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Why cardio isn't the ultimate solution for fat loss

Updated: Jun 26

When losing fat, or dropping pounds, is high on someone's agenda, most people have a tendency to gravitate towards exercise, more specifically cardiovascular exercise like running, cycling, swimming or the StairMaster in the gym. And with lots of promises like melting fat away that isn’t surprising. 

Cardio isn't best for fat loss

Whilst cardiovascular exercise undoubtedly offers an abundance of health benefits, and we should all include some heart rate raising exercise in our week, relying solely on it for fat loss isn’t the most effective strategy. 

The benefits of cardiovascular exercise are undeniable and include:

  • Improved Heart Health - strengthening the heart muscle, enhancing circulation, reducing blood pressure and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

  • Enhanced Lung Function - Aerobic exercise increases lung capacity and improves respiratory efficiency.

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases - Lowers the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and improves overall life quality.

  • Improved cognitive function - Enhanced memory, concentration and learning abilities

  • Longer lifespan - Cardiovascular fitness is a strong predictor of longevity and supports healthy ageing. 

  • Increased Energy Levels - Boosting circulation and oxygen delivery, increased cardiovascular fitness leads to reduced feelings of fatigue and improved energy levels

  • Improved Mood and Mental Health - Regular aerobic exercise has been linked to better mood regulation, increased self-esteem and enhanced overall mental well-being. 

The health benefits are clear, so why isn’t it the solution for fat loss?

Depending on your fitness levels, calories burned during cardiovascular activity can be limited and the calorie ‘burning’ effect diminishes shortly after the workout ends. Long bouts of prolonged cardio can contribute to muscle loss over time as the body may break down muscle tissue for energy during extended aerobic exercise, especially if we are not taking action to preserve muscle mass. 

The body adapts to repetitive cardio routines by becoming more efficient at using energy, therefore reducing the calorie expenditure of each session unless intensity is increased. Increasing intensity for many people means more time is required for longer sessions to use more calories, or pushing harder each session which many people often struggle with. Greater time requirements to continually progress with cardio, the inconvenience of long sessions and people's dislike of this form of repetitive exercise often means people rarely maintain this type of routine for any length of time. Lack of consistency, with any approach to weight loss, or fat loss, leads to a lack of results. 

Aerobic exercise can also often lead to overeating as we can feel hungry after extended cardio sessions and we often over predict how many calories we have used during the session - made worse with inaccurate calorie expenditure predictions on smart devices). This over prediction of how many calories we have used can lead to false comfort in eating larger meals, additional snacks or treats we might not have had without the exercise. 

Is resistance training a better option for fat loss?

Resistance training has many benefits when it comes to fat loss, including:

  • Increased Lean Muscle Mass: Resistance training increases lean muscle mass, which plays a crucial role in boosting metabolism and burning calories. Increased lean mass supports health and improves physical appearance, posture, and gives the ‘toned’ effect often desired by those looking to lose weight. 

  • Elevated Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): Research has shown that individuals who engage in regular resistance training experience an increase in their resting metabolic rate. This means they burn more calories when resting. 

  • Enhanced Fat Oxidation: Resistance training enhances fat oxidation both during and after sessions. This suggests that resistance training can be effective in mobilising and utilising stored fat for energy, aiding fat loss efforts. 

Resistance training can be done in a gym with weights and machines, or at home with bodyweight and simple equipment like resistance bands. It is much easier to progress with resistance training, and make it more challenging without having to continually find more time - you can utilise more challenging exercises and greater resistance. This makes it easier to keep resistance training in your schedule for the long term. 

This doesn’t mean that aerobic exercise shouldn’t be included in your fat loss programme, a mixture of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, will provide great results. But consider how cardiovascular training fits into your lifestyle. I lean towards short brisk walks for the most part to enjoy the health benefits, and spend time outdoors, whilst avoiding long repetitive cardio sessions. When you pair this with a progressive resistance training program, and solid dietary approach, you will achieve fantastic results. There is honestly no need for long sessions pounding the pavement, unless  


Health Focused Fitness

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