You’ve probably heard time and time again that adding exercise to your life is crucial for successful weight loss. But though exercise has many health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke, recent studies suggest that the most important determinant of whether you’ll lose weight is diet – particularly for women.

Unfortunately, women don’t seem to lose weight just by exercising; their bodies are preprogrammed to hold on to fat more than men’s bodies are. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that when men and women followed an exercise program while not regulating their food intake, men lost weight while women didn’t. While exercising in itself may not cause women to lose weight, changing their diets and eating less are what will really help shed the extra pounds.

See how a Center for Medical Weight Loss (CMWL) doctor can help design a provider-supervised food plan that’s right for you.

Exercise’s Role in Weight Loss Maintenance

But what about when you’ve finally achieved the weight loss you want? Research suggests that at that point fitness is essential for keeping off the weight.

The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people 18 and older who have lost 30 pounds or more and maintained their weight loss for at least one year, has found that 90 percent of its members who have kept off the weight exercised for an average of an hour a day. A recent Harvard University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2010 backed this up: When 34,000 women were followed over 13 years, the ones who didn’t gain much weight during this time were those who exercised for about an hour a day.

Most of those women kept off the weight through low-intensity exercise like walking. That said, no one exercise program works for everyone. Physicians from The Center for Medical Weight Loss (CMWL) will evaluate what type of exercise makes the most sense for you. Once you start losing weight, the CMWL physicians will use a body composition scale to figure out your percentage of fat, muscle, and water, and adjust your exercise prescription accordingly. (For instance, if your fat percentage is high, your doctor may recommend more aerobic activity to help reduce it.)

Get started on your own weight loss plan by finding a Center for Medical Weight Loss provider in your area.

Exercise and You

What do all these studies mean for you and your fitness program? Ideally, you should still aim for at least five hours of physical activity per week. It doesn’t have to be an hour of working out a day. One day you might garden for half an hour, another you might stroll around the mall for 45 minutes. If that’s not achievable at first, do whatever you’re able – even five minutes a day can help. Here are some small things to try to help fit in fitness:

  • Park farther away from your destination to get in a little extra walking time
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible
  • Stroll around your neighborhood at lunch instead of sitting at your desk or staying indoors.

The bottom line: Any exercise is better than no exercise. It can’t hurt to do it while you’re losing weight, and it can only help as you’re on the road to weight maintenance.