To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Exercise can help you achieve this by burning off some extra calories.

However, some people claim that exercise isn’t effective for weight loss on its own.

This may be because exercise increases hunger in some people, making them eat more calories than they burned during the workout.

Is exercise really helpful for weight loss? This article takes a look at the evidence.

Exercise Has Powerful Health Benefits
Exercise is really great for your health (1Trusted Source).

It can lower your risk of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and some cancers (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).

In fact, people who work out on a regular basis are thought to have up to a 50% lower risk of dying from many of these illnesses (11Trusted Source).

Exercise is also incredibly good for your mental health, and it can help you manage stress and unwind (12Trusted Source).

Keep this in mind when you consider the effects of exercise. Even if it isn’t effective for weight loss, it still has other benefits that are just as important (if not more).

Exercise is about way more than just weight loss. It has various powerful benefits for your body and brain.
Think Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss
Exercise is often advised for weight loss, but people should really aim for fat loss (13Trusted Source).

If you simply reduce your calorie intake to lose weight, without exercising, you will probably lose muscle as well as fat (14Trusted Source).

In fact, it’s been estimated that when people lose weight, about a quarter of the weight they lose is muscle (15Trusted Source).

When you cut back on calories, your body is forced to find other sources of fuel. Unfortunately, this means burning muscle protein along with your fat stores (16Trusted Source).

Including an exercise plan alongside your diet can reduce the amount of muscle you lose (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).

This is also important because muscle is more metabolically active than fat.

Preventing muscle loss can help counter the drop in metabolic rate that occurs when you lose weight, which makes it harder to lose weight and keep it off (13Trusted Source).

Additionally, most of the benefits of exercise seem to come from improvements in body composition, overall fitness and metabolic health, not just weight loss (20Trusted Source).

Even if you don’t lose “weight,” you may still be losing fat and building muscle instead.

For this reason, it can be helpful to measure your waist size and body fat percentage from time to time. The scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

When you lose weight, you want to maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss. It is possible to lose body fat without losing much weight on the scale.

Cardio Helps You Burn Calories and Body Fat
One of the most popular types of exercise for weight loss is aerobic exercise, also known as cardio. Examples include walking, running, cycling and swimming.

Aerobic exercise doesn’t have a major effect on your muscle mass, at least not compared to weight lifting. However, it is very effective at burning calories.

A recent 10-month study examined how cardio affected 141 obese or overweight people. They were split into three groups and not told to reduce calorie intake (21Trusted Source):

Group 1: Burn 400 calories doing cardio, 5 days a week
Group 2: Burn 600 calories doing cardio, 5 days a week
Group 3: No exercise
Group 1 participants lost 4.3% of their body weight, while those in group 2 lost a little more at 5.7%. The control group, which didn’t exercise, actually gained 0.5%.

Other studies also show cardio can help you burn fat, especially the dangerous belly fat that increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (20Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).

Therefore, adding cardio to your lifestyle is likely to help you manage your weight and improve your metabolic health. Just don’t compensate for the exercise by eating more calories instead.