Exercising for weight loss can sometimes seem like a never-ending, Sisyphean task. Many of us find it extremely difficult to lose weight, especially for people making a concerted weight loss effort for the very first time. It's very demoralising to weigh yourself on a regular basis and see no progress week after week – small wonder many people give up on their fitness and diet regimes.
However, even if you're seeing no real weight loss progress, consistent exercise has a whole host of awesome benefits for your body.
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One literature review from the Institute of Medicine (opens in new tab) at Washington DC looked at the benefits of exercise as part of a sustained weight loss strategy. It was found that even during a sustained period of exercise, weight loss isn't always a guarantee. Losing weight depends on a number of other factors, such as diet, in addition to exercise.
However, don't give up on exercise just yet. The Institute of Medicine highlights a number of benefits of exercise that happen within the body, that don't just rely on burning calories. The study says "the benefits of physical activity are significant and occur even in the absence of weight loss".
These benefits include an increase in high-density lipoproteins, or "good cholesterol". While you might not lose weight in real terms, you are improving your heart health and the strength of your muscles and bones. There's also a psychological benefit, improving your mood and self-esteem.
It sounds pretty self-explanatory to list the many benefits of exercise, but often it's useful to remind ourselves that it's doing a lot of good.
Weight loss is a useful metric with which to track our progress, but stalling here can often mean giving up on efforts completely. Therefore, we should always acknowledge even though we're not losing pounds, we are continuing to improve our bodies.
We should also acknowledge certain exercises, especially muscle-building moves, changes our body composition. You're expending energy and burning calories when you exercise, but resistance exercises also tears muscle fibres. Your muscles will heal providing you eat plenty of protein, and they will become stronger after healing.
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Pound for pound, muscle weighs more than fat: although this means you lose less actual weight than somebody intensely focused on fat loss only, you'll be healthier and your body will be a lot more functional.
If you're exercising regularly and your body is stubbornly holding on to those extra pounds, don't feel as though it's a hopeless, uphill struggle: you're still improving your body in lots of ways. Don't give up!
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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