The Single Best Exercise for Weight Loss

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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Same thing has happened to me and not just with this article,You are spot on Jen - find ONE thing (at least in the beginning) that you enjoy and stick to it. There is NO point in torturing one;s self and in the long run you will stop doing it if its too much of a chore. Trust me I have been there.
DEBNRS1 same thing for me. I tried looking at the source code for this page and I think it's not correct. But, I don't know how to get it to do the right thing. Report
For some reason, the link to Sparkpoints is busted...I have read the article and clicked the link but no points were added, so I went back to try again and was told points were already awarded, but my points went from 3points to 3points, not 8. Report
I learned something: "plate pushes" IS an exercise, done at the gym, actually pushing a heavy weighted, large disk, across the smoothe floor. Looks like a lot of leg and lower back strength building and I would think cardio, if you could keep it up that long. You should try it at the gym with careful coaching. Personally, I gave up gym membership, with great relief and found I can do an abundance of enjoyable workouts at home (walk, dance, videos, Pilates, weights,etc) Report
For some reason friends and family always ask me what is the best cardio workout, they think that since I lost so much weight that I know this. I always tell them I don't know, I guess just find something you enjoy and do that.

I have a small stair stepper that I use while watching tv. Keeping my mind on the television makes it easier to do more without realizing how long I've been working. Report
I dance, walk, swim, and do kickboxing. I also bicycle when I have a bicycle! I enjoy all that I do immensely and that's what keeps me going. That and that I don't hurt myself the way I used to. I can slip on the ice and end up unscathed. Report
This is an excellent point and I don't want to take anything away from it. However, I think that it's important to give different activities a chance a few times along the way. When you can't run a half mile without stopping and are looking at all of these people just zipping along like it takes no effort, it's easy to get down on running and say, "I hate running." But, if you can stick with it long enough to crank out a mile run. A two mile run. A "holy smokes I never thought I could run X distance!" run. It becomes a lot more enjoyable.

So, if once you have given something a fair shake and are not letting your insecurities dictate what you enjoy, sure, write it off for good. But until then, don't do it if you don't love it but keep it as an option for when your current workout gets stale. Report
I think the "best" exercise is the one you enjoy most that you will stick with and continue to do on a regular basis! Report
For me, it's all about DANCE. I hear a good beat, and my body must obey it - whether it's at the dance studio or in the privacy of my own home.

Along the lines of doing what you love: I once knew a gal who loved to dance, too, but she was so shy and overwhelmed about the possibility of doing it in public with other people that she just decided to start dancing freestyle in her own house when nobody was home, to her favorite Motown songs from the 60s. She ended up losing about 40 lbs that way!

It really is about self-examination and seeing what things naturally compel you to be active. Report
I adore weights and ST, some days more than others. I have a multi gym and right now am missing it like crazy as we're decorating the bedroom it's in, we're converting it into a gym room purely pour moi! I'll be able to really enjoy my own designated area, no interruptions.
Meanwhile I'm taking myself off for hour long walks by the beach. Going I play up tempo music, coming home I listen to the sea and the gulls. Invigorating!
I do exercise daily in one shape or another, I have dumb bells, swiss ball etc and have a rest day every week ( although I'm still active even then)
If you find something that lifts you- you'll keep at it. I've been sparking since September 2007 and from day one have enjoyed being more active. Report
It's a good thing "plate pilates" ISN'T the "best" way to lose weight. If you love it, fine, but everyone doesn't buy in. SP offers many ways to do it, not one. Report
Personally, I like Pilates, yoga, and walking. I include dancing, heavy cleaning once a week, and strength 4x a week. I think it's whatever you can do to get your body moving. I break a sweat vacuuming, scrubbing floors, going up and down the stairs with laundry, and shoveling snow around my condo..... Report
I am glad to see others with my same view! Granted I have yet to find the motivation to really bust out of my anti-exercise mood... But, my husband and I share completely different views on what is "acceptable" when it comes to working out. I hate to run for more than a few reasons, the biggest being PAIN. My husband gets very frustrated because I'd rather lightly jog, walk or power-walk. Where as, he is a runner and believes that I will get no where "fast" by not running. :) Report
The BEST exercise to lose weight is plate pushes... if you can't do those, nothing else is going to help all that much Report
For those who can't walk or stand and want to exercise, there are videos out there of "chair exercise". Some of them use dance moves and such to work up a sweat. You'd be surpised how much of an upper body and core exercise workout you can get if you give it your all, even sitting in a chair. And they are actually fun. Do an internet search on "chair dancing" or "chair exercises". Or check your local library. Report
This is an awesome article. I have recently come to the conclusion that anything is better than nothing. I saw a program on tv called functional fitness. It has fitness that they taylor to every need. I love that. One person is on the floor doing the exercises to the fullest. There is One in the wheelchair doing the exercise at her level. There is an exercise for each and every one of us. So I am going to start small and find what I truly love. Report
This makes sense, logical. I walk, I don't mind walking because I like nature and will change the route when I get bored. I also have zumba class twice a week, i enjoy the other people in the class and i like the satisfaction of how I feel when it is done, although sometimes I have to talk myself into both activities. Report
... and I thought that the answer for best exercise was going to be:
Pushing away from the dinner table---- lol Report
I thought they were going to say strength training, esp circuit training. I learned last year that I should pick several exercise to instead of trying to decide on the best. I love to swim but I can't do it every day. I'm not a huge fan of running up and down the stairs at home, but having it as an option certainly works out some days. Report
I would love to do some type of exercise, but I can't even walk right now. Both of my knees need to be replaced - surgery is scheduled for the left one in February. Any suggestions on what I can do in the meantime? Report
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. Report
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?? Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
This is so true! Thank you! Report
MOCOWBELL'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. Report
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. Report
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 . Report
Thanks for sharing that good point Report
Ah, this makes so much sense! :) Report
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.?
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! Report
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.
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. Report
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!!! Report
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
. Report
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. Report
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. Report
Aerobic reading....hmmmm Report
If only they could come up with aerobic reading...sigh..... Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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 ... Report
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