The Single Best Exercise for Weight Loss


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/5/2013 6:00 AM   :  309 comments   :  656,562 Views

See More: fitness, weight loss,
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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  • 309
    I hate exercise as much as anyone else but I hate being fat more than anything else! ~ Vivian S. Bedoya - 3/7/2015   12:12:58 PM
  • LOSER1113
    I've never been a person who likes to exercise, and I have always had an excuse for not being more active: it takes too much time to stop by the gym, it's already dark by the time I get home, etc.

    So this year I chose not to make a resolution, but a solution... to ALL my sorry excuses. I decided to purchase a stationary under-the-desk bike on E-bay for 25 bucks + shipping and handling. While I am working (and as I type this comment) I am pedaling. I've burned 503 calories so far today. I literally have zero excuses for not using it. And since it is fun to track how many calories I have burned, it makes me more aware of the calories I am consuming as well. - 1/13/2015   2:40:10 PM
  • 307
    I started biking to work daily. It upped my exercise and since it took an hour by bus or bike, it did not add to my day! If the weather turns bad or if I have had a long hard day I can throw my bike on the bus or train and hitch a ride home. Most days I find that riding helps start my day and helps to relax me in the evening. I gave up the gym after a few months of biking since it made no sense anymore. Even if you can only bike partway to work, it still is more than if you didn't at all! - 12/11/2014   2:25:07 PM
    Maybe you have tried this... we got a fold-up treadmill (sturdier than I expected) and I actually slide it in front of the TV for one of my shows. I don't mind moving so much when it's "attached" to something I want to do! - 11/24/2014   4:55:30 PM
  • 305
    I'm with KATHEB. I hate exercise. It seems that it is something else I have to struggle with to fit into my schedule and it almost seems fake to me. IF you're not exercising or at the gym working out then you have to go and do that. People didn't always need gyms and exercise programs. I would rather read, or watch tv, especially after working and being on my feet all day. - 10/23/2014   4:49:29 PM
    This is the kind of advice I hate. I have yet to find any exercise I "enjoy" enough to do regularly or for any sustained amount of time. (And the advice that bugs me most is that old chestnut "just get out and walk." Boring!) I'd much rather read a book. But what might be helpful is a list of less-common options, ones that make you say "I hadn't thought of that!" or "I didn't know that had a real exercise benefit!" - 10/23/2014   4:15:07 PM
  • 303
    It took me a while to find something I truly enjoyed. Now I do Zumba, Bodycombat, U-Jam(cardio) and Bodypump (weights) and manage to enjoy excercising 6 days out of the week. - 10/21/2014   12:15:40 PM
  • 302
    Jessica Smith Youtube Channel has a variety of content. I get bored and flaky over time if I am doing the same thing like Zumba, cycling, etc. Everyday I can do something different. - 9/29/2014   1:16:21 AM
  • 301
    ! - 8/20/2014   1:07:01 PM
  • JANELL16
    I am a runner hater. I admit it. I try and try to like it but I just don't. Why does that bother me?? I love my spinning class and I love my body combat class and go to those regularly! - 7/20/2014   10:36:18 AM
    I agree wholeheartedly! I know people who swear by going to the gym but that doesn't work for me. Going to the gym is a chore for me and bothersome...all that dressing and undressing! Home workouts are best for me. I like getting out of bed, putting on my exercise clothes and jumping on the Wii or popping in a DVD or playing one of the Sparkpeople online videos. I do this 5 days a week easy! - 6/26/2014   10:29:36 AM
    Love to dance!! Go line dancing 3xs a week at the senior center. Thursday night is ballroom dance class with my husband, Down 37 lbs, and counting!!!! - 5/22/2014   11:40:46 AM
  • 297
    I Absolutely love cardio...pretty much in any form...but I do get bored easily...switching it up is super favs are running near water (live near a dam/reservoir with massive hills, stairs and rough terrain. ..walk if I get tired and blast my ipod while doing it...I also LOVE LOVE and most fun way to lose music,people,dancing and best ever...weight loss! - 5/15/2014   8:22:51 AM
  • 296
    I love walking in the early morning. I hate running and maybe thats why every time I try to run I fail. I also love dancing so I dance like no one is watching in my living room.
    - 5/15/2014   2:01:19 AM
  • 135LB-WOMAN
    That's why I dance. LOVE IT! - 3/31/2014   10:50:28 PM
  • 294
    Thank you for sharing this! It really helped me feel better about my dislike of certain exercises. - 3/31/2014   7:45:23 PM
  • 293
    I agree with this 200%. People ask me all the time how to start the weight loss journey and I always tell them start with doing an activity every day that you enjoy, or at the very least something that at the end of it you are glad you did it. I wasn't head-over-heels in love with running when I started, but I always felt on top of the world when I run was done, so that feeling kept me going. Now I love running more than any other activity and do it every day. I tried biking and did not get that same feeling, so I did not continue with it. Similar story to your swimming. Thanks for the article, I enjoyed it. - 2/25/2014   8:54:05 AM
  • 292
    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.
    - 1/31/2014   9:55:44 PM
  • 291
    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. - 1/31/2014   12:02:42 PM
    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. - 1/31/2014   8:46:42 AM
    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) - 1/31/2014   8:31:14 AM
  • 288
    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.

    - 1/31/2014   6:32:37 AM
  • 287
    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. - 1/30/2014   7:49:35 PM
  • 286
    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. - 1/30/2014   2:54:20 PM
  • 285
    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. - 1/30/2014   1:45:13 PM
  • 284
    I think the "best" exercise is the one you enjoy most that you will stick with and continue to do on a regular basis! - 1/30/2014   12:49:12 PM
  • 283
    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. - 1/30/2014   11:51:32 AM
  • 282
    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. - 1/30/2014   8:44:38 AM
  • 281
    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. - 1/30/2014   7:10:11 AM
  • 280
    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..... - 1/30/2014   5:24:15 AM
    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. :) - 1/30/2014   4:34:18 AM
    The BEST exercise to lose weight is plate pushes... if you can't do those, nothing else is going to help all that much - 1/23/2014   9:07:54 PM
  • CHEOB58
    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. - 1/8/2014   6:17:46 PM
  • MWRN77
    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. - 1/2/2014   6:22:07 PM
  • 275
    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. - 1/2/2014   5:15:58 PM
    ... and I thought that the answer for best exercise was going to be:
    Pushing away from the dinner table---- lol - 1/2/2014   4:19:40 PM
  • 273
    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. - 1/2/2014   2:00:22 PM
  • 272
    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? - 1/2/2014   11:07:07 AM
  • 271
    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. - 1/2/2014   10:53:13 AM
    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?? - 1/2/2014   10:27:53 AM
  • 269
    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. - 1/2/2014   9:34:42 AM
    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. - 1/2/2014   6:37:03 AM
  • 267
    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. - 1/2/2014   5:16:32 AM
  • 266
    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. - 12/18/2013   5:37:18 PM
  • 265
    This is so true! Thank you! - 11/29/2013   8:32:23 PM
  • AKVJB64
    264'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. - 11/29/2013   3:47:20 PM
  • 263
    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. - 11/15/2013   8:07:32 PM
    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 . - 9/22/2013   10:04:42 AM
  • CECC55
    Thanks for sharing that good point - 9/9/2013   8:21:19 PM
  • 260
    Ah, this makes so much sense! :) - 8/5/2013   9:22:36 PM

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