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Obesity and Weight Management

Build Strength and Use it to Lose Weight

A common concern when exercising to lose weight is whether to focus on aerobics or strength-training. Each type of exercise has its perks, but neither should be used exclusively. Most professionals advise that a combination of both would be best.

Aerobic exercises, such as:

are those that use the body's large muscle groups in continuous, rhythmic movements and require you to expend energy.

If you're not accustomed to regular aerobic exercise, the best way to start on that path is to find something you enjoy, and start by doing it at least three times a week. If you enjoy the exercise, whether a power walk around the neighborhood with a friend or an aerobics video that gets your heart pumping in the privacy of your own living room, you'll be more likely to keep up with the program.

Work yourself up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity on most days, and then eventually to 60 minutes daily. If you can't find that big of a chunk of time to devote to exercise, break it up into 30-, 20-, or even 10- minute segments. A longer period of sustained exercise is best for heart health, but any aerobic exercise will be beneficial for weight loss.

Besides burning fat, aerobic exercise:

Set a goal to get 30-60 minutes nearly every day. Build endurance gradually -- progression is the name of the game.

Although aerobics are important for tipping the energy balance in favor of weight loss, strength training is also extremely important. Without it, you'll likely lose about one pound of lean body tissue (muscle) for every three pounds of body fat lost when dieting. The thing is, muscle burns more calories than fat. So when you lose muscle, you lose some of your body's natural ability to burn calories. And if you begin to gain weight after a period of weight loss (that nasty yo-yo syndrome), the weight you gain will likely be 100% fat. That, in turn, will decrease your body's muscle ratio even more. This will make it even easier to pile on the pounds and more difficult to lose them.

Weight training while dieting helps preserve your lean mass (muscle) and helps stimulate your metabolism. This should assist in losing weight.  But if you're not accustomed to working with weights, start slowly and find a program you like. Whether that means joining a gym or buying a set of weights to use at home is up to you. Again, the key is finding something you like so you will actually do it.

In order to maximize both weight loss and health, a balance between aerobic and strength-training exercises is important. Find something you like doing, and keep at it each day!

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (1/12/07), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2009.

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Last Reviewed: May 10, 2009

Jackie  Buell, PhD, RD/LD, ATC, LAT Jackie Buell, PhD, RD/LD, ATC, LAT
Director of Sports Nutrition
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University