Weight loss

The benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise

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Molly Morgan, RD Lead Dietitian
Registered Dietitian specialising in adult weight management
iconLast updated 7th of May 2024
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In our last article, we talked about the benefits of increasing our activity levels and how to be less sedentary without doing formal exercise. Today, we’re going to discuss the different types of exercise and their health benefits.

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise gets its name from the body’s aerobic energy system which uses oxygen to burn energy. During aerobic activities, our breathing and heart rate increase to a level that can be sustained for a longer period of time – which is why it’s also often referred to as endurance exercise or cardio.

Here are some examples of aerobic exercise that you can incorporate into your weekly routine:

  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling
  • Running or jogging – try Couch to 5k for an introduction to running
  • Spin classes
  • Swimming
  • Dance classes
  • Rowing
  • Free aerobic video classes online

The intensity of your exercise is subjective, it’s about how hard an activity feels to you while you’re doing it. One easy way to determine what intensity level you’re working at is to use a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. This helps you rate the level of difficulty you’re experiencing from one to ten – one would be how you feel when you’re at rest and ten, when you’re exerting maximum effort that can only be sustained for a few seconds.

Current guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. On the RPE scale, moderate-intensity exercise would be around a four or five, whilst vigorous-intensity exercise would be around six to eight.

The benefits of aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise has been associated with the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improved endurance and heart health
  • Improved management of lifestyle diseases (such as type 2 diabetes)
  • Improved cardio-metabolic risk factors such as improved insulin sensitivity, reduction in blood pressure, and reduced cholesterol levels
  • Reduction in chronic pain
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Positive changes to brain anatomy
  • Improved bone health
  • Improved immunity

What is resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise (aka strength training) refers to any exercise that makes your muscles work against external resistance, often by lifting or pulling. Resistance training isn’t just lifting weights, you can also do this type of exercise with resistance bands or your own bodyweight.

Below are some examples of how to add resistance exercise into your weekly routine:

  • Resistance band workouts
  • Bodyweight exercises such as squats, push-ups and sit-ups
  • Strength-based gym classes
  • Working with a personal trainer
  • Trying out a new strength-based sport such as powerlifting or weightlifting
  • Yoga or pilates classes (in-person or online)

Alongside weekly aerobic exercise, experts recommend two resistance exercise sessions per week. The intensity levels of resistance training usually range from four to ten on the RPE scale, depending on how challenging your workouts are.

The benefits of resistance exercise

Resistance exercise has been associated with the following benefits:

  • Changes in body composition such as increased muscle mass and reduced fat mass
  • Increase in our Basal Metabolic Rate – the amount of energy (calories) we expend at rest
  • Improved blood glucose (sugar) regulation and insulin sensitivity
  • Increased strength, balance, and mobility which can help us to live independently as we age
  • Reduced risk of sports injury
  • Reduction in chronic pain
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Positive changes to brain anatomy
  • Improved bone health
  • Improved immunity

Does exercise help us lose weight?

Absolutely! Research has shown that those who incorporate exercise into their lifestyle alongside a healthy diet lose more weight than those who adopt healthy eating alone. However, it’s extremely common for weight-loss progress to stall or even go backwards when you start exercising. One of the main reasons for this is that exercise can lead to a change in our body composition – in other words, we can gain muscle mass and reduce our fat mass. And since muscle mass is denser than fat mass, this can be part of the reason why our weight might stay the same (or even increase slightly).

Whilst it can feel demotivating to see the scales stall – especially if you’ve recently increased the amount of exercise you’re doing – this is a positive thing when it comes to our long-term weight loss efforts! Building lean muscle mass helps to increase our metabolic rate and the amount of energy (calories) we expend at rest, making it easier for us to maintain our weight in the long term. This is especially important when we consider that over the age of 30, inactive adults lose between 3 to 8% of their muscle mass each decade, and that weight maintenance is what most people struggle with over the long run.

Take Action ⚡

Take some time to set yourself an achievable goal for exercise. Think about the following questions:

  • What will I do?
  • When will I do it?
  • How long will I do it for?
  • How will I prepare for the exercise? (eg. lay my clothes/trainers out in advance, look up exercise classes in my area).

Whilst exercise alone isn’t the answer to weight loss, it is a key component in helping us maintain our weight-loss efforts in the long term and improving our body composition, plus it has lots of other physical and mental benefits! In our next article, we’ll be sharing our top tips for staying motivated with exercise.


Celik O and Yildiz BO. Obesity and physical exercise. Minerva Endocrinol (Torino). 2021 Jun;46(2):131-144. Doi: 10.23736/S2724-6507.20.03361-1. Epub 2020 Nov 19. PMID: 33213121


Petridou A, Siopi A, Mougios V. Exercise in the management of obesity. Metabolism. 2019 Mar;92:163-169. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2018.10.009. Epub 2018 Oct 29. PMID: 30385379.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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