Is doing cardio the key to losing weight?

THE RIGHT QUESTION.- Intensity, increasing heart rate, sweating… Are endurance activities essential for fat loss? The answers of Victoria Tchaikovsky, sports doctor.

To lose a few kilos, some would be tempted to take up running and stick only to this practice of “cardio”, reputed to be essential for “attacking” fat. But are the effects of endurance activities like running, cycling or swimming enough to achieve the weight loss goal? Yes and no, answers sports doctor Victoria Tchaikovsky.

The importance of building muscle mass

Cardio is indeed a good way to tap into our energy reserves to burn calories. “Aerobics actually reduces blood sugar levels as well as insulin resistance,” says the sports doctor. Concretely: endurance teaches our body to use sugar for the functioning of cells, instead of storing it and transforming it into fat mass.

Running or sweating on an elliptical trainer, for example, also increases muscle mass somewhat, and the act is essential for promoting our resting energy expenditure (the number of calories we expend sitting, lying down or walking). So for this same reason, cardio alone is not the most optimal for losing weight. “The more we increase lean mass, the more calories we burn and we improve our body composition. It is therefore better to add muscle strengthening to aerobic activity,” underlines the sports doctor.

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Strengthening is all the more important as it protects us from possible muscle wasting due to weight loss. “Losing muscle can not only be dangerous for cardiovascular, respiratory and bone health but also cause pain, particularly in the joints and back,” warns Victoria Tchaikovsky.

Ideally, we practice cardio following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (30 minutes a day, five times a week), cites the specialist. Please note: this half hour can be divided into several 10-minute sessions and can correspond to a walk or bike ride to work. We add to this “half an hour or even an hour of muscle strengthening twice a week”, and we thus ensure an increase in lean mass and a reduction in fat mass.


All this provided, of course, that you adapt your diet. “This must be low in fast sugars (pastries, cakes, sodas, fruit juices, etc.) and in saturated fatty acids – which turn into fat if not consumed – and rich in proteins and fiber. (fruits and vegetables),” recommends the sports doctor. For a lipid intake, we favor “good fats”, that is to say products rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), such as rapeseed oil, olive oil, walnuts, hazelnuts, avocado or fatty fish.

To lose weight, it is good to balance our energy intake and expenditure, or even to have a “slight calorie deficit”. “But if we lower our food intake too much, weight loss will not happen gradually enough: we risk having deficiencies and regaining the pounds lost within a few months,” warns the sports doctor.

And the specialist recalls the importance of good sleep hygiene. “It’s difficult to lose weight when you’re sleep deprived; sleeping between 7 and 9 hours per night regulates our appetite,” she says. Finally, less exposure to stress allows us to be in good conditions to play sports and compose healthy meals.