How much can exercise help with weight loss?

When people exercise, they often don’t lose as much weight as scientists expect.

To find out why, researchers randomly assigned 171 sedentary people with overweight or obesity to burn:

  • A: no extra calories
  • B: roughly 100 extra calories a day, or
  • C: roughly 250 extra calories a day. 

All exercise sessions were monitored. 

After six months, group A had lost 1/2 pound, group B had lost about 1 pound, and group C had lost 3 1/2 pounds. Based on how much the groups exercised, the researchers calculated that group B should have lost another 3 pounds and group C should have lost another 6 pounds.

What happened?

The people in groups B and C “compensated” for the exercise by eating roughly 100 extra calories a day.

What to do: If you want to lose weight, eat less. And exercise to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, bone loss, muscle loss, and more.

The information in this article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Photo: Denis/

Find this article interesting and useful?
Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about staying healthy with diet and exercise, delicious recipes, and the inside scoop on healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you don’t already subscribe to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-conscious consumers.

Have a comment, question, or idea?
Send us an email at While we can’t respond to every email, we’ll be sure to read your message.