The Benefits of Exercise… Even When The Scale Won’t Budge

At a recent check-up, my doctor mentioned that I gained some weight since my last visit. She suggested I work on losing some weight to get healthier. I left that appointment wanting “get in shape”, but wondering what that actually means.

For many people, getting in shape means getting physically fit and losing weight. It can be tempting to think that exercise alone will help you get fit AND lose weight. But it is important to remember that to lose weight, you need to be active and eat a healthy diet.

Research shows that:

  • Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise has all kinds of health benefits!
  • Exercise programs can help people lose a small amount of weight, but they can also result in no weight loss.
  • Using exercise alone for significant weight loss requires a ton of exercise (around double the recommended 150 minutes) and is not something most people can keep up long term.
  • People are most successful in weight loss (and in keeping weight off) when they change their diet AND exercise!

If you’ve set a weight loss goal that focuses only on physical activity, you likely have not created the best path to success. This emphasis can also create the mentality that physical activity is only useful if it results in weight loss. If you want to see more weight loss results, you should create SMART goals for increasing your physical activity and adjusting your diet, such as walking 15 minutes per day, participating in yoga twice a week, and replacing unhealthy calories with lean meat, fruits, and vegetables.

Physical activity has many benefits. It’s not only useful for weight loss but can also improve your mental health and promote better sleep. If you exercise with a friend, it’s also an opportunity to catch up.

It’s important to remember that physical activity provides many benefits, not just reducing the numbers on the scale. If you don’t see the scale change, does that mean you aren’t improving? Absolutely not! If the numbers on your scale aren’t budging, try using these other numbers to gauge your physical fitness improvement:

  • Measure your resting heart rate. As our cardiovascular systems improve, our resting heart rates go down. You can use an activity tracker that measures your heart rate and watch for improvements. You can also manually measure your resting heart rate and track it as it decreases.
  • Perform a step test, which involves stepping up and down on a step for a specific number of minutes. Afterwards, you measure your heart rate and compare it to a table that gives ranges for different fitness levels.
  • Pay attention to improvements in daily exertions, like how far you can walk without getting tired or how out of breath you are when you get to the top of the stairs.

Repeat the same tests over time. The results of these simple tests can help you see the improvements in your system. You want to remember that physical fitness can help you lose weight, but being physically active is beneficial for your health, even if the scale won’t budge! Finding a benchmark for seeing your improvement can help you stay motivated to keep becoming more active and healthier!


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