SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  news

Is Exercise a Metabolism Booster? Maybe Not.

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Does regular exercise help you burn more fat, even hours after your workout is over? Although a metabolism boost is touted as one of the benefits of physical activity, a new report says that exercisers won't burn more fat after a workout compared to days when they don't exercise.

The report, published in the journal Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, studied people who did a moderate-intensity workout, high-intensity workout or no workout at all (on separate days). They also compared people of different age groups and those who were competitive athletes, versus sedentary obese and sedentary lean individuals. Throughout all of these comparisons, one result was consistent: There seemed to be no difference in how much fat participants burned 24 hours after a workout, compared to days when they didn't exercise.

This study looked at workouts that were under one hour in length, so researchers can't be sure that longer, more intense workouts would produce the same results. The study also discusses the popular belief that weight training dramatically increases metabolism. A pound of muscle does burn more calories at rest than a pound of fat. But most people don't put on enough muscle to make enough of a difference. For instance, if someone gained 4-5 pounds of muscle, that only translates to an additional 28-50 calories burned per day.

So does this mean you should just become a couch potato? Not at all. Exercise can play an important role in weight loss, which ideally comes from a combination of diet and regular activity. Exercise will help you maintain the weight you've lost, and helps reduce the risk of certain diseases like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. It also has mental benefits like reduced stress, more energy and better sleep. Just don't think you can eat a big piece of cake after a workout because you'll burn it right off.

When it comes to weight loss, have you found that diet or exercise is more important? Or is it a combination of the two that have helped you?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Looking back at my past track record I would be inclined to say diet and exercise.
This is the first time I have taken this much weight off. Before I would lose 40-50 Lbs. and then whoops I would gain it back. I have been following my spark program for the past year and have kicked 102 lbs to the curb. So there must be something to the idea of diet and exercise. Who knew mother was right? Report
I believe it is a combination of eating the right kind of foods and exercising. I have lost a total of 11 pounds since I started on Spark People and that has a lot to do with the fact that I have been eating better than I did before. But I haven't been that good with the exercise portion of the progam. I wonder what my weight loss in the same period would have been if I would have been exercising regularly. Report
intake is definitely a major factor....i exercise quite often...and my weight is still a big struggle since i'm falling down in the eating area...yikes! Report
I've always heard that your body is still burning fat even on days you are not exercising. I imagine for those with poor circulation like myself that still holds true somewhat.

We also know that your body needs a break inbetween work outs to heal itself. Maybe that's why we plateau sometimes, cause we're not allowing the body enough time to relax and heal itself, just a thought. Report
I read the article as saying, that to get the metabolism increase consistently, you need to exercise frequently. I've never heard any claim that the boost lasted longer than a few hours.
For me, diet is more effective at dropping pounds, although I do still need SOME exercise. More specifically, drinking enough water seems to be of utmost importance, particularly if I've gone over on sodium. Exercise is what gives me energy, better moods, clearer thoughts, more muscle, so many other benefits- but I don't feel it's dropping the pounds for me. Report
Thank you for the eye-opening blog today. I've always felt that there are far more reasons to exercise than just losing weight, so my reasons have more to do with health, energy level, and mood than with whether or not I see a loss on the scale. Report
Eating as healthfully as you can and moving as much as you can are the two most important aspects of health as far as I'm concerned. The eating has to be a lifestyle change and this can take time. And I say MOVE IT OR LOSE IT. At my age even a few days of inactivity has negative consequences. Report
Personally I feel that diet and exercise in combination has a greater effect than either do alone. I have learned from experience that to diet alone you will loose weight if you are honest and if you exercise alone with determination and consistancy you will loose weight, however put the two together and you will see a greater loss of weight as weight loss comes when the calories burned are greater than the calories consumed. Report
Both are important, but exercise really affects how I eat. When I exercise I want more healthful food, so, perhaps the exercise is most important for me. Report
I tried for over a year to exercise my weight off by using the treadmill for at least 60 minutes a day to no avail. For periods of time before that I would try the "dieting" alone route also to no avail. Once I found the motivation/commitment to lose once and for all, I combined the sensible/nutritional eating and exercise to meet my goal so this will continue to be my way of life. I know others have been successful losing most of their weight without exercise but my "system" requires both and I have become comfortable with that. Report
In the past 3+ months I have found that I feel better when I follow both fitness and nutrition plans. Report
In my quest to lose weight I did follow the SPARK guidelines.
My first step was PORTION CONTROL, aka calorie restriction, because LORD KNOWS we ALL over eat. Most do NOT know what a "portion" is, and it was a learning experience for me.
My next step was chosing HEALTHY food alternatives - got rid of (most) white sugar, substitued whole grains for white flour (I was on my way there anyway due to hubby's health issues.
My final step was working in brisk evening walks (FAST paced, NOT strolls!!!) first starting off at 30 minutes, then finally got up to an hour at which time I decided it was time to take it to the gym and speed things up on the treadmill.

It takes BOTH a change in EATING patterns and EXERCISE patterns combined - not just one or the other. Report
I believe you need a combination to be successful. Report
I can cut calories all I want, I don't lose weight unless I exercise. When I exercise in the morning, I have more energy throughout the day, so I do burn more fat. It may not be because my metabolism is any higher, but rather because I sit still less.

And what if 4 - 5 pounds of muscle "only" burns an extra 50 calories? That's 50 calories a day - 18250 calories a year - 5 pounds of weight loss! Report
I have success maintaining or losing weight only if I balance healthy eating with moderate exercise. If I omit one or the other I balloon up pretty quickly. I have more energy when I exercise which makes me more active even when I'm not at the gym. If I don't go to the gym I tend to become a couch potato. I have to keep moving! Report
Oh, say it isn't so! Report
I don't know what to say about this article. I do know that exercising regularly has helped me to crave healthy foods (like apples) over unhealthy foods (like potato chips.

I think I will stick with what works for me. Report
Color me perplexed on a Saturday morning after reading this article *scratching her head wildly*. WTH?

Do people seriously expect to lose weight by just exercising? I'm thinking it ain't gonna happen. Report
I have dieted since about 12 when I was labeled Obese.
I have exercised since about 12 too.
I only lose weight when I do both together.
I maintain when I diet or exercise
and I gain if I don't do either.
So for ME to lose I have to do both but to maintain I only have to do 1 and I always pick exercise for my maintaing stages because I love food. Report
Hey HeyHey!!!! Where's the BEEF? HERE's the BEEF! It still takes just about no cals to maintain fat......... and if women don't use the muscle they DO have,and lose 1/2 lb muscle every year after age 30 or so, but maintain the same weight, WHERE's the BEEF??

Strength training MINIMALLY, will help to preserve the portion of weight ordinarily lost, (combination of muscle and fat) that would be muscle! Forgive me but most of us don't want to be "Skinny COWS".....that are skinny FAT. And women, for too long, have harbored the erroneous belief (and hope for those honest enough to say yeah, it is the lazy syndrome speaking....)that dieting alone is all they need to do to be skinny (FAT).

WHERE's the BEEF? Muscle is HEAVIER at same mass than fat; WHERE is the comparative statement to balance this "oh, don't bother to exercise, you only are gonna burn a couple of cals with that dinky bit'o beef ya got thar" mentality? WHERE is the companion observation to a well-rounded rumination, since we are sitting around chewing the cud on it, that regular weight-bearing work or exercise helps keep the old bones strong and thick??????

How bout we all just become amoebas, then we can have the brains to go with it too and we won't even have to worry about articles like this cause they won't "occur" to us to even be worth thinking about. LOL! Report
I have known this for a while. I had a personal trainner who put me through the paces- strength training non stop for 45 minutes - going from one exercise to another with weights. Cardio warm up and stretching. It was very vigorating, but also exhausting. I was losing inches, but gaining weight. I quit due to expense and exhaustion. My body just hit a brick walk and started breaking down. I am hypo and it was exhausting. My DH had gven me a major gift with a personal trainer for Christmas and Valentines Day for 8 months. After I left, I could not keep up the routines at home. Did not have someone motivating me all the time and did not have any of the equipment. Report
I agree with this article completely. To be fit, slim and healthy we much exercise regularly and our diet must be very controlled too. Nobody has lost weight by exercising only. My husband is a marathon runner and I have come in touch with many marathon people in his club. The one thing the president of the club always says is '' as long as I have been president here (and he is in this position for 10 years) I have never seen anybody getting slimmer just by running''. When he is refering to ''running'' he means hard everyday training for marathons, about 60-70 miles a week at least. This is hard exercise!

Uhura Report
The combination of the two, and my thyroid working seem to be the best combination for me. ^_^ Report
I find that the saying "if it feels good do it" is a lot more dependable then any research reports. because one thing for certain when it comes to food and exercise, reasearchers will change their minds daily. Report
Exercise has been the key to really losing weight and improvng my health--lower BP, pulse, etc. I agree with others that the tone of this article is strange. Kind of negative. Report
there are many ways one can look at this way to see is its inconclusive, another is to just say oh wow why bother to exercise. Well for starters, I would rather continue to exercise whether it raises my metabolism or not. I find that exercising relieves me of my anxiety attacks and depression that I was diagnosed with six years ago (have been antidepressant free for two years thanks to sparks), I no longer have Hypertension (also drug free for two years), and because I have lost some weight...a tumor was found by me and an early detection saved my life!!!! So maybe it doesn't make you burn your fat off instantly...but it sure does have its better advantages from my point of view!!!!! Report
There is too much missing from this article. It doesn't mention that as we age our metabolism go down and don't need as many calories. While building muscle boost your metabolism. Not to mention helps build stronger bones! So for me I'll continue to exercise and watch my diet. Report
Improving my intake has made a huge impact on my health and fitness goals, but I'm sure exercise has helped as well. Report
First, thanks for the link to the longer article - and I hope that in the future it will also be possible to link in to the actual study.

Second - I'm not sure why this story is creating a stir. The points the researchers raised appear to boil down to these: (a) you can't outexercise a bad nutritional program. We already know that. (b) adding muscle will result in a slightly higher burn rate for each pound added, and the amount of extra burn is related to the total number of muscle pounds added - we already know that, too. There are arguments over exactly how many extra calories of burn, and clearly that's an area of ongoing study (c) cardio burns calories during exercise and does not appear to burn calories after exercise. We were pretty sure that was true also.

What's a little disappointing is the tone of the article. Adding 4-5 pounds of muscle will burn almost HALF the excess calories most people appear to eat per day (ie, if the average gain per year is about ten pounds, then the average person should eat about 100 calories per day less so as to stop gaining). Not to mention the calories burned in strength training that triggered the muscle gain in the first place. On a personal sample of one, unscientific as that is, I have lost 50 pounds, added some as-yet unquantified amount of muscle, and my resting metabolic rate as measured by MedGem has gone from less than 1200 calories/day to slightly over 1400 calories/day. THAT is probably due to a combintion of clean eating, appropriate cardio, and generous amounts of strength training :) And nothing in this article indicates that other people would not experience the same results by taking the same path.

To me, the article (both original and in SP) should have been begun - "Hurrah! You can improve your health and increase your metabolism by eating well and exercising! But there are limits - don't expect to outrun or outlift your diet." Report
I have lost 47 lbs over the last 10 months by just cutting back (not eliminating) the amount of unhealthy food I eat. However, I started my walking "plan" today to help avoid plateaus frequently experienced in dieting and to improve my overall health - especially my heart health. Now we'll see how I do with a combination of healthier eating and increased activity. As far as activity alone goes, I don't see how it can make a difference if we are still consuming more calories than we are burning. Report
Very interesting! I am in complete agreement with other post that indicate that exercising helps me to stay focus on what I am eating. I once told my husband that if I was exercising JUST TO LOSE WEIGHT, I would have quit a LONG time ago. I find that exercising helps me with stress and I have an overall energized feeling throughout the day, that is what is motivating me to continue exercising. Report
This blog leaves me with more questions than answers. "There seemed to be no difference in how much fat participants burned 24 hours after a workout, compared to days when they didn't exercise". First of all, are they measuring actual calories burned or "fat" burned, and how is that measured? Second, I don't think anyone has claimed that the metabolism effects would last 24 hours. I have read 30 minutes for cardio and a few hours for weight training. That sounds a lot better than just saying it doesn't boost the metabolism because the effects have worn off after 24 hours. Report
Diet is most important for me, and because I am losing weight, I am able to do more exercising... such a surprise! LOL Report
Definitely a combination for me. Report
i find that exercise is the most important thing for me to lose weight, and especially to get healthy. I build muscle quicker than other people do, but have health problems which make it hard for me to exercise. When i can maintain a regular exercise program i lose weight at a nice steady rate. Report
I think it's definitely nutrition though I have exercised and weight trained pretty consistently 5-6 days a week for the last 20 years. Exercise makes me feel better, reduces stress and tones me up but in order to actually lose weight I have to cut calories. Report
For me it diet and exercise combined. I have tried each separately in the past, but was never able to lose more than a few pounds. Since the end of April, I've been consistent with nutrition and exercise and I've seen a huge difference! Report
I always lose a few more pounds after mowing the lawn with a push mower. I have hills in my yard which makes for a very strenuous workout. However, since joining SparkPeople, I have changed my eating habits. Before joining SparkPeople, I mowed the lawn the same way that I do now but still gained weight. It definitely takes both exercise AND healthy eating to lose weight. Report
Gym club always boost my metabolism. It can be not right now after but on another day. I do not lose weight. But I do not get bigger. It is very important. I stopped before 260Lbs. My body just burst up and there were no way to stop it. My DH got Bally Club membership for me six years ago. I go to gym. I do not lose weight, but I still in the same range.

A few weeks ago I got biggest surprise: it is my heart rate. It is 52. It never was on this point. My PhD. would never put me to fitness therapy in his office, he does not want to be responsible. My heart would stop at any time. It is never stable. In gym club I can control it. And now it goes in the right way. Report
Exercise is what does it for me. I can follow a "perfect" diet and not lose an ounce but I can eat not so good and as long as I exercise the weight / inches are coming off. Report
I would like to read that "scientific report" quoted by the Ms. Stenson. I am not sure if the author should base on just one report to announce that exercises don't make any difference. It's true that maybe some research show very little effect a workout session has on post exercise oxygen consumption but one should look deeper to see how the study was carried out and if the study and analysis were sound.

Here's an article done over two decades ago and today still deemed as one of the most significant studies.

Again, in 2005, there was another study done using just upper body exercise:

The above two studies were carried out in a tight controlled environment and the standard deviation was small therefore have high repeatability and reliability. We have solid evidence that our metabolism could above our resting baseline, as long as 24 hours, depends on the mode, intensity, duration, and individual fitness level.

I am not saying exercise is a metabolism magic booster. It elevates your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) to only a certain level. That doesn't mean if you exercise you'll become bullet proof to one's lifestyle. It takes a lot to burn one pound of fat, but overtime the extra calories burned will make a significant difference for those who wish to lose weight the healthy way and for long term weight management. Just my two cents. Report
I thimk it's both for me. I have found that mixing up my exercising is a key component for me and also watching what I eat. I used to be a fried food junkie. Report
I have found that exercising has helped to tone me more than diet alone. But then I went from sedentary to working out up to 1 1/2 hrs a day. The weight started coming off more easily, and it has helped my stress. Report
I am unsure of what to think of this study. I have been using the Bodybugg system for almost 6 months now and I can clearly see the numbers during and after my workouts compared to a day when I dont exercise. Its true that after 24 hours the results of exercise have worn off, but I am still torching calories for a good 4 to 5 hours after I get a high-intensity workout. I dont think this was a fair study. You definitly have benifits for several hours after a workout as far as metabolism goes. Other than that, it was a good reminder that our diet is 80% of our weight loss success. Report
For me, it is definitely a combination of diet and exercise. I can definitely tell on the scale if I have been a little lazy in either the diet or exercise department. Report
For me exercises helps me maintain and lose weight...without it I gain without even trying. Nutrition, I have eaten an extremely clean diet for so long now, if I let go and just ate whatever I gaurantee I would gain weight...The article makes sense and is a good reminder to not rest on our laurels from a previous workout - we need to constently get out there eat well and exercise! :) Report
The study says they tested 24 hours after the exercise. So the afterburn didn't last 24 hours; it probably still kept your metabolism working for several hours. I never heard that it lasted 24 hours any way, just "several" hours. Report
I find that I need both - but I need to pay more specific attention to my diet :) Exercise alone maintains my weight, diet helps me lose weight Report
I've never been physically active, not really. I did PE in school because I had to and liked recreational swimming. It's only been recently (maybe the last 3 months) that I've started incorporating exercise into my life. And even now, I'm still on the low end of physical fitness compared to some. So I can't say that exercise has been a big factor in my weight loss goals. Up to now, the biggest factor has been diet management. Physical fitness, for me, has been more of a mental and physical challenge than a weight management tool, although that is one of the benefits. I feel great doing it, not only because it's good for my body, but because the challenge itself provides a sense of accomplishment... something I'm doing for "me". Report
For a healthy lifestyle, both are necessary. I have to do both in order to loose the weight and keep it off. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.