Type to search

A better way to lose weight–it may surprise you!


By Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.

Close friends, Mary, age 70, and Sue, age 68, both gained weight while confined at home during the pandemic. Communicating via ZOOM, together they agreed to go on a diet in order to lose the weight while at the same time engaging in aerobic exercise. Their plan was to walk the local mall five days per week for about an hour at a time. Their efforts are to be applauded. Walking is an effective way to burn calories, get the heart pumping, train the lungs, and exercise the body. But is it the best way to lose weight? The answer just may surprise you.

I am proud of their determination and hard work, and the fact they got themselves off the couch to participate in physical activity.  Like many of us, they depend on endurance (aerobic) exercise and dieting to drop pounds. To be sure, this is one way to lose excess body weight.

However, the best approach to attain an ideal/healthy body weight is one that includes both sensible resistance exercise and in increased protein intake.  As you will see in the following summaries of weight loss research studies, dieting alone results in significant muscle loss (and metabolic rate reduction) that makes it very difficult to maintain the weight loss.  Dieting plus aerobic activity increases muscle loss, which is definitely undesirable.  On the other hand, when reasonable calorie reduction and moderate aerobic activity are combined with basic and brief resistance exercise and extra protein intake, it is possible to both lose fat and add muscle. This prevents metabolic rate reduction, enhances body composition and physical appearance, increases physical and functional ability, and reduces the likelihood of regaining the weight that was lost.  Please consider these important factors with respect to weight loss and weight maintenance.


Factors You May or May not Know
  • Dieting is a highly effective means for reducing body weight in the short term, but pretty much ensures that the weight will be regained, as this is the case for 90 percent of dieters.
  • During the aging process, insufficient strength-related activity results in muscle loss. Consequently, adults that do not engage in regular resistance exercise lose 4-8 percent of their muscle every decade which results in a 2-4 percent decline in their resting metabolic rate.
  • Dieting alone results in both fat loss and muscle loss.
  • Dieting with aerobic activity results in greater fat loss but even more muscle loss.
  • Dieting alone results in both fat loss and muscle loss.
  • 15-30 percent of weight lost from diety (or dieting with aerobic activity) is muscle weight, resulting in an increased metabolic rate reduction and relatively rapid fat regain following the diet program.
  • Dieting with resistance exercise results in the highest amount of fat loss with the least amount of muscle loss.
  • Dieting with resistance exercise augmented with protein enhances fat reduction while simultaneously increasing muscle tissue and metabolism.
  • Resistance exercise and increased protein results in post-diet maintenance of the lower or achieved ideal body weight with continued fat loss and muscle gain.


Now, let’s look at a couple of studies that reinforce the facts presented above.

Changes in Fat Weight and Lean Weight with Different Weight Loss Interventions

(Beavers et al. 2017 Study).

Weight Loss Intervention Fat Weight Change Lean Weight Change
Diet Only -11.2 lbs. -2.4 lbs.
Diet and Aerobic -14.1 lbs. -3.3 lbs.
Diet and Strength* -17.2 lbs.* -1.5 lbs.*


Changes in Fat Weight and Lean Weight with Different Weight Loss Interventions

(Villareal et al. 2017 Study).

Weight Loss Intervention Fat Weight Change Lean Weight Change
Diet and Aerobic -13.9 lbs. -5.9 lbs.
Diet, Aerobic and Strength* -15.4 lbs.* -3.7 lbs.*
Diet and Strength** -16.1 lbs.** -2.2 lbs.**

Based on the research presented, it should be no surprise now that when resistance (strength) exercise was added into the mix, there was a greater fat loss and most strikingly, the least amount of muscle loss!  At this point, you may be wondering, “But, Rita, how do I tell if I have too little muscle and too much fat?

Weight Scale, BMI, Body Composition

Most dieters rely on the scale or the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine if they are in a healthy weight range. First, the weight scale, while a true measure of body weight, does not indicate what percentage of your weight is fat and what percentage is lean.   This is equally true for body mass index (BMI) assessments, as BMI is determined only by height and weight.  It is therefore essential to use a body composition measurement (skinfolds, ultrasound, electrical impedance, etc.) to distinguish between lean weight (muscle tissue), and fat weight (adipose tissue).  My point is this.  Do your best to have a body composition to know how much of your body weight is fat, how much is lean (muscle), and how much you should actually weigh based on these two critical body composition components.  For a more complete picture of your muscle to fat ratio, please refer to article, Body Composition … Why it Matters! published in the August 2021 Issue.

Research-Based Recommendations

Research has shown when there is a loss of metabolically active tissue (muscle) typically due to inactivity and/or lack of resistance exercise, resting metabolism declines, with a resulting increase in fat weight.  As you now understand, dieting alone or dieting in combination with aerobic exercise exacerbates this undesirable situation.

Studies clearly indicate that resistance exercise incorporated with diet and aerobic activity supplemented with higher protein (0.6 – 0.7 grams per pound of ideal body weight) results in the greatest fat loss and the least muscle loss.

Consequently, older adults and seniors would benefit from performing both aerobic activities along with resistance exercise as well as consuming a moderate calorie diet, that includes higher protein intake in the form of lean meats, shakes, or smoothies. However, do seek medical advice prior to increasing daily protein consumption as higher protein intake also requires higher water intake to prevent experiencing kidney problems.

For more details on how Quincy College’s Health & Fitness 10-week, and 6-month weight loss subjects, and 6-month weight maintenance, study participants effectively increased lean muscle and metabolism and avoided significant increase in body weight and body fat, refer to article, Proof Is in The Pudding … Mission Weight Loss! January 2020 Issue.

Resistance Training Program

If you would like to start a resistance and aerobic exercise program, our senior-friendly Community Health and Fitness Center is conveniently located at President’s Place, 1250 Hancock Street, Quincy (directly across from the Quincy T-Station).  In our private group setting, you will be under the supervision of nationally certified fitness trainers who can schedule an appointment to tour our facility and provide you with a complimentary training session. Just call the center at 617.405.5978 and we will return your call.  Free one-hour and two-hour parking is available in the surrounding area.

Rita La Rosa Loud holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology with additional education in Sports Medicine and Athletic Training. She is NASM Certified and has been actively involved in the fitness industry for over 35 years. She is also an author and writes fitness related articles for various fitness publications. Currently, she is a fitness researcher and directs the COVID compliant, Community Health & Fitness Center at Quincy College.

She can be reached at 617.405.5978 and is available for speaking engagements.