Exercise leads to Weight Loss – The 3 Principles

On Tuesday I talked about the physical compensatory responses to exercise, metabolic adaptations and changes in appetite, and yesterday I discussed the compensatory behavioural changes, such as reward and compliance. Bottom line, exercise can produce different responses in all of us.


These factors shout in favour of exercise not leading to weight loss, in fact the opposite, they suggest that exercise will produce weight gain. But this is not the whole picture. There are many people that exercise on a regular basis and do lose weight, and keep it off. So why do some people lose weight after exercise and some not?


It has to do with 3 simple principles that, when combined to create a negative energy balance, lead to weight loss – duration, intensity and frequency. When I coach my clients on their weight loss journey, it is vital that they embrace and fully understand these principles, because as their body becomes lighter as they move towards their target weight, it is increasingly harder to create a negative energy balance.


The duration of exercise is pretty simple to comprehend. How long do you exercise for? Is it a 30-minute walk around the block, or 60 minutes in the gym? Duration is all about increasing the time that you are exercising. By simply increasing exercise sessions by 5 minutes each week will compensate for a lighter body that is expending less calories.


Exercise intensity is all about how hard you are exercising. Do you choose a gentle breaststroke with your head permanently above the water, or do you choose a spin class where you are pushing yourself to the limits? As we get fitter during a weight loss programme, it is a natural progression to increase exercise intensity – it certainly means we are making a smart use of our time. Using heart rate monitors whilst running or timing yourself to reach a certain distance on the rowing machine are great measures of exercise intensity.


Frequency simply means doing exercise more frequently. Instead of walking to work once a week, it become 3 times a week Or perhaps a gym workout once week becomes 4 times a week. Exercising more often will help us make our metabolisms soar.


So despite both physiological and behavioural compensatory changes to exercise that can occur in any of us, if we master the principles of exercise duration, intensity and frequency, we can overcome the threats of weight gain by creating a negative energy balance and sustainable weight loss.


Individual variability comes screaming out at me again. Some of us find the discipline to maximise these 3 principles, while others fall at the first hurdle. The psychological skills required to conquer them is tomorrow’s story.


Think about your next workout – what will you do differently?