Why exercising will NOT help you lose weight - Weight Loss NHS

Weight Loss NHS

106,862 members55,769 posts

Why exercising will NOT help you lose weight


Exercise is great for us, builds stronger bones, reduces our BP, excellent for heart health, all round bon oeuf tout circular as the french wouldn't say however, it will not help you lose weight, it may help you maintain your weight once you have lost it, but as far as losing pounds or even ounces you can forget it.

Why? There seems to be a variety of reasons and there are dozens of studies out there on the internet which you can access trying to explain this - it is well known that you have to run between 35-45 miles to lose a pound of fat (depending on which equation for calorie burning you use), studies that show the hunting tribes of Africa use up no more calories in their day long search for meat than sedentary americans in their day long search for cheap processed food, distressing but true.

But the real point of this post, if you are making yourself totally miserable at the gym with pounding on the treadmill, sweating away at the rowing machine, watching the calories burned on the digital display and thinking i've just run off that orange juice i had for breakfast now to run off the cereal then stop, you will do as much good to your body with a lovely walk through the park or in the woods with far less misery attached and none of grim aspects the gym has to offer, and keep being mindful about what you eat and keep being mindful about how often you eat - the longer you can leave it between meals the longer your body has a chance to use up the energy from your last meal. Maybe even try the 2 meals a day option to change up your way of life and no snacks in between.

51 Replies

Exercise will help weightloss but you can't out run your diet as in it takes a termemdous amount of exercise = calories burnt

Of course if your eating a low calorie diet and doing a tough manual job you'll lose weight

Exercise if you can do it is essential for building muscle esp good for older women the more muscle you have the more calories you burn and your body looks better

In the bigger picture an hour at the gym a day won't lose weight but it's good for you :)

Ketogirl in reply to Hidden

exactly you can't outrun a bad diet :) - what you can do is eat in a way that keeps your blood sugar and your insulin (the fat storage hormone) low - good for pre-diabetics and for people wanting to reverse their T2 Diabetes, and one of the things that does not spike insulin is fat (not those awful evil vegetable oil fats which can't be washed off the fryers even with high pressure washers) but proper saturated fat found in avocados, coconut oil, olive oil and of course animal fats.

ps and an hour's walking in the sunshine will get you some Vit D (another thing we in the UK are very low in) and it is also good for you.

JacksonPollock1 stone in reply to Ketogirl

you won't get any vitamin d at this time of the year, the sun isn't close enough! but I still prefer a walk in the countryside as opposed to the gym, but the gym may get your heart going in more ways then a walk - therefore in some ways it is better for you!

yes no Vit D between late Sept and late March and if you walk fast you can get your heart rate up very nicely.

JacksonPollock1 stone in reply to Ketogirl

ohh absolutely!

Hidden in reply to Hidden

Also not forgetting the endorphins released that encourage positivity and reduce stress. :)

Ketogirl in reply to Hidden

i always wanted to be a person that got high on exercise but it just didn't do it for me, i have been a runner and never got that runner's high, i love riding and playing tennis but no endorphins for me - i am just one of those people who don't get that brain reward - but then i was one of those people who could eat and exercise or not and remain exactly the same weight, it was only when i was put on medication that suddenly the weight piled on in fast and startling amounts - mess your body up with drugs at your peril.

Hidden in reply to Ketogirl

I'm much the same. Never got a buzz but I enjoy exercise at my own pace with the things I do enjoy...cycling and countryside walking.

I used to cycle in the summer along a cycle path that runs along a very long beautiful river here, I had a to pass a hotel which had a glass fronted gym over looking the river. I was always a little amused to see 20 people on exercise bikes in the gym facing and watching me cycle past in the glorious sunshine and fresh air while they looked to me trapped indoors surrounded by screens. :)

Ketogirl in reply to Hidden

...and the smell, let's not forget the smell, we get the fresh air and hints of the wild flowers and they get - well let's not go into what they get! superliking your post :-D

paulapips64 in reply to Ketogirl

This happened to me too x

Hm, I don't agree. You can certainly lose weight with exercise.

My husband changed jobs, he has't changed his diet whatsoever and yet he has lost over a stone since October due to the physical nature of his new job.

He still eats and drinks as before.

You cannot eat a 'bad' diet and think you can reverse the 'damage' by exercise alone.

Obsessive dieting or food habits are as damaging as obsessive exercise can be.

But learning to eat healthier and getting more active are changes that will lead to a healthier life.

When I was a child we ate 'fatty' 'real'food, we ate sweets ( but not on the scale as children today), but also we were outdoors and active most of the time - but hardly ate any processed foods.

I have tried fasting, I did lose weight, I got a sense of feeling fantastic, but I knew that unless you eat properly inbetween, you would run into problems long term.

This site is about making changes for life.

I get the same sense of happyness when I'm out running, I eat regular healthy meals and healthy snacks, my skin looks better since losing weight, I AM losing weight and I am setting a positive example to my children.

I know there are many interesting studies out there, I read a lot. But I also know that many of these are theories and do contradict each other. The more you read the more you worry about what to eat, what's good and what's bad for you, it's a vicious circle.

Enjoy real food, be conscious of what you eat, enjoy being active and you are halfway there

Hidden in reply to Elissy

I agree with you Elissy, you can lose weight through exercise.

Elissy in reply to Hidden


Emsy99 in reply to Elissy

I agree too- exercise in the gym tones the muscles you may not use by walking g alone and makes you look trimmer. Healthy eating(not obsessive dieting) will make the weight stay off. Walking/cycling outdoors is mindful and enjoyable. It's all in moderation and being kind to yourself.

which only goes to reinforce that we are all different, that what works for one will not work for all, that men are metabolically different to women and generally lose weight more quickly and easily than women with half the effort! so if something is not working for you, ie you have been plateaued for days or weeks - change what you are doing to kick start the weight loss again - but exercise will not in general provide weight loss in the great majority of people.


Brilliant thought provoking topic. Love reading everyones opinions.


Although I love to walk my dog for hours in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, I am delighted to hear exercising is not a requirement to lose weight! It would take away all the pleasure I get from being outside if I thought I had to do it to lose weight.

heaven forfend!! :-D

I don't so much disagree as I just want to point out how exercise can help you lose weight in a non scientific sort of way, maybe this is the psychological aspect... I don't think I'm the only one who approaches food differently as a result of incorporating exercise into my lifestyle, so I do think that exercise helps you lose weight, albeit indirectly. Some of the ways exercise helps me...

If I run at the start of the day I'm more likely to stick to good intentions foodwise for the rest of the day

If I run at the end of the day then I'm not consuming the calories I'd otherwise be at risk of consuming in wine, snacks etc

If I run after work/cycle home from work I tend to process my 'demons' better, it's good thinking time, and as a result I'm less likely to try to de-stress through food/drink

If I plan a day out with my boyfriend /with friends around cycling/walking, then calories consumed at the tearoom/ pub are 'earned' and satisfying in a different way - especially after a 4 hour 30 mile cycle ride or similar :) This also works for active sorts of holidays :)

Thought of another one... if I plan to run in the morning, I have an extra incentive to not overdo things food/drinkwise the night before :)

i can find nothing to disagree with what you wrote Ruth, and i am not against exercise at all, far from it, but i know that people who never exercise, suddenly take up the January gym membership and wonder why after hours on the treadmill, rowing machine, cross bar, will not lose a pound of weight if they don't look at the whole of what is going into their mouths and how often it is going in and thinking that sweetners (second only to evil processed vegetable oils in my book) are going to drop miraculous pounds.

Ruth_canal_runner6lbs in reply to Ketogirl

Yep I don't disagree with you either. Really good to read a few pros and cons around things. Helps us all to develop our own understandings of what makes up a healthy lifestyle :)

Before I started running, I was a regular cyclist and still gained weight, suddenly gained 2st in approx 1 yr. So I know that just cycling and not thinking about the whole picture wasn't working for me then. I think part of it is about finding the right exercise, something motivating and enjoyable :)

i exercise for pleasure, being outdoors in sunshine and the general feel good factor, once i found though that it wasn't doing anything for the pounds i also had to completely relook at what i was eating, how often i was eating it and when i was eating, that was when i had the greatest success.

Ruth_canal_runner6lbs in reply to Ketogirl

Yep it was calorie counting and following the nhs 12 week plan that turned things around for me. But exercise motivates me to stick to eating well...

paulapips64 in reply to Ketogirl

I'm seriously sensitive to artificial sweeteners they make me really ill they should all be banned nasty stuff and it's in so much food x

Ketogirl in reply to paulapips64

there is one word to describe artificial sweeteners and that is evil, along with vegetable oils - stick with olive or avocado or coconut or real animal fat anything that hasn't been processed in an attempt to make it edible


I lost some weight years ago when I was able to walk to and from work. At one point I was walking about 6 miles per day.

I have found that exercise does help with my weight loss. I also know that weight bearing exercise is important for women to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Unfortunately my health problems mean that I can no longer do the amount of exercise I did before. The 2 mile walks I used to do every day are out of the question.

As for jogging, which I've never been able to do, you use as many calories walking 1 mile as you do jogging 1 mile. It just takes longer.

actually it takes longer to do the jogging, you have to change before hand, you have to shower, get dry and dry your hair afterwards, with walking you just shut the back door walk and come home again.

Ruth_canal_runner6lbs in reply to Ketogirl

True! I hadn't thought of it that way before ha! I tend to combine baths I need to have anyway with my run days though :)

and on the topic of baths do you put epsom salts in yours? they are a fantastic source of magnesium which is slowly absorbed through the skin apart from the gorgeous feel good factor.

Ruth_canal_runner6lbs in reply to Ketogirl

Keep meaning to get some. Still working through a weird salts tub a friend got me some years back (not quite sure what's in it!) Epsom salts are meant to be amazing for muscle aches.

they are, you can buy expensive salts in a lot of places but most supermarkets sell just a boxed version which is exactly the same but for only a couple of pounds

Agree with a lot of things in this post. I think the real question we need to ask ourselves is: why do we want to lose weight? If the answer is for better health, then we know we should exercise whether it helps with weight loss or not.

Claz1 stone

I started the gym and started eating healthier in November and for the 1st 5 weeks I didn't lose a single pound.... it was a bit demoralising at the time and I wanted to give up but I continued and I also cut down on my carbs and upped my healthy FATs... once I had done that I dropped 5lbs that week... I've kept up with the exercise and make sure I do 10k steps a day and the weight loss is slow but the difference in how I look is noticeable now as I'm not a bloated anymore and my arms & legs are slimming down nicely from all the exercise i now do.

i enjoy exercise and it makes me feel healthier. The kids even tell me to go to the gym now as they see a difference in me and they can see it makes me happy to get fit. The kids also dance around the house with me when I need to get a few more steps in which they enjoy and also gets them active too.

I think if you enjoy exercise and it makes you feel good for doing it then do it.... but Not everyone likes doing exercise and I think you can still lose weight without doing it but that doing exercise will help to tone you body and build muscle.

My story is different. I've tried to lose weight many times before without doing any exercise (always was an exercise phobe). Never had much luck. Lost 5 kg, gained 6 kg, lost 5 kg, gained 6 kg and ended up overweight with a BMI of 27...

But last year at the age of 44 I started running - actually without planning to lose weight, just because I wanted to become a runner like so many in my family. And then the kilos started coming off, slowly but surely. When I realised what was happening, I reduced my calorie intake as well to speed up the weight loss.

I have no doubt that it is my 3 hours of running per week that made the difference.

Elissy in reply to PippiRuns

Wohoo, great story PippiRuns

By the way, your avatar is my absolute childhood hero 💝

PippiRuns1kg in reply to Elissy

Pippi Longstocking is such an inspiration. I read many of her "mother's" books: The Emil of Lönneberga series, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, The Six Bullerby Children series, Mio, My Mio and The Brothers Lionheart. But Pippi is my favorite.

Elissy in reply to PippiRuns

Yay !!! I read most of them and/or saw them on tv but - in german. Fantastic stories - and I agree, Pipi was/ is amazing!!!

Think of weight loss as good quality carpet. 80:20. 80% what you eat and 20% what you do. That is why people with reduced mobility and good strength of willpower lose weight successfully.

I exercise for the suggested five lots of thirty minutes per week. Mostly on my exercise bike but a swimming session thrown in for good measure. I do it to tone the wobbly bits, feel good and generally feel holyier than thou for five minutes!! I was told I was prediabetic last year and I have reversed this now through a diet and exercise mix. I am not a medic but I think you release insulin when you exercise which helps process blood sugar.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is don't dismiss exercise. You won't lose weight on the scales but a tape measure may show a reduction in measurements. Xx

I agree a lot re the tape measure bit. When I started c25k I wasn't doing the nhs 12 week plan yet (that came after). So during c25k I wasn't watching calories at all but I still lost 3lbs over the 2 months. I was dissatisfied but afterwards realised several inches had also come off my waist. Now, my waist is down to 25 inches and I don't think that was achieved just by watching what I ate, I think the running did it :)

By the way I was also worried about diabetes. It's rife in my family, and putting weight on round my waist was ringing alarm bells... congrats for reversing the prediabetes :)

i certainly am not dismissing exercise and as can be seen by other posters on this group some people are certain that exercise helped in their weight loss, i exercise outside everyday (not a gym go-er though) and no question i benefit what ever level i do. but BIG, HUGE congratulations on reversing your pre-diabetic status, that is a completely brilliant thing to have done, even T2diabetics can reverse their disease if they were to completely remove all sugars, carbohydrates and sweetners from their diet and under the guidance of their doctors bring their metformin or insulin down in line with the drop in their blood glucose, T2D is bankrupting our beloved NHS and this country.

slimpickings2 stone in reply to Ketogirl

Well said. Xx

Exactly what I have been doing since end of October after a health scare..a mild stroke....i have managed to loose 7kg

Ketogirl in reply to babs57

congratulations to you Babs :)

Lizzie-b2 stone

Well we are all different and have to also factor in a working day / lifestyle. I work long days and 3 evenings a week so going to the gym suits me late at night. I discovered through a personal trainer how stiff my back was and through strength exercises have become much more flexible and fit with a more toned look than I've had for 30 years. It takes time to learn what works but it's also a good de stresser. I know that I lost weight much more quickly with the combination of healthier eating and intensive exercise and the results encourage me to keep it up. I love walking so I do lots at weekends as time allows but the training at the gym is what made a massive difference for me anyway.

Marylou54Super Trier

All of which goes to show we are all individuals and, as has been said somewhere in this wonderful set of posts, all different and all respond to different methods/stimuli. Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking start to Saturday - I love you all!! :-) :-) :-)


Not sure i agree. I Have reduced my calories and increased my exercise and in 2 weeks dropped from 10st to 9.8lb. Included in my calories was a bottle of wine each week.

Can weight be lost through the inclusion of exercise?

The answer is both yes and no.

Regardless of the method chosen, whether it be the 5:2, ketogenic, NHS 12 Week Plan, or the 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet, for example, the following remains true:

To burn fat, a daily calorie deficit must be introduced, to maintain current weight, intake shouldn’t exceed TDEE and if daily calorie intake routinely exceeds TDEE, then weight will be gained.

In the absence of reducing calorie intake, however, I do agree that running or walking upon a treadmill at the same pace throughout won’t improve weight loss, other than improving efficiency of the heart and muscles to process oxygen, thus, improving endurance.

Equally, maintaining the same pace without reducing calories, may even lead to a slight increase in weight as exercised muscle increases in density, while the level of body fat possessed remaining largely the same.

As much as resistance training encourages growth of muscle mass, through repeated overload of the fibres, the cardiovascular system must also be treated to the same, thus, encouraging its growth and development.

Similar to resistance in training, increased intensity of cardiovascular exercise encourages greater uptake of glucose and fat. The greater the intensity, the greater the uptake of glucose and fat as fuel, in the absence of a readily available supply of oxygen.

The easiest way to explain the above is to describe what occurs during HIIT (high intensity interval training).

Since the hard intervals push exercising heart rate close to its maximum, it’s unable to deliver oxygen to working muscles as quickly as they require it. Consequently, the body must switch to utilising a far greater concentration of glucose and fat as fuel.

The repetition of hard intervals quickly depletes glycogen reserves, meaning that fat becomes the overriding source of fuel for working muscles in the latter stages of a HIIT routine, as the body’s anaerobic pathway continues to be exercised.

As result of HIIT depleting the body’s glycogen reserves, its sensitivity to insulin increases considerably, meaning that the complex carbohydrate consumed for up to 72 hours afterwards is used to replenish depleted reserves and is less likely to be stored as fat.

Additionally, as the body works to repay its oxygen debt (research EPOC), calories continue to be expended for up to 24 hours afterwards, hence why HIIT should only be performed twice a week when in deficit.

Of course HIIT encourages a host of other physiological changes, chiefly increased ATP density of muscles, improved mitochondrial activity of the heart and a greater tolerance of lactate in the blood.

However, in the interests of weight loss, the main thing to remember is that the activity ensures expenditure of calories both during and afterwards.

For those unable to under-take HIIT, all certainly isn't lost, provided that a daily deficit continues to be maintained.

The calories burned by walking or running at a steady pace will increase overall daily expenditure, thus, presenting itself upon the scales or by way of an improving body composition; something I’m sure most walkers or runners will attest, even if they’re not quite in the same league as Mo Farah.

thank you for that very excellent explanation of HIT, however one question if you are on a reduced calorie diet (although the 12 week diet plan allows for a lot of sugar in the form of sweetners and carbohydrates) and for several eating intervals a day, would glycogen burning ever take place in any 24 hour period given the amount of sugar that is being used? The liver is never given time to deplete itself of the sugar that is being ingested, therefore insulin is always being spiked and the sugar ingested if not used is simply turned into storage fat.

As I've stated, regardless of which diet plan you're following, anaerobic respiration utilises a far greater concentration of glucose and fat, hence the reason why sharp bursts of activity can only be sustained for a short period, before regular uptake of oxygen is required (during rest) to encourage the natural development of HGH.

Only through repeatedly exercising the body's anaerobic pathway can mitochondrial activity of the heart improve, thus reducing its exercising bpm during aerobic activity. (Now, don't get me started upon how the heart converts lactic acid into pyruvate as energy during HIIT).

Granted, the liver will always hold a reserve of glycogen, since that's one of its many purposes (to ensure that the body doesn't go without). However, regular depletion of glycogen from working muscles encourages the need for their replenishment, whether it be through resistance training, SSC or HIIT.

The faster the rate of depletion, the greater the need to replenish depleted reserves.

Nonetheless, as much as you'd prefer to think, there's simply no need to introduce a period of fasting, other than between your last meal and breakfast the following morning.

You simply need to consume fewer calories than the body requires on a daily basis (to ensure that weight isn't gained), in addition to reducing consumption of refined carbohydrate and increasing uptake of regular exercise (of which HIIT is thoroughly recommended).

Although you may have thanked me for my explanation of HIIT, you refuse to acknowledge how calories, regardless of diet plan followed, impacts upon chances of success.

It's something that you cannot escape: To burn fat, a daily calorie deficit must be introduced, to maintain current weight, intake shouldn’t exceed TDEE and if daily calorie intake routinely exceeds TDEE, then weight will be gained.

Ketogirl in reply to MrNiceGuy

but the trouble is a calorie controlled diet has been shown to fail spectacularly in around 99.8% of dieters - it fails so often it is shameful that it is wheeled out as a sustainable life style. ( intensivedietarymanagement.... ) and most people especially those over a certain age can not do a regime of HIIT (look at the trouble that brought Andrew Marr - still not recovered fully from his rowing machine HIT) and many over-weight people are middle-aged+ so sprinting like a maniac, pedalling like a lunatic and rowing like Andrew Marr unless they are under the supervision of a highly experienced trainer will get into trouble and MOST people do not employ the services of highly experienced trainers - how many people going to the gym in Jan fail to go again once Feb and the weight starts returning - it is so monumentally depressing as you can read again and again on this site, "I've done this, I've done that, I've been to the gym I counted my calories and not only have I plateau'd but I have gained weight" the body resets what it uses to burn (it is no fool- if it didn't it wouldn't have survived this long) so everyone on these diets, already feeling deprived, are told they have to consume even less, work out more to adjust to their new BMR - good enough reason to throw up your hands and cry and tuck into the choccy biccys. We are on a site that advocates 3 meals a day, 2 snacks, carbohydrates and sweetners - all the science out there suggests that this is not a good road for weight loss.

I do accept your point that HIIT cannot be adopted by all, particularly those already suffering from conditions affecting the cardiovascular, circulatory or respiratory systems, for example.

Equally, those who don’t suffer from such conditions shouldn’t attempt HIIT without already possessing a decent level of cardiovascular fitness and endurance, something developed through SSC and interval training, both of which exercise the body’s aerobic pathway, thus improving efficiency of the heart and working muscles to process oxygen.

Only once interval training can be sustained for 30 minutes, should HIIT be attempted. Even then, the hard intervals should be no longer than 20s to begin with, followed by 60s recovery at the lowest level.

A HIIT session shouldn't exceed 20 minutes, either.

Furthermore, the level chosen to run, cycle or row should be consummate to one’s level of fitness, based upon the RPE scale.

If, for example, one perceives that repeatedly cycling for 20s against a resistance level of 7 feels like 8-10 in terms of effort, the duration of the hard intervals or the resistance level chosen shouldn’t increase until the body is able to perform HIIT for 20 minutes.

Even then, HIIT shouldn’t be performed on more than 3 occasions throughout the week, due to the body’s need to recover afterwards.

As for those entering the gym in January, only to give up by February, many do so with the false expectation that they’ll be able to transform their body within a month.

While many physiological changes will have occurred throughout January, particularly the increased ability to lift/press more weight or the ability to perform cardiovascular exercise at a higher level, these activities have to continue over a period of time, allowing physical results to be borne, through repeated overload of the muscular and cardiovascular systems.

Increased muscle mass improves the ability to burn calories at rest throughout the day (roughly 5-7Kcal per lb of muscle). However, only through repeatedly exercising and overloading the muscles can this continue.

Although other factors do contribute, ceasing regular exercise will affect the ability to expend calories, particularly at rest, hence why so many may complain of sluggish metabolism, having dieted and exercised on and off for years.

The management of weight isn’t something that’s adopted for 6-12 months; it remains a life-long commitment.

Although you outwardly disagree, I consider that knowing your numbers (BMR/TDEE) is the greatest key to managing weight, regardless of how it’s attained.

As I’ve previously stated, consume more calories than the body requires and weight will be gained, regardless of whether those calories are consumed through protein, carbohydrate or fat (consider how many calories 1g of fat contains).

As such, in order to expend calories (stored in existing body fat), a daily deficit needs to be maintained from TDEE (not BMR).

On the assumption that activity level remains the same, with each 7-10lb loss, since fewer calories will be required to satisfy both BMR and TDEE, intake needs to be adjusted (through re-calculating BMR & TDEE), thus, reducing the risk of plateau.

However, as goal weight appears within sight, since the body no longer possesses the excess it once did (stored calories), intake needs to increase closer towards TDEE, ensuring that the body is provided with sufficient energy to fuel its level of daily endeavour.

Granted, as goal weight is neared, an increase in calorific intake will mean that weekly weight loss won’t be as great (since the calorie deficit won’t as generous). However, by ensuring that intake remains 100-200Kcal beneath TDEE, the body will still expend calories from fat, to fuel activity, as it remains in deficit.

As for suggesting that people on ‘these diets’ feel deprived, upon joining the forum, most people quickly begin to appreciate that very few foods should ever be off limits, provided that calorific intake is included in overall allowance for the day, with the majority also losing weight and continuing to maintain the level of loss enjoyed in the process.

Equally, through educating themselves along the way, gaining an appreciation of what calories are, as well as understanding that not all calories are equal, members also become far more astute when forming nutritional decisions, something that ultimately serves them well into the future.

Through being educated towards adopting a diet that’s moderate in the consumption of protein and natural fat and low in the consumption of refined carbohydrate (in favour of complex varieties and non-starchy veg), most members of the forum find that it’s a lifestyle that can be maintained for the long-term, while also enjoying weight loss along the way, assisted by regular exercise and calorie reduction (not restriction).

You may also like...