Cardio for Cardio Haters

Featured Article, Weight Loss
on September 26, 2012

Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: You talk a lot about how running helped you lose weight. Well, I’ve tried running and I HATE it. In fact, I hate every kind of cardio workout I’ve ever done (please don’t tell me to try Zumba—been there, done that!). Is it possible to lose weight without doing cardio?–Betsy

DEAR BETSY: I completely get that not everyone is a runner. But at the same time, I wasn’t a runner either—far from it—when I took that first lap around a cinder track way back when. I’m not saying you haven’t given running a fair chance—if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. But part of committing to a healthy lifestyle is learning to see yourself in a different way, opening yourself up to new possibilities, redefining who you are and how you behave within a healthier context.

To answer your question—yes, it IS possible to lose weight without doing cardio. You can, in fact, lose pounds just by manipulating your diet, but studies have shown that you’ll be more successful at keeping the weight off long-term if you combine dietary changes with exercise. Resistance training, yoga, Pilates—non-cardiovascular exercise—are certainly all great for building muscle, improving your balance and posture, and all-over toning. But to really burn calories (and get all the heart-healthy benefits of exercise), you can’t beat cardio. Something as simple as walking 3 to 5 days a week can make a huge difference both in your weight and in your health. But the harder you work, the more calories you will burn—and the faster you will see results on the scale.

RELATED: 10-week Beginner’s Walking Program 

Before writing off cardio completely, I suggest designating couple of months in which to explore—once and for all—the options available to you. You say you’ve hated everything you’ve tried, but how long has it been since you, say, jumped on a bike in a Spinning class? Or did some laps in a pool? Or even played a game of kickball (adult leagues are hugely popular across the country), or tennis? There’s a whole world of cardio options out there, waiting to be explored—and the fitness folks are always coming up with new and creative ways to get us moving. Yes, it could very well be that you HATE running, and cycling, and swimming (and I won’t get you started on Zumba), but there may be SOMETHING out there you would enjoy. Or even a rotation of different activities, if you get bored quickly. You’ll need to do an activity at least three times to get a real feel for it (unless you find that it hurts, or is aimed at folks much fitter than you are). Don’t base your opinion on your first try—there’s always a learning curve that makes you feel awkward as a newbie.

RELATED: Find a Sport You Love at Any Age 

And try to switch off the “I hate” language and take a more positive—or at least neutral—attitude during your little exploration period. You may discover that you’re setting yourself up to have negative experiences with cardio. For instance, on days when I don’t feel like running (yes, it does happen, even to me!), I repeat over and over as I get my shoes on and begin my run, “Just do what you can do.” That’s my way of trying to free myself of any expectations: how fast I’m going, how fit (or not) I feel, how enjoyable (or not) today’s run is compared to yesterday’s. I have found that just giving myself permission to take my time, to be open to what the day’s workout has in store for me, makes the whole thing more pleasant (or at least not as onerous). So give cardio another chance. If you find you don’t like one thing—that’s ok—try another. Keep trying: You may, in the end, find something you love, or at least can tolerate enough to do a couple of times a week.

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Ask her your question here.