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Exercise For Weight Loss: Does It Work?

By Leslie Barrie

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D.


Feel like you’re stuck in a weight loss plateau? Take heart — there might be something missing from your routine. While eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for weight loss, exercise is a great way to support your efforts and develop an overall healthy lifestyle.1


So how much exercise do you need to ideally fit in? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities) to really reap the health benefits.2 So that could be 30 minutes, five days a week of brisk walking, riding your bike, or taking a swim, along with two days of using hand weights or your body weight for strength training workouts.


Whatever your preferred style of fitness may be, discover the surprising ways exercise can improve your health — from helping you lose weight, to allowing your heart to function at its best.

5 ways moving benefits your body

There’s a lot to love about exercise. On top of potentially helping with weight loss (more on that later), exercise can really give your health — from head to toe — a boost.


1. Boost your heart health

For starters, exercise can keep your heart healthy by helping to naturally lower your blood pressure. And that’s important, because high blood pressure is a key risk factor for heart disease.3


2. De-stress

Exercise can also help you de-stress by releasing endorphins, or neurotransmitters in your brain that help you feel good. There’s a reason joggers say they experience a “runner’s high”! Movement can also help distract you from your worries of the day — like work stress or a never-ending list of to-dos.4



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3. Sleep well

By moving more, you may be able to sleep better, too. The experts at John Hopkins report that exercise can help increase the amount of slow-wave sleep you get at night — that’s the deep sleep that can help your brain recharge.5 So if you’re feeling like you could use a good night’s sleep, a workout might help (just make sure to avoid exercising too close to bedtime). Use these 10 other tips to get a better night’s sleep.


4. Build strong bones (and muscles!)

While many people — like personal trainers — often talk about how exercise can build muscle, what’s often forgotten is how it can strengthen your bones as well. Exercise, especially weight-bearing activities like walking and playing tennis, can help preserve bone density and even help to prevent osteoporosis.6



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5. Reduce your risk of diabetes

Finally, exercise may reduce your odds of developing conditions like Type 2 diabetes7 and if you already have diabetes, it can help lower blood sugar levels and even help counter insulin resistance.8

Working out & weight loss

Here’s some good news: In addition to all the health benefits exercise provides, moving more can also help you drop pounds. Exercise is important for weight loss because when you’re active, your body burns the energy (calories) you get from food.9



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While a healthy diet is, of course, crucial for weight loss, exercise is often the missing piece of the puzzle. Consider the 80/20 rule for weight loss: If you want to shed pounds, it’s a good idea to cut 80% of your calories through diet and shed 20% through exercise. Yes, diet matters most, but exercise is important, too!


Something you’ll also want to think about: when to exercise. One study found that overweight adults who walked or jogged on a treadmill in the morning lost more weight than those who worked out later in the day.10 Meanwhile, working out in the evening could help boost your muscle mass, according to one study.11 However, experts agree that no matter what time of day you exercise, it will help strengthen your muscles and boost your cardiovascular health.12 Ultimately, you should decide what works best for you (and what gets you out the door!).


Now you might be wondering — what’s more important: cardio or strength training when it comes to weight loss? The answer is nuanced, as well. That’s because they each have different weight loss-related benefits. Strength training (think: lifting weights) can build and tone your muscles, which can help boost your metabolism so you can burn more calories even when you’re at rest.13


Cardio, or exercise that gets your heart rate up, on the other hand, can help your body burn visceral fat (the dangerous kind that’s stored around your organs), and it also acts as a super-efficient way to torch calories.14


All in all, both types of exercise come with a host of perks for weight loss. Experts often recommend a fitness plan that combines both.15 If you’re new to exercise, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for useful tips to get started.


The bottom line: Exercise is a great way to support your weight loss efforts, but it doesn’t need to be your main focus. Try to get in the CDC-recommended amount of fitness, while also focusing primarily on a healthy diet, and you could set yourself up for weight loss success!


Want a healthy meal plan that doesn’t require tedious meal prep or cleanup? Get Jenny Craig delivered to your doorstep today.





[1] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4172-exercise

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

[3] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/7-heart-benefits-of-exercise

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

[5] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep

[6] https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health

[7] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4172-exercise

[8] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-exercise-when-you-have-diabetes

[9] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/basics/diet-and-exercise/hlv-20049483

[10] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-019-0409-x

[11] https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2016-0271#.XpX7TLhlA2x

[12] https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html

[13] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/strength-and-resistance-training-exercise

[14] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gim/core_resources/Patient Handouts/Handouts_May_2012/The Skinny on Visceral Fat.pdf

[15] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm


Leslie Barrie

bio-photo-Leslie.jpgLeslie Barrie has a health writing and editing background, and holds her master's degree from Columbia University Graduate Journalism School. Over the past 10 years, she has worked at various magazines in New York City, such as Woman's Day, Health, Seventeen, and more. When she's not writing about health, she likes living it — she enjoys running, hiking, swimming, and yoga (even though she's not the best at it, it helps her to relax!). 

Favorite healthy snack: a piece of dark chocolate with a handful of almonds 



Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN

bio-photo-briana.pngBriana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. 


Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!) 



This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals. 


Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. 


This article contains trusted sources including a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source. 


Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig

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Not according to one of your consultants in Centereach, NY. She said that exercise is not really determinant of weight loss -- I know exercise alone doesnt help, but I also know that diet alone does not work, especially on plateauing.

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On 6/18/2020 at 6:43 AM, Guest Kay Bloom said:

Not according to one of your consultants in Centereach, NY. She said that exercise is not really determinant of weight loss -- I know exercise alone doesnt help, but I also know that diet alone does not work, especially on plateauing.

Hi Kay,

Thank you for your comment! A healthy diet is crucial for weight loss, but yes, exercise can help especially when you're experiencing a weight loss plateau. Here's an excellent article for more information on how diet can help you reach your weight loss goals:


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