Does Exercise Help You Lose Weight? Here’s Why Your Morning Runs Aren’t Working (and What to Do About It)

You just recently started running. You’re excited — you’re motivated, hitting the gym every day, and seemingly making progress. Since you’re trying to lose weight, you bravely step on the scale for the first time since the start of your exercise regimen. The results aren’t what you expected — instead of losing weight, you’re horrified to see you’ve gained some.

Unfortunately, your dreams of dropping pounds after starting a new fitness routine might not come true. It turns out there’s more to weight loss than burning calories. Here’s everything you need to know.

It’s not just about ‘calories in, calories out’

The quality of your calories matters.

Quality trumps quantity, in this case. | Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

We’ll start by saying this: Exercising more and eating fewer calories isn’t always effective. And the quality of the calories you’re eating really matters. Remember — 200 calories’ worth of apples doesn’t affect your body the same way 200 calories of chocolate ice cream does. You can’t exercise for 150 minutes every week, eat mostly processed food, and expect your workout to “undo” your food choices.

Exercise is extremely beneficial for a lot of things, but if you want to lose weight, quality is king.

Over-exercising ruins your chances of losing weight

Overtraining isn't the best weight loss strategy.

How much time you spend at the gym might not matter. | iStock.com/diego_cervo

If you’re spending hours at the gym hoping to speed things up and lose weight faster, you’re wasting your time. When you overdo it, your body starts to chip away at your muscle tissue. As a result, your metabolism slows down. Over-training can also produce excess stress hormones, weaken your immune system, and make you feel pretty lousy.

If you take things too far, you could cause permanent damage.

The exercises you think burn fat actually don’t

Fat-burning exercises promote weight loss.

Yoga won’t help you lose weight — sorry. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you’re exercising intensely enough to trigger weight loss. Eat This, Not That! warns that yoga meet-ups, and even barre and Zumba classes, aren’t going to give you the results you want — especially not quickly.

If you want to lose weight, focus on high-intensity interval training, or complement cardio with strength training to target all your major muscle groups. These fat-burning exercises will give your full body the workout it needs to help you shed pounds and build muscle.

Your repetitive workout is working against you

Doing the same exercises over and over doesn't work.

Switch things up. | iStock.com/fizkes

Don’t expect miraculous results if you stick to the same boring routine day in and day out! Not only is this an ineffective weight-loss strategy, but you could also increase your chances of injury. Varying your workouts with cardio and strength training is a great way to work your full body and avoid overusing certain muscles.

For maximum weight loss, Women’s Health recommends switching up your full routine every four to six weeks.

Diet and exercise together promote weight loss — sometimes

You need to work out and eat better, too.

Diet is just as important as exercise when it comes to weight loss. | iStock.com/jenifoto

We know supplementing your workouts with protein and fiber will generally get you on the right track — and help you stay there. Still, you should always take health advice as a set of general guidelines — because the foods and exercises that worked for your brother’s friend’s sister-in-law might not have the same effect on you.

The more personalized your approach to food and fitness, especially for weight loss, the more likely you are to figure out a system that works for you.

Lack of exercise isn’t the only reason people gain weight

Weight gain could happen for a number of reasons.

Some health conditions and medications can cause weight gain, too. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

An inactive lifestyle is a major risk factor for weight gain — but it isn’t the only element to blame. A number of medications and health conditions also contribute to weight gain in some people. And diets high in sodium and sugar, eating too many calories, and not getting enough sleep may also make weight loss less likely.

Weight loss isn’t a guaranteed result of exercise

Exercise won't always help you lose weight quickly.

There are no guarantees in life — especially in regards to weight loss. | iStock.com/Highwaystarz-Photography

Many people who exercise for weight loss don’t actually lose weight. If you start jogging, and you don’t normally do that, your body weight is going to shift, not necessarily drop pounds. People also tend to eat more to “make up for” calories burned.

Carrie Dennett, R.D.N., writes in Today’s Dietitian that research is exploring how genes and even your gut bacteria can influence your ability — or perhaps, inability — to lose weight. The bottom line — everyone’s bodies react differently to physical activity and fuel.

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