The idea that, “Aerobic Exercise Will Help You Lose Fat?” It was a big lie.
The truth is, the effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible. Let me point out that if you are new to exercise (or getting back on the wagon), aerobic training can help you lose some fat in the short term. But research shows the benefits are rarely sustainable (see below). I also want to point out that aerobic exercise, DONE RIGHT, does certainly have other benefits -- like cardiovascular fitness, mental & emotional health, and more.
For those research nuts out there like me, let’s take a look at some actual research:
A 2013 large-scale survey of physical activity and obesity rates in the U.S. found that Americans have dramatically increased the amount of exercise they do … but they are not losing weight. The research authors wrote that the success of improving levels of physical activity “stand out in marked contrast to the failure to observe any statistically significant reductions in obesity in any county.”
A 2012 study that compared the effect of aerobic exercise for 30 vs. 60 minutes a day, 6 days a week for 13 weeks and found that both groups lost the same amount of body fat (the 30-minute group actually lost slightly more at 4 kg compared to 3.8 kg in the 60-minute group). Researchers concluded that aerobic exercise is “a poor weight management” strategy.
A 2006 study found that of 12,568 regular runners, only those who significantly increased their weekly distance or running speed over the course of the 9-year study did not gain body fat. Runners who maintained or slightly increased mileage and intensity had larger waistlines at the end of the study.
Besides the research studies (and there are more), I’ve seen the lack of results first hand with aerobic exercise-focused programs.
Aerobic exercise is a fat trap because the purpose of doing it is to train the body to be as efficient as possible. The body adapts quickly to repetitive aerobic exercise with the goal of using the least amount of oxygen and energy to perform the greatest amount of work. Nothing about aerobic exercise supports long-term fat loss.
Do This Instead:
Prioritize anaerobic training in the form of regular weight training and interval training. Resistance training done properly will produce sustainable fat loss because it increases muscle for a greater metabolic rate (you burn more calories at rest with more muscle), and it promotes better hormone health - the ultimate fat loss influencer.
Additional light exercise is not a problem. Yoga, walking, biking, playing, and even participating in your local 5ks are all really good for you. They just shouldn’t take priority or make up the bulk of a fat loss training program.
As a starting point, try 2-3 strength training sessions a week, interspersed with short, intense interval training (where you’re at maximum work capacity for short periods of time, followed by rest periods that allow your heart rate to come back down).
By the way … that breathless huffing and puffing you experience when doing short bursts of high-intensity cardio? That means that there’s not enough oxygen available to fuel the exercise that you’re doing … so your body has to “borrow” energy from your cells to finish the work. This creates an “oxygen debt” … and all debts must be paid back. In this case, your body repays the debt by burning more calories at rest for up to several hours after the workout is over.
Not only is this approach proven by the research to be more effective for fat loss and improved body composition … it’s also more fun than spending endless hours on a treadmill.
Plus … wouldn’t it make your next Zoom meeting more enjoyable, knowing that you’re burning calories just sitting there? 😉
- Coach Michelle