Exercise is a Contributor To Weight Loss, Not a Primary Driver
Regular exercise is a critical component of health optimization, however, contrary to what pop culture would have you think, losing fat is not a two-factor equation.  Activity alone accounts for only about 8% of fat loss while shifting your body composition, and still, for many people, the idea of adding exercise is more appealing than limiting indulgences, trumps maintenance of healthy sleep habits and can be a source of distress.    As we look at the ‘best’ type of exercise, consider the following ‘ground rules’:

  • You can’t outrun your fork – developing a healthy eating strategy that does not involve trying to ‘burn off’ excess calories but instead provides your body with the fuel it needs to perform at a high level and the nutrition it needs to recover.
  • High quality sleep for the appropriate duration should not be sacrificed to ‘fit in’ a workout.  Adjust your bedtime to accommodate an early wake-up, adjust your workout time to a later start on days when you are going to sleep later.
  • Pay attention to energy levels and how your body feels.  Our culture can be go-go-go, so it’s important on an individual level to take stock and adapt as your body needs.  If you are feeling lethargic or run down one day, opt for lower intensity exercise. If that feeling is prolonged, maintain low-intensity exercise and focus on other aspects of your health that are problematic: nutrition, sleep, stress or self-care could all be culprits.

Enjoyment May Be The Key Determinant in Weight Loss
There is an old-adage that the best exercise you can do is the one that you WILL do, and this remains the best piece of advice.  Choose an activity that you enjoy doing, that you can turn into a habit. Consistency is a big key to losing weight, so something that you can do several times per week for months or years is the one that’s going to give you the best results.  On top of the obvious weight loss potential, your enjoyment of the activity can help you gain more happiness and less stress in your life. Research shows that doing exercise that you hate, even exercise that has helped others to lose significant amounts of weight, can make health conditions worse, where exercise enjoyed had positive compound results.
Guidance to “Just Do It”
If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re in good company.  Most people find that getting started and finding direction is the hardest step, so we wanted to provide some guidance here.  You can adjust each type of exercise to your level of fitness, whether you are a beginner or an experienced athlete just getting back in the groove.  
It’s also important, especially when you’re starting out or have taken a long break to pay attention to the signals from your body.  It’s normal to push yourself and be a little uncomfortable during a workout, and you can expect a bit of soreness for a few days after.  However, if you have unusual or intense pains, shortness of breath, or other health concerns, talk to your trusted healthcare provider and change your workouts as needed.
Weight Loss Exercise When You Don’t Know Where to Begin
You have probably heard of some of the following workouts and may have even wondered what they were or if they were healthy.  These methods of exercise can have benefits to your overall health and may be just what you need to achieve your personal fitness goals.  Seeking professional help is always a good idea when trying something new or learning a new skill – hiring a trainer or joining a group class is great way to learn to perform movements properly, experiment with intensity and reduce self consciousness or insecurity.  Try them out and see if they fit your lifestyle!
HIIT Interval Training
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training.  It’s a simple approach of doing an activity, like sprinting, at maximum effort for a short time, recovering for a set duration, then repeating.  These kinds of workouts can be done in a concise amount of time, and are especially effective for fat loss.  The key is since the short bursts of activity burn through circulating glucose and glycogen (aka sugar) quickly; your body signals that it’s time to burn stored fuel, aka fat,
Sprints are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to activities, too.  Jumping jacks, squat jumps, pushups, burpees, and other bodyweight exercises are ideal and can give you enough variety to keep workouts fun.  As the name suggests, the magic in this style of training is in the intensity, however, intensity is very individual – your 80% intensity could be someone else’s 100%.  Use a perceived rate of exertion scale of 1-10 when evaluating intensity and aim for an 8-9 during the work interval. The ratio of work to rest also plays a role in the intensity of the workout as a whole – when starting out, keep the work interval short – ie. 10 seconds, and the rest interval long- ie. 4-5x the work interval.  As adaptation occurs and fitness improves, steadily decrease the rest interval until you are able to sustain a 1:1 ratio at which point you can increase intensity by creating an inverse ratio of work to rest ie. 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest (commonly known as a tabata interval). Remember more is not better – the goal here is intensity, not duration.  Your high intensity workout could be as short as 8 minutes with rest accounting for a minute and 20 seconds of that time but at end of it, you should feel worked over and complete spent.
Resistance Training
Resistance training is using any form of resistance to increase muscle strength, such as weight lifting or using resistance bands.  Some people shy away from this type of training with worries of injuries or a bulky look when they want to trim down. To avoid injuries, you may want to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to make sure your form is solid.  Make sure the weight you are using is sufficient for the desired intensity while not being more than what you can move with proper form throughout the set.
Adding muscle does not have to mean getting bigger – hypertrophy.  The initial ‘bulk’ that some individuals experience is that the muscles begin to grow larger and hold a bit more water until they heal.  Since there is already a layer of fat on top of the muscle, this can, for a while, make you look bigger than you want. The best part about resistance training is that muscle burns calories at rest – i.e., increase lean muscle mass drives your metabolism;  this means that with consistent training, you can burn through more of your fat stores faster, and the puffy look will pass quickly on its own.
They range of repetitions, the load employed, the tempo of the exercise, and rest interval are just a few of the factors that determine the training effect of exercise.  Proper manipulation of these factors leads to the desired result.
Go Play
Sports and classes are an excellent way to lose excess body fat and optimize health.  These activities help form social bonds, and social accountability has been proven very effective in helping people stay consistent to an exercise plan.  In other words, it’s easier to work out with friends than going by yourself.  These activities are also structured, so you don’t have to think about making a plan yourself.  You just have to show up and join in.
There are an endless variety of options in this category too, and they all make it easy to stay consistent since classes and sports practices are held regularly at the same times each week.  Dance classes are popular, such as Zumba, and yoga classes are sprouting up everywhere. Communities frequently have sports leagues, such as softball, football, or tennis, and there are groups that organize in parks to walk, run, or use outdoor equipment.  Crossfit classes are easy to find, though take a couple of sample classes to make sure you enjoy the intensity.
Get creative!  Your city may have gyms that teach you rock climbing, you may have places that offer jumping gyms, or you might be near a skate park.
If you can’t physically join a class or sport, try joining a virtual group.  Social media offers ways to join up with others who have similar fat loss goals and enjoy the same kinds of activities, and you can support each other through chats, videos, and even working out at the same time through video calls.  Some services offer video workout classes with forums so you can connect with others doing the same programs.
Bottom Line, Starting Small is Still a Start
You don’t need to have long, intense workout sessions to see results.  Finding a balance between high intensity training, strength training, play and low intensity longer duration workouts is key to developing a healthy, or healthier, lifestyle.  As previously noted exercise alone accounts for only about 8% of fat loss. Staying active may be more important for long-term health and mobility than it is for weight loss. Type of exercise, intensity, duration is less important than it is to make it a habit and to ensure that you find a balance of those variables as too much of one at the sacrifice of another will not lead to the results you are seeking.  
Exercise Should be Fun
If you keep your workouts interesting, challenging and balanced, you’re more likely to keep exercise as a long-term habit.  Exercising regularly not only benefits your overall health but also aids in healthier choices in other areas – nutrition or sleep for example.  Exercise can help with stress management and also be a part of your self care plan. Improving habits across these domains is the key to measurable and sustainable results.   Finding a form or multiple forms of exercise that you enjoy, possibly even look forward to, is the key to exercising consistently. There are plenty of ways to stay active, so explore options until you find ones that keep you excited.