how exercise affects metabolism and weight loss
The Truth About How Exercise Affects Metabolism and Weight Loss
by Akeena St. Martin
Oct 5, 2022

Weight is just one measure of overall health.  However, weight loss is one of the many things that my clients ask for help with. If this describes you, then continue reading this article.

Today, overweight and obesity are very common.  About two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are experiencing these right now.  That is about hundreds of millions of people. 

The risk of developing health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, can increase with overweight and obesity.  You can improve your health and reduce your risk for developing these health conditions by having a healthy weight, eating more nutritious foods, and engaging in regular physical activity. 

As you know, there is so much more to the old saying, “Eat less, move more.” But, do you know how exercise affects metabolism and weight loss?

Weight loss can be very challenging for reasons such as:

  • Having an abundance of food options available to most of us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Eating isn’t just something we do for sustenance; it’s gratification, a social activity, and sometimes even a reward
  • The availability of computers and cars have contributed to a much more sedentary lifestyle (long gone are the days of having to be a farmer in order to survive)
  • Changing less healthy habits for healthier ones can be a challenge
  • While fad diets may help you to lose weight, they often fail because they are not sustainable and may cause other health issues

Let’s go over some strategies to overcome the challenges associated with losing weight.

What Is Metabolism and How Can I Lose Weight?

Your weight is based on several factors.  Some of these factors you can control while others you cannot.  For example, things that can be controlled include:

  • What you eat
  • How much you eat
  • Amount of and level of physical activity you do
  • Any stress you may be experiencing
  • Medications you’ve been prescribed
  • How much sleep you get each night

However, examples of things you don’t have much control over include:

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Hormones

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.”

How Exercise Affects Metabolism and Weight Loss

Your body does many things at rest, including:

  • Breathing
  • Pumping blood
  • Digesting food
  • Maintaining your body temperature
  • Growing and repairing cells
  • Adjusting hormone levels

The amount of energy, or calories, that your body uses to perform these essential functions is referred to as your basal metabolic rate, or BMR.  Your BMR can account for as much as two-thirds of the calories your body uses each day.

Some medical conditions can slow down your metabolism.  Examples of these medical conditions include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cusing’s Syndrome
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

However, weight gain is often not the only symptom associated with these medical conditions.  It is important that you speak with your doctor if you suspect that you may have an underlying medical condition.

While a slow metabolism may influence your weight, it is not the only reason.  Your physical activity level also plays a role in your weight.

Your metabolism is influenced mostly by your body size and composition. This means that people who are bigger and/or have more muscle mass burn more calories at rest.  Men tend to be bigger and have more muscle.  Therefore, they tend to have a higher metabolism than women.  The same also applies for younger people.

Muscle mass naturally decreases and fat mass tends to increase with age.  If you don’t take steps to maintain your muscle mass, such as weight training or other physical activity, then your metabolism may decrease, which may result in weight gain.

It is no secret that some people gain or lose weight easier than others.  However, at the end of the day, it is the balance of calories in versus calories out is a big part of what dictates weight loss.  This means that the number of calories you take in should at least equal the number of calories you burn in order to maintain your weight.  When you take in more calories than you burn, which is more likely to happen with a sedentary lifestyle, then you are more likely to gain weight.

Strategies for Weight Loss and Maintenance

Before beginning any weight loss program, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. Many weight loss products or programs can be harmful to your health.  Beware of products or programs that promise quick weight loss that is effortless and long lasting. 

Your behaviors and habits have a huge influence on your weight.  You are empowered to adjust them as you see fit.  If you can add in some of these strategies you may be able to reach your weight loss goals.

Set goals that are specific, realistic, and forgiving.

  • Instead of setting a goal to, “lose weight,” try breaking it down to smaller and more specific goals that you can attain.  Focus your goal on a habit or behavior instead of an outcome.
  • Try to work on the goal for at least two weeks.  This is just enough time to begin making it part of your routine.  Once you feel that you are consistent with your new habit, then begin setting another goal.
  • Remember, it may take as long as 6 months for you to lose 5% of your body weight.

Ditch the diet mentality.  Instead, focus on making lasting improvements for sustainable health.

  • Focus on improving your food choices instead of dieting.
  • Enjoy lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
  • Replace saturated and trans fats with healthier fat choices, such as olive oil, nut butters, and avocados.

Try eating a different way and see what works for you.

  • Eat slower – it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach to stop eating.  Enjoy your food more and pay attention to cues that tell you when you’re getting satisfied and it’s time to stop eating.
  • Eat more mindfully by focusing on and enjoying what you’re eating while you’re eating it. Pay attention to your food’s smell, taste, and texture.
  • Put your fork down or sip water between bites.  Chew thoroughly before swallowing.
  • If you have a habit of eating in front of the TV or computer screen, then try getting used to replacing food with a glass of water or unsweetened beverage instead.

You don’t have to do exercise to be more physically active (but you can)

  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day.  You can break it up into three 10-minute sessions.  More movement will bring greater benefits.
  • Aerobic activity, such as walking or bicycling, is the most efficient way to burn calories.
  • Weight training builds your muscles, which helps increase your metabolic rate.  Try to include at least two weight training sessions per week.
  • Remember, you don’t have to do, “exercise,” to be physically active.  You can do things such as taking the stairs more often, park your car farther away, or do chores around the house.  
  • Remember that any physical activity is better than none.

Reward your successes

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, “Frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.”
  • Each time you reach a goal, no matter how small, reward your success with a non-food activity or item.


  • Remember that goals are like experiments.  Not completing a goal does not mean you failed.  If you have difficulties with completing a goal, evaluate the challenges you encountered and what you can do to overcome them.  
  • Every day is a new day. If you go off track, get back on track and try again.

Final Thoughts

While weight is only one measure of health, it is a big concern for many people. Some people may find weight loss difficult.  Your metabolism is influenced by many factors, some you can control and some you cannot.

The fundamentals of weight loss include enjoying healthier, nutritious foods more often and being more physically active.  The way you approach eating, the way you set your goals and reward yourself, and the way you persevere are all totally customizable.  Try and see what works for you.

For a nutritious approach to weight loss, consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that can work with your concerns and dietary restrictions. Or feel free to schedule an appointment with me.


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