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What Happens When You Lose Weight Without Exercise

Losing weight without exercise can be done –  but is it healthy?

“Losing weight is easy.” You don’t have to lift a finger – or rather a foot on the treadmill. Weight loss without exercise is peddled as quick, easy and the “secret” for weight loss. But the truth is, losing weight without exercise is not healthy.

“It’s perceived as something that is easier to do and requires less effort and planning,” says Dr. Doug Tkachuk, scientific director at Dynacare.It’s not true though. “The media and advertising make it seem so. They’re selling diet programs. And exercise is something that you could arguably do on your own.”

But that’s not all. Dr. Tkachuk shares why weight loss without exercise can have very real short-term and long-term effects on your body and your health.

1. Lose weight without exercise and you could lose muscle mass

“There is the potential to lose muscle mass,” Dr. Tkachuk says frankly. As we get older we lose muscle tissue and bones become weaker, but exercise can help combat that. Especially into our late years, muscle loss can really affect life quality and longevity. “When we see an elderly person who is bed ridden or needs a walker, that can be caused by normal muscle loss.” And that’s not just Dr. Tkachuk talking. “The evidence is pretty compelling. We naturally lose muscle mass as we age, and if you try to lose weight without exercise you will lose muscle. You don’t want to speed up the muscle loss process.” A strength training program is key.

2. Weight loss without exercise and you’ll lower your endurance

“If you don’t exercise when you lose weight, you will lose your cardiac endurance, your muscular endurance and your respiratory endurance,” says Dr. Tkachuk. This could impact not just your fitness level, but also everyday tasks, like running for the bus, climbing stairs, carrying groceries and more. You could look for a cardio weight loss plan online, and there are base level fitness tests (like lying on the floor to standing up on two feet, walking 10,000 steps a day, ability to do push-ups), but Dr. Tkachuk says to talk to a certified personal trainer about fitness goals for beginners. It’s important to have both short-term fitness goals and long-term fitness goals, and not just a weight loss goal.

3. Focus on dieting, and it could be a “negative” experience

The thing about dieting is that diets are about what not to do, whereas exercise is all about what your body can do. Dieting alone may put you in a negative mindset. Doing both creates a healthy balanced approach to losing weight. “Diets are, by definition, restrictive – they are rule based,” says Dr. Tkachuk. “They’re telling you not to do something. Arguably tougher to follow than an exercise regimen. For weight loss, you are more likely to be successful if you include exercise in a weight loss program.” And, he adds, there is the risk of disordered eating with diets that are too restrictive.

4. You might lower your insulin sensitivity, if you don’t exercise

Diet isn’t the easy answer. Don’t exercise as part of your weight loss program, and you miss out on a major benefit of physical activity: boosting insulin sensitivity. “If you increase your insulin sensitivity, your blood sugar stays low and helps to prevent diseases like type 2 diabetes.”

5. You could absorb less nutrients if you lose weight without exercise

The great thing about exercising while trying to lose weight, you don’t have to reduce your caloric intake as much, says Dr. Tkachuk. “Exercise allows you to absorb more nutrients.” Plus, dieting alone could put you at risk for missing out on nutrients, like calcium and magnesium, too. And that’s not good for your health.

A weight loss program that includes exercise is the best way to drop the weight, says Dr. Tkachuk. You’ll also have more energy, sleep better, and be healthier. Plus, “your mood and your drive to address the diet aspect of weight loss program is better. If you do both, you’ll be more successful.”