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8 Exercises to Lose Weight

These exercises can help to support weight loss by increasing your calories burned

spinner image Exercise, along with a healthy diet, can help with weight loss.
Sarah Rogers (Source: Getty Images (3))

​The best exercise for losing weight? The one you can stick with. Research shows you’re more likely to keep walking, running, swimming, cycling — or whatever activity you’ve placed at the center of your move-to-lose goal — if you enjoy doing it (or at least don’t dread it).

But keep in mind: Exercise, even when it’s an activity you enjoy, is only part of the losing equation. “One of the things we see in the research is that a combination of diet and exercise is the most successful for long-term weight loss,” says Anthony Wall, an exercise physiologist and certified ACE (American Council on Exercise) personal trainer. “You can train really hard, but if your nutrition isn’t where it should be, then you’re going to find you have challenges losing weight.”

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Of course there are vast benefits to exercise beyond weight loss, including improved cardiovascular health, better mobility, fall prevention and even reduced cognitive decline when we age. Exercise can also boost energy, help with sleep and reduce stress, among many other benefits.

Keep reading to learn more about eight easy exercises for losing weight and bettering your health.

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1. Walking

150. That’s the number of minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for adults. Brisk walking is arguably the best way to check that box. It requires no special skill, no special equipment (unless you consider comfortable sneakers special or, for that matter, equipment) and it adapts to virtually any schedule, any climate, any fitness level, any age. Walking does it all -- you lose body fat and gain muscle mass. In a study published in 2022 in Nutrients, post-menopausal women lost body fat with walking, either fast or slow.  

VIDEO: Fat-Burning Indoor Walking Workout With Denise Austin

2. Strength training  

It almost seems unfair: Your current weight loss efforts are influenced by a physiological change that kicked in decades ago. Around age 30, your muscle mass began to decrease and has continued its decline ever since. In fact, research suggests we all lose around 3 to 8 percent of lean muscle mass per decade; the rate of decline picks up after age 60. Why does that matter? Besides contributing to an increased risk of falls, that dwindling muscle mass impacts the way you burn calories.  

“As we age, our muscle mass naturally decreases,” says Sabrena Jo, Ph.D., ACE Senior Director of Science and Research. “Because muscle tissue is more metabolically active — meaning it burns more calories — than fat tissue, the loss of muscle mass reduces the body’s resting metabolic rate, meaning fewer calories are burned at rest. In part, this makes weight loss more challenging for those over 50.”  

Challenging, but far from impossible. In fact, a large review of studies published in 2023 in Advances in Nutrition found that the most effective weight loss strategy for overweight or obese people ages 55 to 70 involved strength training, in addition to calorie cutting.

New to strength training? Aim for two to three sessions per week, but “begin slowly and focus on form,” advises Jo, who suggests enlisting a certified exercise specialist to learn the basics, including proper technique. “Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and push-ups can be a great starting point. Resistance bands and light weights can be introduced gradually.” Another incentive, once you have an established routine, strength training can easily be done at home.

3.  Swimming

Among the culprits intent on sabotaging your exercise goals after 50: arthritis and other conditions that can affect stamina, mobility and balance. That’s where swimming comes in. “Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise, making it ideal for older adults, especially those with joint pain or arthritis,” says Jo. “It provides a full-body workout, improving cardiovascular health, flexibility and muscle strength. The buoyancy of water reduces the impact of gravity on the body, decreasing the risk of injury.”

VIDEO: Denise Austin 10-Minute Cardio Core

4.  Intervals   

All cardio — including walking, cycling, jogging — counts, but alternating short bursts of intense activity with lower-intensity moves has been shown to provide a greater boost to your metabolism than moderate-intensity exercise alone. One study of sedentary women compared 20 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT) with 40 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise. The HIIT participants were the only ones who lost fat — primarily belly fat. 

Interval training is a highly effective way to boost cardiorespiratory fitness and burn calories,” says Jo. “To embrace interval training, start with simple intervals, like brisk walking interspersed with periods of slower walking. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of the high-intensity phases as your fitness improves. It’s essential to listen to your body and avoid pushing too hard, especially if you’re new to interval training.” 


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5. Cycling 

Whether it’s atop your own two-wheeler, a bike-sharing bike, or a stationary bike at the gym or at home, cycling can be good for weight loss. Like any aerobic activity, it depends on how often and how intense the workout. According to the CDC, biking 10 miles or less per hour on flat terrain is considered moderate intensity; faster than that counts as vigorous cardio. For a 154-pound person, a 30-minute ride burns around 145 calories. Try a cycling app to track those things on outdoor rides; a stationary bike will do that for you.  

Another benefit of indoor cycling: “It’s low impact,” says Wall. “Recumbent bikes are easy to get in and out of. For somebody who’s overweight or has reduced mobility — and may be uncomfortable with exercise — that’s very important.” 

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6. Tai chi 

This ancient Chinese exercise — made up of a series of movements that are meant to be performed slowly and purposefully — is known for improving balance and preventing falls. But weight loss? Surprisingly, yes.  

“Exercises like tai chi improve coordination and balance and can be incorporated into a weight loss plan,” says Makeba Edwards, an ACE certified personal trainer. It can also “stimulate muscle overload, which builds and strengthens muscles.” Like any strength-training exercise, that boosts metabolism. 

And it may help reduce belly fat in middle age, suggests a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers randomly assigned more than 500 adults over 50 with central obesity into one of three regimens: one hour of tai chi three times a week; a conventional regimen of brisk walking and light strength training; or no exercise at all. After three months, researchers found that the tai chi group had lost as much weight and as many inches around their waist as the walking/strength-training group.

Interested in trying tai chi? Taking a class is a good way to make sure you’re doing the moves correctly. Inquire about classes at a local YMCA, adult community center, community college or hospital.

7.  Yoga

If you’ve been practicing yoga as a way to destress and reserving the gym to meet your weight-loss goals, you may want to rethink your strategy. Turns out, yoga offers its own weight loss bona fides.  In a study published in 2021 in the journal Obesity, 50 overweight or obese adults were asked to practice yoga five times a week, while following a reduced-calorie diet and attending weekly group sessions on behavioral strategies — all in the name of losing weight. After six months, all participants not only lost a significant amount of weight, they also improved their cardiorespiratory fitness. Surprisingly, the study found that participants didn’t need to practice power yoga to get results. Even those who followed a restorative form (called hatha yoga) experienced weight loss —the same, in fact, as the group that practiced the more vigorous vinyasa yoga.  

8. Pilates

This low-impact exercise has long had a reputation for core-strengthening. But what role, if any, does it play in weight loss? In a review of 11 studies published in 2021 in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers looking at the effects of Pilates on body weight in overweight and obese adults found that practicing Pilates moves regularly led to a significant decrease in body weight, body mass index and overall body fat. Curious, but not sure where to begin? Pilates is often performed on a mat or in a chair and includes a number of moves found in other types of resistance training. It can be done at home with an exercise mat or reformer, but before you invest in gear, try a few classes at a Pilates studio with a certified instructor or at your local gym.

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