The role of physical activity in a weight loss program

Physical activity is defined as any body movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscles. This contraction causes an increase in energy expenditure above the expenditure for rest. Energy expenditure is the energy cost associated with physical behavior.

Reducing a sedentary lifestyle, along with promoting and monitoring regular physical activity, is a basic part of the treatment of obesity and its complications.

The benefits of physical activity:

In addition to its benefits for obesity, physical activity is linked in particular to reduced mortality and morbidity.

Being physically active is also associated with psychological health, which includes better mood and fewer anxiety or depression syndromes. The benefit increases when switching from inactivity to moderate activity. On the other hand, when switching from moderate to vigorous activity, the benefit is less important.

In particular, physical exercise increases the demand for fatty acids as a muscular energy substrate and induces an increase in adrenergic tone. These two effects also induce lipolysis within adipose tissue. Regular physical activity is a major lever for reducing excess visceral adiposity and cardio-metabolic risk.

Physical activity has beneficial effects on weight especially when combined with an action on diet.

Interventions that focus on both physical activity and eating with behavioral strategies are indeed more effective than interventions that focus on physical activity or eating with behavioral strategies separately. People who change only their level of physical activity, without changing their diet, can only benefit from very little weight loss. However, exercise can be a factor in preventing further weight gain or regaining weight after initial weight loss.

Physical activity and contraindications:

In general, there are no real contraindications to the practice of physical activity in adults with obesity. However, there are indication restrictions depending on the severity of obesity and associated pathologies.

Depending on the severity of obesity, the increase in body mass, whether it is simple overweight or morbid obesity, indeed reduces the ability to move. Scaled-up physical activities become difficult to perform as BMI increases. Obesity increases the mechanical stress on the two main joints of the lower limb, the hip and the knee. Combined with the effects of overweight on joint surfaces, these constraints promote the onset of joint pain and secondarily of osteoarthritis.

When weight reduction is initiated, adapted activities are activities carried or activities that preferentially request the upper part (cycling or swimming). In terms of restoring locomotor capacities, the practice of muscle strengthening is of major interest. Indeed, the spontaneous reduction in physical activity in people with obesity is accompanied by a decrease in muscle mass. The work of muscle strengthening which will stimulate the increase in lean mass and participate in the stabilization of the joints of the lower limb is to be favored.

Certain pathologies associated with obesity will restrict the indications for physical activity:

  • Serious accidents (myocardial infarction, sudden death):

These accidents mainly occur in sedentary subjects who begin high intensity activity without prior training or medical evaluation. This should prompt caution in sedentary obesity patients at high cardiovascular risk.

  • Adverse events related to physical activity:

These manifestations, such as musculoskeletal injuries, although common, are usually minor especially for moderate intensity activities such as walking.

Overall, the benefits of physical activity and of applying the above recommendations outweigh the risks.

Some recommendations:

Any activity should take into account the current physical condition and physical capabilities of the person. People should be encouraged to reduce the time spent watching television or using a computer.

According to WHO recommendations, for adults aged 18 to 64, physical activity includes leisure, movement (walking or cycling), professional activities, household chores, playful activities, etc. sports or planned exercise, in the daily family or community context.

People should be encouraged to perform at least 150 minutes (2:30) per week of moderate intensity physical activity. This physical activity can be divided into one or more sessions of at least 10 minutes. For additional health benefits, adults should increase the duration of their moderate-intensity physical activity to reach 300 minutes (5 hrs) per week or engage in 150 minutes per week of sustained-intensity physical activity. , or an equivalent combination of moderate and sustained intensity activity. Muscle building exercises involving major muscle groups should be done at least 2 days per week.

However, people who are obese and have lost weight should do 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity per day to avoid gaining weight.

Some little tips:

  • Get around on foot as much as possible
  • Walk on your commute to work or shopping
  • If you are using the bus, get off at one stop before your destination
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalators
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time especially when watching TV
  • If you have a garden, spend more time working in it
  • If you have a dog, walk it more often and for longer

Above all, avoid giving up, aim for maintenance and help “keep up.” Regular monitoring is an important asset! It will make it possible to adapt physical activity according to motivation and physical condition.


Clémentine. M.
Naturopathe – Aromathérapeute / Herboriste – Phytothérapeute
Consultante en phyto-aromathérapie Clinique et Ethnomédecine

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