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Losing weight without exercising: myth or reality?

January 3, 2022 - By Nautilus Plus

Temps de lecture 6 minutes

For many people, perhaps even yourself, a popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. It is commonly believed that to be successful, one must focus on changing his diet by trying to eat better, take smaller portions and restrict alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, many fail to incorporate exercise into the process. In fact, reaching your target weight through diet alone does not guarantee long-term weight loss maintenance nor better health.

So, what is the best way to go about it? Is it a good idea to follow a strict diet? What “makes you lose weight”? Is it possible to drop pounds without exercising? Here are some simple tips that will help you adopt new eating and exercise habits which will induce weight loss. This useful information will allow you to better assess the impact of the efforts you are about to make.

Losing weight without exercising: It’s possible, but…

Let’s consider, just for a minute, that changing your diet is the only way to lose weight. The adoption of a calorie-restricted diet could, in fact, lead to significant and rapid weight loss. However, long-term maintenance of restrictive eating habits is difficult, and, in many cases, individuals tend to regain the weight they’ve lost in the following year (4, 5). Weight loss is therefore possible by changing your diet, but for how long? This is where incorporating physical activity plays a vital role. In fact, exercise helps in maintaining weight loss and eventually inducing additional weight loss (1, 2). A high volume of training, i.e., being regularly active during the week, is also preferred to prevent weight gain (6). Furthermore, it seems that active individuals instinctively tend to improve their nutritional quality (7), a good habit to adopt for maintaining a healthy long-term diet.

Exercise should not be neglected, regardless of the weight loss method chosen!

Even though exercise is not the lifestyle habit that leads to rapid weight loss, it should not be neglected because its impact on body composition and metabolic health is very important. The regular practice of physical activity allows to induce long-term weight loss and, more importantly, to avoid regaining the pounds that have been dropped. Moreover, weight loss aside, exercise can reduce waist circumference (2) and improve overall health (3, 8)! Let’s not forget that regular physical activity is recognized for its benefits in preventing obesity and chronic diseases.

Weight loss: What to focus on when exercising?

The type of physical activity and the intensity at which it is practiced will also affect your body composition. The scientific literature suggests that individuals who practice cardiovascular activities (walking, running, cycling, elliptical, etc.), at moderate to high intensities, present better body composition values (9-12). In addition to that, muscle training also contributes to preventing long-term weight regain. Therefore, the integration of muscle training workouts you’re your weekly exercise routine is definitely a must!

Finally, we should not ignore light-intensity activities such as taking active breaks at work, deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or working in a standing position (13), as these are all small actions that, at the end of the day, create a significant caloric deficit. It’s important to remember that it’s not only the higher intensity workouts that create caloric deficit and improve your overall health, but so do all the simple physical activity initiatives that are incorporated in your daily routine.   

So, what is the optimal solution for weight loss?

Although it is possible to lose weight without exercise, it is not ideal to solely rely on dietary changes to maintain long-term weight loss. The incorporation of regular physical activity is a healthy lifestyle habit to adopt early in the weight loss process, and furthermore, to maintain so as to reap its long-term benefits. To attain your goals, it is highly recommended to have a more global and long-term vision which combines a healthy diet and regular exercise. In sum, losing weight without exercising is possible, but not optimal. Our kinesiologists / trainers and nutritionists are good allies to help you achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss. They will certainly guide you in adopting healthy lifestyle habits that you can maintain over time.

This article was written by Elisa Marin Couture, kinesiologist at Nautilus Plus.


1.         Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, Manore MM, Rankin JW, Smith BK. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41(2):459-71.

2.         Jakicic JM, Roger RJ, Davis KK, Collins KA. Role of Physical Activity and Exercise in Treating Patients with Overweight and Obesity. Clinical Chemistry. 2018;64(1):99-107.

3.         Ross R, Blair S, de Lannoy L, Després J-P, Lavie CJ. Changing the Endpoint for Determining Effective Obesity Management. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2015;57:330-6.

4.         Yu E, Malik VS, Hu FB. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention by Diet Modification: JACC Health Promotion Series. Journal of American College of Cardiology. 2018;72(8):914-26.

5.         Ness-Abramof R, Apovian CM. Diet Modification for Treatment and Prevention of Obesity. Endocrine. 2006;29(1):5-9.

6.         Swift DL, Johannsen NM, Lavie CJ, Earnest CP, Church TS. The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance. Progress in cardiovascular diseases. 2014;56:441-7.

7.         Andrade AM, Coutinho SR, Silva MN, Mata J, Vieira PN, Minderico CS, et al. The effect of physical activity on weight loss is mediated by eating self-regulation. Patient Education and Counseling. 2010;79:320-6.

8.         Wharton S, Lau DCW, Vallis M, Sharma AM, Biertho L, Campbell-Scherer D, et al. Obesity in adults: a clinical practive guideline. CMAJ. 2020;192(31):E875-E91.

9.         Ismail I, Keating SE, Baker MK, Johnson NA. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat. Obesity Reviews. 2012;13:68-91.

10.       Marin-Couture E, Pérusse L, Tremblay A. The fit-active profile to better reflect the benefits of a lifelong vigorous physical activity participation: mini-review of literature and population data. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2021;46(7).

11.       Tong TK, Xhang H, Shi H, Liu Y, Ai J, Nie J, et al. Comparing Time Efficiency of Sprint vs. High-Intensity Interval Training in Reducing Abdominal Visceral Fat in Obese Young Women: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. frontiers in Physiology. 2018;9.

12.       Tremblay A, Simoneau J-A, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. Metabolism. 1994;43(7):814-8.

13.       Ross R, Chaput J-P, Giangregorio LM, Janssen I, Saunders TJ, Kho ME, et al. Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults aged 18-64 years and Adults aged 65 years or older: an integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2020;45:S57-S102.

 14. Kirk E, Donnelly J, Smith B, Honas J, LeCheminant J, Bailey B et al. Minimal resistance training improves daily energy expenditure and fat oxydation. Medecine Science Sports and Exercise, 2009 41(5):1122-1129.

Losing weight without exercising: myth or reality? is a post from Nautilus Plus. The Nautilus Plus blog aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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