Do you need to exercise to lose weight? Standard advice says you do. Eat right and exercise. We all know that’s how to lose weight, right? You might wonder if it’s really necessary to exercise in order to get to your weight loss goals, and if so how much and what type of exercise is best.

As someone who has lost 100 pounds and been maintaining it for the last 15 years, I understand the benefits of exercise for weight loss and perhaps more importantly, what exercise won’t do for you.

Exercise for Weight Loss - Sara on steps with arms overhead

The Surprising Truth about Exercise and Weight Loss

You don’t need to exercise in order to lose weight.

For real.

While exercise is highly important for all kinds of reasons, it should not be your main focus when it comes to weight loss.

When I first started my 100 pound weight loss journey, I lost 40 pounds with no exercise whatsoever, and when I did start exercising I just walked around my neighborhood at a slow pace.

People lose weight all the time without exercising because diet matters much more that exercise when it comes to weight loss.


How to Lose Weight Without Exercise

Here is a video about how to lose weight without exercise. (Note, this video is for WW members but the information applies to anyone on a weight loss journey.)

Why You Don’t HAVE to Exercise to Lose Weight

Weight loss comes from a calorie deficit. You can achieve that deficit by burning more calories, eating fewer calories, or a combination of both.

It’s simple math, really.

While exercise is healthy and burns calories, it’s not required for weight loss.

So if you don’t have to exercise to lose weight, why is it pushed so heavily in the media and magazines? Judging by what you see on TV, online, and on the latest Biggest Loser show, you would assume that the only way to lose weight is to go from couch potato to marathon runner in the next 12 weeks.

Sometimes we are looking for a miracle cure to our weight loss problems and we turn to exercise as a way to fix or undo the damage we’ve done from overeating.

The idea that exercise will fix your weight loss problems is a myth.

Weight loss is 90% nutrition and 10% exercise.

(Or perhaps even less.)


The Most Important Factor for Weight Loss

The most important factor to your weight loss is eating within your daily calorie (or points for WW members) allowance. If you are eating your daily and weekly calorie allowance correctly, you will lose weight.

The average woman burns about 1,000 calories per day doing absolutely nothing. This is the energy it takes to keep your body alive. Unless you are a distance runner, you will never come close to burning that many calories from exercise in one day.

So – ironically – the thing you do that burns the most calories?


Please don’t misunderstand. I am in no way discouraging exercise, but I also know it won’t fix your eating problems.

Exercise alone will never get you to your weight loss goals.

You can’t outrun your fork.

"After" weight loss photo - climbing a 14er in Colorado

You can learn to enjoy physical activity. (I did!)

Why Exercise is Important

While exercise alone can never be your weight loss plan, you still definitely want to include physical activity into your life.

Here are just a few reasons why you want to move your body every day.

  • Live longer. Research tells us that if you exercise, you will live longer and have way less illness during those extra years.

    Workout because you love your body, not because you hate it

    Work out because you love your body, not because you hate it.

  • Look younger. I forever have people tell me how young I look and they are shocked when they learn I’ve got 5 kids and am in my mid-40s. Exercise keeps you young.
  • Burn some calories. True, it’s not a lot of calories, but you do burn some calories and you get to either eat a little bit more or make your weight loss go a bit faster.
  • Build muscle. Your clothes will fit better, you’ll be stronger, and muscle burns calories at rest while fat just sits there.
  • Increase metabolism. In addition to the extra calorie burn from muscle, your metabolism gets a boost for about 24 hours after you exercise.
  • Feel energetic and amazing. Exercise makes you feel incredible. On days I exercise, my mood is better, my energy is great, and I feel good.
  • There’s nothing else in the world like it. If someone could bottle the benefits of exercise, they would make a million bucks. The benefits of physical activity are almost too many to list.

How Exercise Helps with Weight Loss

While it should never be your primary focus, exercise can help with weight loss. Burning additional calories is a positive and as you lose weight and your calorie needs go down, activity can help you eat a bit more.

There is some research to indicate that exercise helps with maintaining a weight loss over time, but it doesn’t need to be rigorous. Walking is one of the most common exercise methods of people who have successfully maintained a weight loss according to the National Weight Control Registry.

Sara Borgstede Before after 100 pound weight loss

Before and After 100+ pound weight loss. Exercise has been an important part of my journey, even though diet matters so much more.

My Weight Loss Exercise Story

Exercise has been an important part of my 100 pound weight loss journey in both positive and negative ways.

I started therapy for weight loss. I didn’t change my eating or do any fitness activities at first.

After about six months of therapy, I joined Weight Watchers.

After I had lost 40 pounds with WW, I started exercise. I started with walking around my neighborhood then joined a local gym.

I used the Couch to 5K program to walk/run a 5K, then slowly added more running until I did a half marathon.

Later I started triathlons and went on to do 50 triathlons of all different types, even a Half Ironman.

Today I practice Tae Kwon Do and am a black belt.

Sara first triathlon swim

Exercise has been a huge part of my 100 pound weight loss journey, but it’s not actually necessary for weight loss.

As much as I say exercise doesn’t matter for weight loss, the physical activity has helped me. Fitness activity has strengthened and toned my body. It’s given me new goals to reach for. I’ve found friends and met people who make wellness a priority in their lives.

On the other hand, the intense activity has also made losing the final pounds a challenge. Exercise increases appetite and I have struggled to lose weight yet get enough calories to support my fitness.

Sara Bike

If you hate exercise, don’t lose heart. I used to hate it, too! Now it’s a regular part of my life.

If you have always hated exercise, don’t lose heart. That used to be me and now I enjoy it.

You were not born hating exercise and there’s nothing wrong with you.

Keep at it until you find activities you like and are safe for your body. You might not ever love exercise the way some people do, but you can adapt and make it a regular part of your life.

You can learn to enjoy physical activity, too.


The Best Exercise for Weight Loss

The best exercise for losing weight is the type you will actually do.

Walking is a great place to start. Consider investing in a fitness tracker like a Fitbit and increasing your steps.

After adding in additional movement and walking, slowly add in more consistent fitness activity.


Strength Training for Weight Loss

Strength training is important because it builds muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, vs. fat which is mostly just storage.

The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn even at rest.

Adding just 1-2 strength training sessions per week (even with your own body weight) has benefits for losing weight.


There you have it – the straight talk answers about what exercise can – and cannot – do for you during your weight loss journey.

What physical activity do you do on a regular basis? Share about it in the comments below.

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Do you Need to exercise for weight loss? Sara on steps with arms up

Should you exercise for weight loss? Before and After picture 100 pound weight loss