The Benefits of Exercise and Resistance Training for Weight Loss (And How to Get Started)

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By: Aleem Kanji, M.D.
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Weight loss is a concern for many individuals looking to lead healthier lives. More than 2 out of 5 adults in the United States live with obesity, and a significant number of people list weight loss as a top New Year’s resolution. Regular exercise, including resistance training, is a valuable tool that can help individuals in their weight loss journey, providing numerous benefits along the way. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of exercise and resistance training, how to start an exercise routine, and weight loss tips for resistance training.

The Benefits of Exercise and Resistance Training for Weight Loss

Exercise, including both aerobic and resistance activities, is a vital component of a comprehensive medical weight loss program. Regular exercise not only promotes weight loss but also offers many benefits such as improved mood, enhanced cardiovascular health, and strengthened immune system. Let’s break down exercise into aerobic and resistance activities and look at the benefits of each.

Aerobic exercise refers to physical activity that increases the heart rate and body’s use of oxygen1. Aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular conditioning, meaning it improves the function and performance of the heart and blood vessels. Examples of typical aerobic activities include walking, jogging, running, biking, cycling, stair climbing, swimming, etc.

Aerobic activity is often classified based on intensity, ranging from light to moderate to vigorous. An example of light activity is a casual walk. The pace of the walk is slow enough that someone is able to sing while walking. An example of moderate activity is a brisk walk. The pace of the walk is slow enough where someone can talk, but can not sing. An example of vigorous activity is jogging. At this intensity, someone can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

As it relates to weight loss, studies have shown aerobic activity ≥150 minutes per week at moderate intensity can result in a weight loss of 1 to 3kg (2.2 to 6.6lbs)2.

The Benefits of Resistance Training for Weight Loss

Resistance activities, or training, refers to physical activity that exercises a muscle or muscle group against external resistance3. Resistance training helps maintain muscle mass and prevent the loss of muscle mass that occurs with aging. People often think of weight lifting when they hear resistance training. However, you don’t have to go to a gym to lift weights to incorporate resistance training. Body weight exercises and elastic/resistance bands are great methods of resistance training without weights.

Studies have shown resistance exercise resulted in similar amounts of fat loss while preserving more muscle mass when compared to aerobic exercise alone. When added to aerobic activity, resistance training has been shown to enhance fat loss and body composition2.

How to Start an Exercise Routine

Starting an exercise program can feel overwhelming and intimidating. However, following some simple tips can make the journey more manageable and enjoyable. In this section, we will focus on starting aerobic activities. The next section will cover resistance activities.

  1. It is recommended to consult with your physician before starting any exercise program to determine what is safe, the need for any restrictions, etc.
  2. Find an activity that you enjoy. Finding an activity you enjoy will increase the likelihood of consistency and continuing for the long-term. Do you enjoy engaging in aerobic activity independently? With a friend? Or being a part of a class? Common aerobic activities include walking, jogging, running, cycling, and swimming. Activities that can be done independently or in a group/class setting include pilates, yoga, dance, boxing, cycling, and jogging.

To promote weight loss, and overall good health, several organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend:

  • at least 150* minutes per week of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity
  • ideally spread over at least 3 days per week
  • no more than 2 days between episodes of aerobic activity

*There is data to suggest an increased benefit with 300 minutes per week of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity.

Additional tips:

  • Add in rest days to allow the muscles time to recover and prevent burnout.
  • Schedule aerobic activity that fits your individual capabilities and your calendar.
  • Mixing up the type of aerobic activity can help keep the activity interesting and enjoyable and help make it a long-term lifestyle change.

Resistance Training Tips for Beginners

For individuals new to resistance training, starting gradually is essential to prevent injury and build a strong foundation. As mentioned earlier, resistance training does not necessarily have to incorporate weight training. Do you prefer to start with bodyweight exercises? Examples of body weight exercises include:

  1. Squats: Targets the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
  2. Push-ups: Engages the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.
  3. Superman: Targets the deep muscles of the back and uses the deltoid and trapezius for stabilization.
  4. Lunges: Works the lower body, focusing on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
  5. Planks: Engages the core muscles, promoting stability and strength.

Examples of weights for those interested include barbells, dumbbells, or machines. Regardless of method, we recommend the following tips for maximizing benefit and safety:

  1. Choose exercises that target the major muscle groups such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, and shoulders.
  2. Start slow and gradually increase weights. Begin with lighter weights to focus on proper form and technique. Then gradually increase the resistance as strength improves.
  3. The number of sets for each exercise can vary based on individual goals. In general, 1-4 sets with 8-12 repetitions for each exercise is a reasonable range.
  4. Resistance training goal is 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive days.
  5. Ensure adequate rest and recovery by including rest days. This allows sufficient time for muscles to rest and recover between resistance training sessions to avoid overtraining and optimize results.


Regular exercise, including both aerobic and resistance activities, are powerful tools in achieving weight loss and overall improved health. An exercise program with aerobic and resistance activities can improve cardiovascular conditioning, promote excess fat loss, maintain muscle mass, and improve body composition. Your health and weight loss goals are within reach. Start your journey today by taking the first step and scheduling a consultation to receive expert guidance and support.

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