How to Love Losing Those Pounds—Choosing the Best Exercise

Achieving a Calorie Deficit With Minimal Struggle

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Exercise is an essential component of any weight loss plan. Professor Anding explains how to select the best exercise for staying lean and fit.

Close up of woman exercising with kettle bells
Increasing your body’s lean mass composition through strength training allows you to increase the calories you can eat without gaining weight. Photo by Day of Victory Studio / Shutterstock

Best Exercise for Burning Calories

People often wonder what the best exercise is to burn the most calories. Professor Anding recommends choosing an exercise that you enjoy—not something you read about in a book that is supposed to burn a lot of calories. 

If you don’t like to run, then you probably won’t be able to sustain it. However, if you love working in your garden or playing golf, then you will likely keep up with that physical activity because it will be something you look forward to as opposed to something you do out of obligation.

The benefits of regular exercise far exceed controlling weight, especially if you were previously sedentary. Physical activity lowers blood pressure, improves your mood, and decreases your risk for heart disease.

The activities just described—running, golfing, and gardening—are all aerobic activities. Professor Anding recommends incorporating weight-training into your exercise regimen to maintain as much muscle mass as you can.

You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound of body fat. If you burn 100 calories per mile walked, to lose one pound of body fat, you’d have to walk 35 miles. The challenge is making that activity consistent, and it’s much easier to meet this challenge when you enjoy the activity. 

“I’m pretty fond of saying your body remembers what you do most of the time,” Professor Anding said. “If most of the time, you exercise […] the vacations from exercise […] are perfectly fine. The goal would be to sustain your plan.”

Increasing Your BMR

Another way to burn more calories without having to train for a marathon is to increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR)—how many calories you burn at rest. The more lean muscle mass you add, the higher your BMR.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work for the Houston Texans for [many] years,” Professor Anding said. “I’ve weight trained all my life, and I really thought I knew what I was doing. In reality, our strength coach showed me I didn’t know as much as I thought. He helped me gain seven pounds of functional lean mass.” 

Although this translated into seven pounds on the scale, this was not a bad thing since it was seven pounds of muscle mass as opposed to body fat. Anding’s metabolic rate had been 1,200 calories, and by adding that functional lean mass, her measured BMR calories are now 1,600, meaning she burns at minimum 1,600 calories a day, even when doing nothing. 

“By gaining seven pounds of muscle mass, I can eat 400 more calories every single day,” Professor Anding said. “I’m really excited about that because now I get to eat more; so yes, you can rev-up your BMR, but the way you do it is by adding functional lean mass.”

Traditionally in the gym, men focus on weight-training equipment and women do aerobic work. In order for women to experience the same gains as men in terms of body composition, Professor Anding recommends a paradigm shift with men and women on both sides of the exercise room.

Considerations for Children/Disabled People

One method of calculating your ideal body weight is called the Hamwi equation, which is based on height, frame size, and sex, is intended primarily for adults. Interestingly, children require more energy per pound of body weight than adults. 

The highest calorie needs are actually during infancy. In their first year of life, babies essentially triple their birth weight. If you have an overweight child, the challenge is that you can’t use the same kind of caloric calculations that you would use for an adult. Professor Anding recommends consulting a pediatrician.

If you are wheelchair-bound or on crutches, you can still participate in exercise programs designed for your level of fitness or functionality. For example, if you are wheelchair-bound but can lift weights, you can do bicep curls. This and other weight-lifting exercises will help you to retain your functional lean mass.

If you are on crutches, you can also engage in upper body exercises such as bicep curls and shoulder shrugs as well as sit-ups, arm circles, and punching. With the assistance of hands-free crutches, you participate in light walking. 

Although one can lose weight relatively easily, the challenge for all of us is staying lean and fit. The Hamwi equation and BMR, along with the calories that you burn in exercise plus through small movements you make throughout the day like fidgeting, are all tools that will allow you to calculate the total calories burned in a day.

The next time you’re tempted to buy the next weight-loss supplement or pill on the market, beware. The best strategies for weight loss or maintenance are managing how many calories you consume and burn.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.