Healthy eating won't help keep the pounds off, but cardio and strength training will

By Rachael Schultz
Updated: November 03, 2017
Corbis Images

If you tolerate the gym only because you are thisclose to ditching those last 10 pounds, you're probably counting the ounces until you reach your goal weight and can say sayonara to sprints and squats. But maintaining your weight will take more than just attention to your diet: Women who continued to exercise after losing weight had better chances of keeping the pounds off than those who just stuck to their healthy eating plan, finds a new study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

To lose weight, experts agree that you have to take in less calories than you burn, and a lot of research suggests that adjusting your diet is more effective than burning the calories off. In fact, simply focusing on what goes into your mouth can be more beneficial then the hours you log at the gym, according to a study in Psychological Science, probably because eating too much of the wrong foods will cancel out any workout. (Try one of these 10 Unbelievable Diet Rules Backed by Science.)

But once you reach that goal weight, you're better off shifting your focus out of the kitchen and into the gym, this new study suggests.

When you're exercising regularly and shedding pounds, you increase your resting energy expenditure and total energy expenditure-meaning the number of calories you burn both by standing still and during activities. In the study, women who had recently lost 25 pounds and stopped working out lost their boosted calorie burn. Those who continued to move-either by lifting weights or doing some form of cardio-three times a week maintained the higher calorie burn, even on days that they didn't hit the gym. Plus, those who just rely healthy eating are likely eating as much as they did to reach their goal weight, but are now burning a lot less and therefore consuming more calories in a day, researchers speculate.

Great news: it doesn't matter much if you prefer lifting to walking, since they both offer health and weight maintenance benefits. Women who resistance trained three times a week (with two sets of 10 exercises) Increased their physical fitness more, including heart rate and oxygen uptake, while women who walked three times a week for 40 minutes saw more calorie burn during the activity and after at rest.

If you're hitting the gym regularly but the number on the scale is still creeping up, consider these 6 Unexpected Causes of Winter Weight Gain.


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