Cardiovascular exercise is important. Period. It helps to:

  • strengthen our heart
  • reduce stress
  • stimulate our creativity
  • boost productivity
  • keep hormones in check
...but does it help to promote weight loss? Sometimes, but not always.

Starting from zero
If you're starting from scratch and haven't really done any form of purposeful activity, then yes, cardio-only activity might help you lose first After a while, however, you'll likely see a plateau. Don't let this frustrate you. More importantly, don't give up or resign to some other easily invented reason like, "I must have a slow metabolism." There is a solution

You've been working out a while
If you've been hitting the gym regularly, haven't changed your diet and still can't drop an ounce of weight, you need to change things up. Running on the treadmill or doing the same four-mile out-and-back run from your house is great - I'm not trying to discourage you - but if a big motivation for doing this is weight loss, you'll probably be letting yourself down soon.

The biggest problem with cardio for weight loss
As unpopular as this may sounds, this is where my biggest gripe with Weight Watchers comes in. I've worked with plenty of clients who started their journey toward healthier living with Weight Watchers. Kudos to the, I say, they're doing more than what far too many couch potatoes do! That said, I will literally pull every hair out of my head the next time I hear someone say, "If I do 15 more minutes on the elliptical, I can have a bigger piece of cake." or "I really want to have a couple drinks tonight, so I'm going to run on the treadmill for another 30 minutes."

For those of you who've done Weight Watchers, you're certainly familiar with the points system, and the method of using mundane exercise to eat food - usually food that isn't even good for you in the first place. I think this is unhealthy, and a weird behavior modification technique.  We need to learn how to eat less bad food, regardless of whether or not we've "earned it," and more healthy food. I doubt I'll ever hear anyone say, "I'm going to spend an extra ten minutes on the stair climber so I can have a bigger chopped salad tonight." No way, it won't happen. Now if the only way you can have that chopped salad with with a cup of ranch dressing, well then, I suppose I might. But you'd never do that, right?

Equating cardio with calories
If you've never done Weight Watchers, but still jump on the treadmill just to burn calories, here is some news: most of us overestimate the amount  of calories we burn off.

Bottom line: we are not mice on wheels running for a piece of cheese. We are human beings who've been food-washed into believing more is better and stuff that comes out of a box is healthier than stuff that comes out of the ground.

What's the solution?
Strength-based training. Yes, it's like beating a dead horse, but just about any form of strength training will increase muscle mass, thereby increasing your overall metabolism. Increased metabolism (without caloric compensation, or eating because you exercised) promotes weight loss.

What counts as strength-based training?

  • Body-weight exercises, like lunges, planks, burpees, and most of the exercises I've written about in any of my No Excuses workouts.
  • Yoga. Some more than others. Regardless, be careful. Take class with a reputable instructor. Know what the goal of the practice is.
  • Weights. This goes without saying, but traditional free weight or machine training will boost metabolism.
  • Anything that's non-cardio and causes that burning feeling in your muscles is probably strength training. Technically, changing your flat jog on a treadmill to a jog with some sort of visible incline moves your workout from all cardio to cardio + strength. It's that easy.
Personally, I combine cardio and strength on most days. I really enjoy my time running. This is my time to zone out and also listen to the music I love (at the moment). I also thing cardiovascular activity is important, I really want to underscore that. But combining it with other forms of exercise that help to keep your body strong in other ways will be much more beneficial.

If you’re not connecting with me yet on Facebook, now is a great time to start. Beginning this February, I’ll be running my first ever blog contest – and I want you to be a part of it. There are some pretty great prizes and an impressive panel of five judges, including Bernie Salazar, The Biggest Loser's Season 5 At Home Winner and rockstar Real Moms cookbook author, Beth Aldrich! Get more details here.