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The Role of Exercise and Metabolism in Weight Loss

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When you're trying to lose weight, exercise shouldn't be your only tactic. But when paired with a healthy diet and positive lifestyle choices, exercise can be a major factor in losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight for the long-term. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainers Angela Horner, Tonya Gutch, MS, and Louie Herrera explain the role of exercise and metabolism relative to weight loss and how one should get started with a personalized exercise program designed for success.

Where to Begin
Everyone interested in starting an exercise program should check with his or her doctor to determine if they are healthy enough to participate in an exercise program, especially if they have never exercised before. “An individual’s needs should dictate his or her exercise routine,” explains Horner. “Each person needs to begin at his or her own fitness level. It’s all about taking that individual from where they are to where they want to be.”

It’s also important to work with a trained fitness professional to design a safe exercise program, as a professional will take into consideration specific health issues or injuries. “A certified personal trainer has the expertise to navigate through any issues you may be facing, allowing you to have a safe and productive exercise program to help you achieve your goals,” explains Horner. Gutch adds, "a fitness professional will establish the safe, effective and healthy blueprint to weight loss, and adjust it as your fitness improves. Your program should be constantly changing because our bodies are constantly changing."

"Weight loss is a challenge for everyone, no matter if they're trying to lose a little or a lot," says Gutch. "It takes discipline and willpower, and having a support system and a plan in place is key." 

Aerobic and Strength Training for Metabolism 
Metabolism is simply defined as how the body transforms calories from food we eat into energy. A complex process, metabolism is an important component in weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.  

Though you can’t just change your metabolism to your liking as certain factors affecting metabolism are beyond your control (such as age, gender and genetics), you can incorporate lifestyle choices to help boost metabolism, which includes everyday non-exercise physical activity, aerobic exercise and HIIT and strength training. 

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy you use for everything in daily activities except sleeping, eating and purposeful exercise. It may include standing, walking, typing, doing physical chores, cooking, gardening and even fidgeting. Since exercise enables the body to burn more calories and convert food into energy more quickly, opting to take the stairs or park further away to get a few more steps in are practical ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.

Aerobic activity, if done vigorously, raises the heart rate, burns calories and increases metabolism. By increasing your heart rate on a daily basis, you increase calorie burn for the time you are exercising and also receive an “afterburn” effect in which calories continue to burn after exercise and can last up to four hours following the conclusion of physical activity. There is no "best" cardio for weight loss. "Whatever you like to do and whatever fits your lifestyle and motivates you to exercise is the best choice," says Gutch. 

According to Gutch, many people believe cardio training is the only way to lose weight. "You need weight training as well," she says. "Strength training builds and maintains muscle mass, which pumps up metabolism." To burn fat and have a lean body, you need both cardio (aerobic) exercise and resistance (strength) training. Strength training increases the rate at which your body burns fat, while cardio uses fat as an energy source to propel the physical activity. Plus, “the more muscle mass you maintain, the more calories your body burns during all activities," adds Horner.

If you lose weight by only reducing your calories, you will lose muscle as well as fat. However, by combining calorie reduction with cardio and strength training, you will lose fat and maintain lean body tissue, which produces a leaner body. 

Try incorporating these strength exercises into your workout:

An Additional Benefit to Metabolism-boosting Exercise: Memory Function 
Not only can a well-designed exercise program help improve metabolic expenditure to ward off cardiometabolic disease (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic renal failure), it can also improve neurometabolic function as people age, says Herrera. Physical and mental aging processes can’t be avoided, but he points to several studies showing moderate exercise has shown to increase metabolism in certain regions of the brain that are important for learning. ”In addition to exercising to increase metabolism and lose weight, exercise can also help make the brain more efficient and adaptive, which could lead to improved memory function,” shares Herrera. Current research suggests people should engage in activity for at least 30 minutes per day, five to six days per week, including 4-5 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) per session for brain health.  

The benefits of an exercise program and metabolism-boosting lifestyle choices can lead to successful weight loss and a healthy weight for the long-term. As always, be sure to consult with your physician before engaging in any exercise regimen and meet a fitness professional to complete a fitness assessment and develop an individualized exercise program.

For more information about professional fitness training at Cooper Fitness Center, visit or call 972.233.4832.