The Single Best Exercise for Weight Loss


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/5/2013 6:00 AM   :  309 comments   :  656,363 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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    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
    I'm hooked on the elliptical machine. My husband found a used one for $250, and it has been working out really well. I change up the machines programs to keep it challenging. I watch taped t.v. programs while working out and the time usually flys by. I also walk with my husband 3-5 days a week. We are lucky to have access to a great indoor track - so we don't have any "weather excuses". - 4/5/2013   10:15:53 PM
  • 220
    I Really ENJOY dancing so that's always my go to workout. I realized that if I don't or won't enjoy doing it no matter how much it's supposed to work I will not give it my all. I ALWAYS Smile during my cardio dancing. I make my own playlist and go at it. The same with walking. I get a pla thatylist of music that makes me smile and get moving. If you are doing anything just because it's a hard workout or supposed to have all of these marvelous results and you have to drag yourself to do really do need to change. I have many dvds that I have tossed aside. FUN is always a winner no matter what it is. It CAN be turned into FUN! Thanks a lot!!! - 4/5/2013   9:41:25 PM
  • 219
    Well, now that my health has been compromised and I have to maintain it in the face of several circulatory problems (one of quite longstanding duration), I find I have to ditch some of the yoga, which I have liked immensely over the past 5-1/2 years (the first year of yoga was my own yoga-cardio fusion, which had cross trained me for lap swimming (since mid-'08, I have had no time to get to a pool; now, with my diabetes being treated it looks only about 5% more doable). But, that's a blessing in disguise. Because now I am more free to find an occasional-to-fairly frequent yoga class that I do not have to cross-train and prehabilitate to (as a perennial primarily home practitioner) - the current more power yoga-ish styles prefer the frequent studio-mostly attendee and make the classes--even the Level 1's--quite difficult to just pick back up on once every few weeks, unless you're young, always light in weight, and relatively athletic.

    My go-to workouts are now Belly Dance Aerobics (at home), and the Masala Bhangra Workout (in a class, fairly frequently).

    Let me be frank with you: I do NOT have the hip flexibility to hold my own in a Zumba class. [I know... I took to Yoga with internally-rotated hips and too-long legs? Go figure.] I need a dance class where I am not tempted to be too ambitious.

    Zumba-ing maybe in another life ... lol - 4/5/2013   8:57:17 PM
  • 218
    Great article, extremely motivating.... Guess I will keep on doing what I am doing because it's fun and I am enjoying myself. I am not a gym person, so I stay at home and workout with my Xbox Live Kinect. - 4/5/2013   3:02:16 PM
  • 217
    Weight Lifting is the best exercise since it helps build muscle, which burns more calories and helps to decrease Insulin Resistance. We as women are often discouraged from doing weight training, but it certainly is important to build strength. Joyce Vedral has great videos. She is nearly 70 now, and has worked out for the past 25 years. - 4/5/2013   12:51:36 PM
  • 216
    This article is a true statement. I have done one form or another of exercise for 20 years, and throughout that period, i wonder why i do it, i'm bound to die anyway, probably of a car accident or something, and what I'm doing isn't going to prolong my life very much, but I love to keep moving, so I still get up (nearly) every morning for my 4 a.m. run, just because I can still run. there have been times where i've been injured and not able to do anything, so feeling the wind in my hair and knowing I'm doing something good for me keeps me motivated!
    KUDOS to everyone who keeps doing good things for themselves! YOU are worth it! I love that what you do gives me motivation too! Both my parents haven't really ever kept an active lifestyle, and now my mom is pretty much homebound (she is only 66), and I wonder WHY? why can't she be motivated to take care of herself? ugh, it's frustrating, I just want to say, LOVE yourself! take care of yourself! - 4/5/2013   11:49:45 AM
  • 215
    Just keep moving, walking, running, dancing, whatever you enjoy! - 4/5/2013   11:32:39 AM
  • 214
    Speaking as a committed non-runner, I've found the videos on Sparkpeople to be helpful. I do walk when I can, but I jump rope. If I'm inside, I just don't use a rope and ghost/air jump. You can watch a clock to see how many you can do in one minute, then put on some music or look at different videos and try different jumps, which ups the challenge. But, again, I don't like running, so I don't bother. Find a few different activities/sports you like and switch them up. And try something new occassionally. - 4/5/2013   11:22:37 AM
  • 213
    I absolutely love riding my bike. It reminds me of the feeling of freedom I got as a kid knowing I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted to go. I can ride for hours and not even notice the "exercise" especially when the weather is beuatiful! I also love water and swimming. And last (but certainly not least) I LOVE roller derby. I can skate my ass off and only think about strategy the entire time. In fact roller derby is my motivator in almost all my athletic pursuits. This is a great blog because it reminds us all that exercise doesn't have to be dreary! - 4/5/2013   11:17:33 AM
  • 212
    If you are competitive as I am I think you need to set goals for fitness. Then you can plan you program around those goals. This gives you the motivation to stick to exercising even on days you do not even want to do something you enjoy. - 4/5/2013   11:02:04 AM
  • 211
    I think the key here is finding "activities" not "exercises". Do stuff that is fun for you!

    Dancing, walking your dog or cat ;) , riding your bike, gardening, wii or other games, etc. Just getting up off the couch and moving! All of it counts and the more you do it, the better you will feel and the more you will be able to do. - 4/5/2013   10:50:58 AM
  • 210
    So the "magic bullet" is within me eh?!
    Sandi - 4/5/2013   9:43:40 AM

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