You may have seen recent articles such as this one from the Guardian that play down the benefits of exercise when it comes to weight loss. If you have been trying to lose weight by adding exercise to your life, these articles can be discouraging. But there are plenty of reasons to include exercise in your weight loss program.

First the numbers

One of the reasons often given for the ineffectiveness of exercise is the number of calories you burn. When it comes to weight loss, there is more to it than calories in vs calories out, but I’ll use the numbers in an example. Walking a half hour will burn approximately 100 calories. At 3500 calories per pound, that means if you walk every day for half an hour it will take 5 weeks to lose a pound. Pretty discouraging, if that is the only thing you are doing. But if you think of it as one small part in the weight loss equation, the benefits start to add up.

Exercise helps you to keep the weight off

All too often when weight is lost by dieting alone, the weight is easily put back on. If you lose weight quickly with changes to diet alone, you are likely losing muscle mass along with fat. Muscle is necessary to keep your metabolism from slowing down too much.

A lighter body needs less energy to do normal daily tasks than a heavier body, couple that with the loss of muscle mass and your metabolism will go down. If you add weight training to your weight loss program this can help you to maintain muscle mass and reduce the drop in metabolism.

Exercising can change your social support

Experts agree that one of the keys to weight loss is having social support in place. If everyone you know eats poorly and doesn’t exercise you are likely to do the same. If you join an exercise class or a gym or find an online support group, you will be meeting people who also want to improve their health. You might start to swap healthy recipes with a new friend or find someone you can meet at the gym to exercise with.

Exercise can change your mindset

Sometimes just by starting to exercise you start to see things differently. If you’ve just finished a workout sometimes it doesn’t feel right to ruin how good you are feeling by eating a piece of cake. A piece of fruit will often be much more satisfying. You find yourself thinking “I just worked out and then I ate an apple! I’m awesome!”.

You can also use it to help reset unhealthy triggers. If you come home from work everyday and reach for the snacks in the pantry, try starting a new after work habit. Go for a short walk as soon as you get home, before taking your shoes off. Your attitude to the snacks may change somewhat after that.

Exercise makes you look and feel better

Changing your diet can be a stressful time. You lack energy, feel hungry all the time and the number on the scale isn’t moving fast enough. Exercise can help increase your energy levels and reduce feelings of stress. You can improve your posture so you stand taller and feel more confident. Your skin may get a healthy looking glow. If you are losing weight for health reasons, exercise can often improve your health even before the pounds start to drop off.

Despite what the latest headlines say, there are plenty of reasons to add exercise to your weight loss program. It may seem that you just can’t make enough difference with exercise. In fact, the many small differences that exercise makes, add up to big changes.