years later I would still be at it. The first group I trained with was a No Boundaries coach led group and a the support and encouragement is what kept me going back. Just recently I found a group on Meet Up and have again found that same sense and support and commradery.
    Always be open to trying new things, if you continue to hate it move on there are som many choices of activites. - 1/2/2014   5:16:32 AM
  • 266
    Enjoyed the article and had my husband read it because he kept telling me I wasn't exercising hard enough. After reading this he backed off and I often will share this with others who give me a hard time because they think I am not exercising hard enough to do me any good. Thanks for sharing. - 12/18/2013   5:37:18 PM
  • 265
    This is so true! Thank you! - 11/29/2013   8:32:23 PM
  • AKVJB64
    264's always a matter of time. I love to take brisk 30-60 minute walks with my dogs, but that doesn't happen most days. So, I stay consistent with walking my son to and from school most days (1.3 miles round trip). It gets us all outside, and has really helped my son's health (he has Down's Syndrome). So, even though half of it is not that brisk, we are all benefiting. - 11/29/2013   3:47:20 PM
  • 263
    I like to walk when I play golf 4 or 5 times a week On off days I'll ride a stationary bike. Interestingly, while I don't mind driving 10 - 15 minutes to get to my golf course, I hate to drive to the gym to get on a good machine. So I ride my primitive one at home. - 11/15/2013   8:07:32 PM
    Interesting in regards to running . I just read an article in the Sept. 2013 addition of WebMD by Kara Mayer Robinson. The article states that a recent study suggest that - to match the calorie burn of a run , you need t walk about 50% father , or twice as long . So, assuming a brisk walking pace of 3.5 miles per hour and running speed of 5 mph , you'd have to walk about an hour to obtain the same benefit as from 30 minute run . Either way both are better than not moving . - 9/22/2013   10:04:42 AM
  • CECC55
    Thanks for sharing that good point - 9/9/2013   8:21:19 PM
  • 260
    Ah, this makes so much sense! :) - 8/5/2013   9:22:36 PM
    I need to lose 18lbs. Belly, thighs, although I have had knee surgery in 2006, I can't run or squat, or kneel on the left knee, I normally do 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill or treadclimber two times a week. Is this enough to eventually lose the 18lbs.?
    - 7/10/2013   11:10:56 AM
    I bought an elliptical many years ago and although I have used it, and although I always tell myself that if I were to use it more often I will lose weight, I still do not use it as often as I should because it is not enjoyable to me. So I have now come to accept that it is not the right exercise for me - and I will only do it rarely. I have found the exercises on Sparkpeople much more motivating to do and although I have my favourites which I do repeatedly, I love trying out new ones. And I ENJOY exercising! - 6/21/2013   2:53:24 PM
  • HARRY205
    so true, I am one of the many who hates running, even walking. And even if it makes me lose more weight, it wouldn't have much effect on me because I think I'd just be cheating myself pretending to have ran a lot when in fact I think I would just have sat.
    - 6/11/2013   10:51:28 PM
    I do water aerobics on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday I workout in the gym. But when I come out of water aerobics I workout in the gym according to how bad we got workout in aerobics. So I love my workout. - 6/7/2013   9:13:57 AM
  • KMF2012
    I know for myself that if I don't enjoy it, I'm not going to stick with it, or just plain burn out quickly! Walking (outside preferable, but WATP DVD's work as well) and strength traininginside with a lot of the SP exercises, and outside work is always my standby routine. And I don't know or care how much longer I will live because of exercise, but I do care about how much more better I feel with it NOW!!! - 5/29/2013   10:48:17 AM
  • 254
    :- - 5/22/2013   10:32:54 PM
    I mix it up to I do stairs one day and walk one and jog in place and start over so no two same day of the week I do the same thing
    . - 5/22/2013   8:06:35 PM
    I mix it up. During the warm weather months I am biking, kayaking, gardening, and racewalking outside. During the winter I spend time in our home gym (that we have built over the years) using the treadmill, elliptical, spin bike and free weights. I use cycling videos to make the time on the spin bike more enjoyable and meaningful.Do much better with structured strength training in the winter. Also enjoy snow shoeing and xc-sking when the weather allows. - 5/19/2013   10:49:33 AM
  • 251
    i require variety... i want to do something different most of the time... i love zumba that really works for me.. but if i do it all the time i will get bored with it.. so then i will sign up for a 5k and work towards improving my time and running endurance as most of the time i can only walk most of it... thanks for sharing... puts things into perspective and reitterates that there is no one quick fix. - 5/15/2013   10:12:51 AM
  • 250
    Aerobic reading....hmmmm - 5/5/2013   8:53:35 AM
    If only they could come up with aerobic reading...sigh..... - 4/11/2013   9:52:54 PM
    Really appreciate the information. My challenge is I enjoy many types of exercise, but due to spinal fusion I have to make modifications in my exercise routine. Used to love to run, but had been told to give it up. Well ... long story short, I have been making modifications and am training for a 5K. While I now jog and mix in some walking the 5K is an attainable goal. Also, I am able to hike long distances and have come to love my hikes with my best training partner, a Blue Heeler named Shiloh. She sees joy in everything and her energy is motivating me to hike farther and farther. Instead of focusing on what I can't do, I focus on my capabilites and mix up the exercise routine to avoid boredom. Going to stay fit so I can enjoy activities with my grandchildren and teach them the joys of the outdoors, plus healthy living. - 4/8/2013   10:22:48 AM
  • 247
    Unfortunately, almost every enjoyable exercise costs money - swimming, kayaking or canoeing, rock climbing, group sports and exercise classes. I have an overweight son that I can't afford to do anything with except go for walks with him. He's struggling also with depression and there's just nothing we can afford to do to change that - and it even makes it hard to get him to go for walks at times. I feel the way he does, often, too. We live in a very small community as it's the only place we can afford to live right now, with probably the cheapest rent around, and the only place that we can even walk to is the convenience store or the bakery and neither is very motivating other than to increase Calorie intake. It's a lovely, quiet, safe community, but maybe too quiet. Working on changing things for the better but I'm most certainly always open to fun ideas that don't cost anything. We've been struggling with job loss since 1998 and dh is still out of work. Not since then, but it's coming up to three years without work for him. I just went from less than minimum wage to tripling my income - but the hours are not guaranteed. Feast or famine. Steak or balogna, I'm told. I'm starting a window farm in our tiny apartment. A hobby for me that I hope my son can start to take interest in! - 4/7/2013   9:21:45 PM
    Right on! For me, exercise is about what it does for me mentally than how many calories I burn. It helps me sleep better, puts me in a better mood, stretches my stress-bundled muscles, gets me sunshine and fresh air, helps me have fun with my kids... this combination makes me eat less, and naturally crave healthier foods. This is what has always lead me to successful weight loss. When I start to get frantic, worry about calories burned and muscle gained, I freak out, fail, and the weight loss stalls (or worse!). I'm not saying there isn't a time, place, or person for strategic training... I just think I've finally accepted that it's not for me. - 4/7/2013   6:05:32 PM
  • 245
    My thanks! I'm so glad I read this article.I have been practically tortureing myself with water aerobics.I like them like once a week.I will now stop doing this and ride the stationarry cycle daily.I love it.Watch Tv while doing it and I do like walking daily.I plan on buying one of the new trikes to ride too as I'm almost 78 and forgot how to ride a bicycle I loved them in my teens.Wish me success. - 4/7/2013   4:23:48 PM
  • 244
    The stats on 30 then up to 90 minutes of brisk walking 5* a week lowering a person's risk of premature death by 20% and then another 4% are very positive. Also liked the point you made of doing exercise you like, and thus sticking to it. - 4/7/2013   11:43:33 AM
  • 243
    I see step aerobics mentioned twice down here, in the context of working up a sweat quickly and then right away moving on. What if it has the opposite effect?

    I remember back in the 90's, I'd learned just enough from going to a health club, basically how to do it [I did not follow videos, by and large]; and getting so addicted to it that I'd developed orthopedic problems in my feet, and my upstairs neighbor complained about the "disco music" I always played. I even entertained the idea at the then-age of 45, of becoming a step aerobics teacher ... and this is a (perenially reformed) couch potato talking ... - 4/7/2013   7:48:44 AM
  • 242
    I find I get bored with my exercises and it doesn't matter if I do different ones after about 10 min I've had it. I do walking DVD's and it seems once I hit the 1/2 mile I don't want to go further even if it is for a minute or 2 more (if I can make it). I think I will just think happy thoughts, maybe that will help. - 4/7/2013   3:32:37 AM
  • 241
    i need excrise bad i cant get back into it - 4/6/2013   11:11:11 PM
  • 240
    Weight workouts mixed with some cardio! - 4/6/2013   9:41:28 PM
  • 239
    When I started this journey back in 2009 all I did was walk. I have added many other activities to the mix, including HITT (which I love, love, love!) but nothing beats a fully loaded iPod and an opportunity to walk! - 4/6/2013   5:32:23 PM
  • 238
    I have found I love to walk. Another poster mentioned step aerobics because she builds up a sweat quickly and can get to things she really enjoys like reading. I used to feel the same way until I discovered books on tape/CD or MP3 or podcasts. I can walk for hours now and keep myself entertained. Being outdoors, listening to a great book and becoming more just doesn't get any better! I save my favorite TV shows on the DVR and only watch when I strength train. I agree.....find something you love and keep moving. - 4/6/2013   5:15:49 PM
  • 237
    There is no exercise or workout that is enjoyable for me. It is just like work. I have to do it to survive so I do. But forget about the enjoyment part. That searching for the enjoyment kept me from working out for many years until I accepted that it just must be done no matter how much I hate doing it. That is just me. - 4/6/2013   2:39:05 PM
  • 236
    I love physical exercise and once I get started I tend to forget about time. Lucky for me my DH is my partner :) - 4/6/2013   2:13:39 PM
  • 235
    my motivation is I want to live a long life......I hate to work out but I DO it for my future. Simple as that. I do agree In MOST cases it has to be enjoyment comes after., - 4/6/2013   12:37:44 PM
  • 234
    If I don't enjoy it, I don't stick with it. Same with aging; my knees creek and zumba didn't agree with them. I just heard of aqua zumba and will be trying it out. - 4/6/2013   12:12:22 PM
    I am with the few others here who hate exercise. I have not found anything I actually like that involves movement. - 4/6/2013   11:49:22 AM
  • 232
    I know people that hate, or are unable to do a lot of high intense exercise because problems of knee/joint/other issues and all they have done is walk. Just nice easy level sidewalks/trails walking, nothing else and believe it or not one of those people 30 pounds in her first year of walking. She was 50 pounds over desired weight. She walked in the morning and the evening for a full hour each on trails and walk ways she enjoyed indoors and outdoors. I exercise 5 out of 7 days, and I get up in the morning to do it. I think I should look at a walking routine. - 4/6/2013   10:10:48 AM
  • JMB369
    This is such a simple concept, yet many of us struggle to implement it. I not only need to change things around frequently, I need lots of variety. My current favorite activity that doesn't feel at all like exercise is ballroom dancing. I also swim 2-3x/week and lift weights 2-3x per week (at home.) I used to love hiking, but after I broke my ankle on a gravelly trail in 2009, the fun disappeared. I was back on my favorite trails three months after the break, but after six months of trying to love it again, I stopped. I think I would enjoy zumba, but there are no classes close to where I live. BTW, for the person who gets bored swimming laps, I had the same problem until I bought a waterproof MP3 player from Speedo. Now I can listen to music while I swim, and the time just flies. I swim for a set amount of time, not a set number of laps. My new "toy" is a lap counter, so I can try to increase the intensity by doing more laps in less time. - 4/6/2013   10:05:14 AM
  • 230
    Woo Hoo! How true! - 4/6/2013   8:56:19 AM
  • 229
    Yes if I enjoy the exercise then I go and do my workout if I'm not happy with and or just do an exercise because it burns calories then I am more likely toskip that workut I must enjoy my workouts and need to keep changing every so often so I don't get bored - 4/6/2013   8:06:54 AM
    So true! For me, even though I'm no dancer, anything with a peppy beat helps me get going! - 4/6/2013   7:51:31 AM
  • 227
    I guess the best exercise is just getting up - out of the chair, off the couch - on to your feet. I'm the girl who loved the jumping jacks part of gym class but hated whenever some ball was brought out and she had to play a game. Hate games. Love calisthenics.

    Now I'm exploring the joys of weight lifting. You just never know what you'll like till you try it.

    my favorite of all, though is, is using feet as transportation a.k.a. walking. - 4/6/2013   7:10:57 AM
  • 226
    Tried Zumba but can't dance to save my life!
    Have done loads of different forms of exercise over the years - some have come and gone, some have come and stayed, namely running, aerobics, circuit training and free weights.
    Oh and can I count horse riding too?! - 4/6/2013   5:00:30 AM
  • SUNSET09
    I enjoy my Zumba class and have learned to intensify to keep it working for me. I also enjoy time on the treadmill and will increase the incline and speed to get the max workout. With boosk on tape, it's a stress management time for me. Need to include more strength training. - 4/6/2013   1:07:39 AM
  • 224
    I love anything with jumping, it's fun & makes me happy :D
    I tried running several times but my dislike to run since I was a kid overshadow the urge to continue running. - 4/6/2013   1:00:47 AM
  • 223
    My favorite exercise would be swimming, but even though I live in Florida, I don't have access to a pool. So, I "adjust" to what I can do, which is lifting weights (have those + weight bench), and walking on my treadmill. Will work on finding a pool I can use. - 4/6/2013   12:31:48 AM
  • 222
    I do a lot of dancing when nobody else is watching & enjoy it a lot. But, if money wasn't a problem, I would much rather go swimming. I love the water & it helps the fibro. - 4/5/2013   11:50:46 PM

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