Exercise is a great way to boost heart health, build lean muscle mass and, yes, lose weight. But not without other habits that support these goals. Exercise is an important part of many weight loss plans. The key word here is part. You can’t lose weight with exercise alone. Here’s why.

Exercise is a very small part of the day

On average most of us sit and sleep for a whopping 20 hours each day. Many of those sedentary hours are spent consuming high calorie, high fat foods. That means not only are we being still, we are probably eating outside of our calorie budgets. Support your weight loss goals with smart food choices that include protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, in moderation, such as avocado, nuts and yogurt.

You can boost the benefits of exercise by adding intervals. Alternate periods of high intensity movement with your regular moderate exercise program to burn more calories and fat. In other words, speed it up every few minutes. If you usually walk try running as fast as you can for 30 seconds, and then continue walking. Do this for several cycles and you’ll build more stamina too. You can also increase the benefits of exercise by working to build lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat. It is also more compact, so you look trimmer in your clothing.

More exercise does not equal more weight loss

Moderate exercise is important for overall health. Extreme exercise may help you nail a personal record but it may not help you shed extra pounds. Researchers have found that the extra lap around the track or extra hour of spin class may actually lead to less movement outside of the exercise period. That means you take the elevator where normally you would take the stairs. Similar choices throughout the day mean fewer opportunities to be active and burn calories.

To support your weight loss goal add regular, moderate exercise to your regimen, and move more all day. More movement boosts your NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is responsible for much of your movement and increases caloric expenditure throughout the day.  NEAT activities such as standing while you talk on the phone, walking to lunch or doing housework can help you burn an additional 1,000 calories each day.

Burger on a weight scale

Exercise is its own reward

Unfortunately, a good workout is the only excuse most of us need to enjoy a treat meal. The problem here is we often overestimate how many calories we burned and underestimate how many treat calories we consume. In this way, we sabotage our own fitness goals. Some people even gain weight when they start exercising. Avoid this unpleasant cycle by remembering that exercise is its own reward. Find other ways to reward your good work so you can stay on track.