blog 4 attitudes to exerciseResistance or aerobic exercise: what type do people who want to lose weight prefer?

Although many people enjoy exercise, people who are overweight and obese may not have the same enthusiasm for physical activity. Given the option, what type of exercise would they choose, and what are their reasons for their preference?

Previous studies have shown that moderate activity, five days per week is needed for general health. To prevent weight gain and promote weight loss, this increases to between 45 and 90 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis.

Aerobic exercise is well-known as an physical activity option for weight loss. However, resistance exercise offers some helpful benefits for people who are overweight and obese including:
– increased lean muscle mass
– often physical changes are noticed faster
– participants can rest between exercises, giving them time to recover

In a series of qualitative interviews, researchers sought to understand the views of people who are overweight or obese towards aerobic and resistance based exercise.

Participants who were attending a dietetic clinic for weight management were invited to participate in the study. A total of 25 women and 5 men agreed to take part and were invited to select one of four 12-week exercise programs. Those options were:

The ‘moderate activity level/home exercise’ options:
– Home based aerobic activity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week
– Home based resistance activity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week
The ‘vigorous activity/fitness centre’ options:
– Fitness centre based aerobic activity for 20 minutes, 3 days per week
– Fitness centre based resistance activity for 20 minutes, 3 days per week

Interviews were held with the participants at the commencement and after the conclusion of the program.

Comments from participants indicated that they understood the benefits of exercise, but initially they did not link a relationship between physical activity and weight management. However, as the focus of the discussion shifted to motivation, nearly all female participants noted that weight loss was their primary motivation when undertaking physical activity.

The same participants also described a lack of motivation as a result of exercising but not losing weight as a result. For some, this frustration at the lack of weight loss negated the other benefits of exercise.
Interestingly, none of the male participants in this study connected physical activity to weight.

Perceptions of resistance exercise
Overwhelmingly, participants elected to undertake aerobic activity in preference to resistance exercise. Reasons for this included a perception that resistance training was a ‘masculine’ physical activity and women in particular were concerned about developing unwanted muscle. Additionally, participants described wanting additional supervision and support to ensure that resistance activity was undertaken appropriately and that injuries were avoided.

Some participants described the short-term improvements they noticed in toning or strength as a result of resistance activity, which attracted interest from other members of the focus group. Despite this, the participants in this study elected to undertake the aerobic activity options, with the vast majority of those choosing to attend regular sessions at their fitness centre.

Exercise choices by morbidly obese participants
Most of the participants in this study with a body mass index greater than or equal to 40 described feeling self-conscious about their bodies whilst exercising. Interestingly, the two participants in this group who completed the 12-week program elected to participate in a home-based walking activity. Two other women in this group selected the fitness centre option but discontinued with the program after 3 weeks. It is possible that people with greater levels of obesity may be more affected by the environment in which they exercise.

Other studies have indicated that between 60 and 90 minutes of activity is required daily in order to achieve weight loss. Additionally, women in this study have described how they may not feel motivated to continue exercising if they do not see positive changes in their weight. In most cases, these women were exercising for 30 minutes per day.

Encouraging people (particularly women) who are overweight or obese to exercise for 30 minutes a day may have a discouraging effect, since this level of activity is rarely sufficient to stimulate weight loss.

Participants described resistance activity as a masculine physical endeavour. They did not associate resistance activity with changes to body composition, were concerned about the risk of injury, and wanted guidance on how to correctly perform resistance exercises. Despite noting that this kind of physical activity could rapidly improve muscle tone, participants overwhelmingly elected to undertake aerobic activity instead.

Reference: Guess, N. (2012). A qualitative investigation of attitudes towards aerobic and resistance exercise amongst overweight and obese individuals. BMC Research Notes, 5(1), 191.

Do your clients share these views on resistance activity? How do you manage client expectations about weight loss in relation to the amount of activity they perform? Share your experiences in the comments below.