About half of all adults in America try to lose weight every year.
Working out is a popular way for folks to drop some pounds, because it burns off calories, which is crucial for weight loss.
Not just that, but exercise can also boost your mood, make your bones stronger, and cut down your risk of getting chronic diseases.
Let’s dive into the top 8 exercises that are excellent for losing weight.
Walking is an awesome choice for weight loss, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s simple and beginner-friendly, and you don’t need to buy any special equipment. Plus, it’s easy on your joints.
According to research from Harvard Health, a person weighing 155 pounds can burn approximately 167 calories by walking at a moderate speed of 4 mph for half an hour.
In a 12-week study involving 20 women who were obese, walking 50–70 minutes three times a week lowered their body fat and shrunk their waistlines by an average of 1.5% and 1.1 inches.
Walking is an easy activity to sprinkle throughout your day. To add more walking to your life, consider strolling during your lunch break, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or going for extra walks with your dog.
If you’re new to this, try to walk for about 30 minutes three or four times a week. As you get more comfortable, you can start walking longer or more often.
Summary: Walking is a simple and effective way to start exercising. You can do it almost anywhere and it’s gentle on your joints. Look for ways to include more walking in your daily routine.
2. Jogging or running
Jogging and running are excellent activities for shedding pounds.
The main difference between the two is speed: jogging is generally at a pace of 4–6 mph, while running is faster than 6 mph.
According to Harvard Health, someone who weighs 155 pounds can burn nearly 298 calories by jogging at a 5-mph pace for half an hour, or 372 calories by running at a 6-mph pace for the same duration.
What’s more, both jogging and running are good for getting rid of harmful belly fat. This kind of fat surrounds your internal organs and is associated with chronic issues like heart disease and diabetes.
Jogging and running can be easily included in your weekly schedule. To start, aim to jog for about 20–30 minutes three to four times a week.
If you find that running or jogging outside is tough on your joints, consider softer surfaces like grass. Also, most treadmills offer cushioning, which can be easier on your joints.
Summary: Both jogging and running are effective for weight loss and can be added to your regular routine. They’re especially good at burning off belly fat, which is tied to various long-term health issues.
Cycling is a popular way to boost your fitness and help you lose weight.
Though traditionally an outdoor activity, many fitness centers offer stationary bikes for indoor cycling as well.
Harvard Health calculates that a 155-pound person burns about 260 calories in 30 minutes of moderate stationary biking, or 298 calories during 30 minutes of cycling at a moderate speed of 12–13.9 mph.
Cycling is not only good for weight loss but also has other health benefits. Regular cyclists are generally fitter, have better insulin sensitivity, and face a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and even early death.
Cycling is suitable for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or an athlete. It’s also a low-impact activity, so it’s gentle on your joints.
Summary: Cycling is good for people of all fitness levels. You can do it either outdoors or indoors, and it has multiple health benefits, including better overall fitness and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
4. Weight training
Weight training is a go-to exercise for those who want to lose weight.
Suggested read: Cardio vs. weight lifting for weight loss: Comparison & analysis
Harvard Health estimates that a person weighing 155 pounds can burn about 112 calories in 30 minutes of weight training.
What’s great about weight training is that it helps you get stronger and build muscle, which boosts your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is the rate at which your body burns calories even when you’re just sitting or sleeping.
A study that lasted 6 months found that doing just 11 minutes of strength exercises three times a week led to a 7.4% boost in metabolic rate. In the study, this increase meant the participants burned an extra 125 calories per day.
Another research showed that men who did weight training for 24 weeks had their metabolic rates increased by 9%, which means they burned about 140 extra calories per day. For women, the metabolic rate rose by almost 4%, or an extra 50 calories per day.
What’s more, weight training keeps your body burning calories long after you’ve finished your workout, unlike aerobic exercise.
Summary: Weight training is effective for weight loss because it burns calories both during the workout and afterwards. It can also increase your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.
5. Interval training
Also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), interval training involves short, intense bursts of exercise followed by periods of rest.
HIIT workouts are usually short, lasting between 10 and 30 minutes, but they can burn a lot of calories in that time.
One study involving 9 active men showed that HIIT burns 25–30% more calories per minute than other workouts like weight training, cycling, and treadmill running.
This means you can burn more calories in less time with HIIT.
Additionally, several studies have found that HIIT is great for burning off belly fat, which is linked to various long-term health problems.
Suggested read: How to lose 10 pounds in a month in 14 simple steps
Adding HIIT to your workout routine is simple. Just pick an exercise you like, such as running, jumping, or biking, and set your high-intensity and low-intensity periods.
For instance, you could pedal really fast on a bike for 30 seconds and then go slow for 1–2 minutes. You’d repeat this cycle for 10–30 minutes.
Summary: Interval training is a quick and efficient way to lose weight. It burns more calories per minute than other workouts and is particularly good at melting belly fat. To get started, simply pick an activity you enjoy and set your work and rest intervals.
Jumping in the pool is a super fun way to shed some pounds and get fit.
According to Harvard Health, if you weigh around 155 pounds (or about 70 kg), you’ll burn close to 233 calories just by swimming for 30 minutes.
Different strokes have different effects. For instance, a 155-pound person can burn 298 calories doing the backstroke, 372 with the breaststroke, 409 with the butterfly, and 372 even when just treading water, all in half an hour.
One study that took 12 weeks and involved 24 middle-aged women showed that swimming one hour, three times a week, can noticeably cut down body fat and improve your heart health by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Plus, swimming is easy on your joints, which makes it a perfect exercise option for those with injuries or joint issues.
Summary: Swimming is an awesome low-impact workout that can help you lose weight, improve your flexibility, and lower the risk of heart issues.
Yoga is not just about relaxation; it’s also a good way to get some exercise and chill out.
Even though many people don’t think of yoga when it comes to losing weight, it still helps you burn calories and has added health bonuses that aid in weight loss.
For example, Harvard Health says a person weighing 155 pounds will burn nearly 149 calories in just 30 minutes of doing yoga.
A study involving 60 women with obesity over 12 weeks found that those who did two 90-minute yoga sessions each week lost more around their waists—about 1.5 inches—compared to the control group.
Doing yoga also helps improve your mental and physical wellness.
On top of burning calories, yoga has been found to promote mindfulness, which can help you make better food choices, control overeating, and tune into your body’s hunger cues.
Whether you want to join a gym class or do it at home, yoga is super accessible. There are plenty of online tutorials if you prefer practicing within your own space.
Suggested read: How running helps you lose weight
Summary: Yoga is a versatile exercise for weight loss that you can do just about anywhere. It not only helps you burn calories but also equips you with mindfulness techniques to combat food cravings.
Pilates is an excellent exercise for beginners looking to shed some pounds.
A study backed by the American Council on Exercise found that someone who weighs about 140 pounds (64 kg) could burn around 108 calories in a 30-minute introductory Pilates class, or up to 168 calories in a more advanced session of the same length.
Even though Pilates doesn’t burn as many calories as high-intensity workouts like running, a lot of folks find it fun. And when exercise is enjoyable, you’re more likely to stick with it in the long run.
A two-month study involving 37 middle-aged women showed that doing Pilates for 90 minutes, three times a week, noticeably trimmed their waist, tummy, and hips. This was in comparison to another group that didn’t exercise during that time.
Apart from helping you lose weight, Pilates is also good for easing lower back pain and enhancing your overall physical capabilities like strength, balance, agility, stamina, and general fitness.
If you’re interested in trying Pilates, consider adding it to your weekly exercise schedule. You can practice Pilates either at home or at many fitness centers that offer classes.
To ramp up your weight-loss efforts with Pilates, consider pairing it with a balanced diet or other workouts like weightlifting or aerobic exercises.
Summary: Pilates is a fantastic starting point for those looking to lose weight and also boost other aspects of their physical well-being, like strength, balance, agility, and stamina.
How much weight can you realistically expect to lose?
The amount of weight you might lose from exercise varies and depends on several things.
Here’s what plays a role:
- Starting weight. If you weigh more to begin with, you’ll likely drop more pounds than someone who weighs less. However, the percentage of body weight you’ll lose is usually similar regardless of your starting weight.
- Age. Older folks usually have more fat and less muscle, which decreases your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or the calories your body uses when you’re not active. A lower RMR can make weight loss more challenging.
- Gender. Women usually have a higher fat-to-muscle ratio compared to men, affecting their RMR. This means men often lose weight faster than women, even if they eat the same amount of calories.
- Diet. Losing weight boils down to burning more calories than you take in. So, creating a calorie deficit is key.
- Sleep. Not getting enough rest can slow down your weight loss and might even make you crave unhealthy foods.
- Medical conditions. If you have health issues like depression or hypothyroidism, you may find weight loss happens more slowly for you.
- Genetics. Research shows that your genes can play a part in how easily you lose weight, especially for those struggling with obesity.
Most experts advise aiming to lose 1–3 pounds per week, which is about 1% of your body weight. Shedding weight too quickly can lead to issues like muscle loss, gallstones, dehydration, exhaustion, nutrient deficiencies, headaches, mood swings, constipation, hair thinning, and menstrual irregularities.
Additionally, if you lose weight too rapidly, you’re more likely to put it back on.
Remember, weight loss isn’t a straight-line journey; it’s common to lose weight faster in the beginning.
Summary: Your weight loss potential is influenced by a variety of factors. A generally safe rate of weight loss is 1–3 pounds per week, or about 1% of your body weight.
The bottom line
A variety of exercises can aid in weight loss.
Top picks for calorie-burning activities are walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, lifting weights, interval training, yoga, and Pilates.
However, there are plenty of other workouts that can also contribute to your weight loss goals.
The key is to pick an activity you genuinely enjoy. When you like what you’re doing, you’re more likely to stick with it for the long haul and see meaningful results.