Is Yoga or a Gym the Best Way to Lose Weight?

Women stretching on the floor
women doing yoga (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Burning more calories than you take in results in weight loss. Physical activity is key to burning calories. However, the best plan for consistent participation in calorie-burning activities is only as good as your willingness to follow through. Identify the pros and cons of yoga and gym-based activity programs. Then match your readiness to commit to a regular yoga or gym routine with the results each delivers -- and make your first move.

Calories Per Pound

In order to lose a pound, you must create a deficit of 3,500 calories. Burn more calories than you take in and you'll lose weight. You'll lose weight faster by exercising in ways that burn the most calories in your available workout time. Aerobic activities will have the greatest impact on calorie burning. Resistance training and stretching exercise doesn't burn as many calories. However, increasing lean muscle does boost metabolism and speed weight loss. Consider your choices based on your fitness level, enthusiasm for different types of exercise, special medical or physical conditions, to determine which exercise program has the best chance of long term success.

By the Numbers

It's easy to compare the caloric cost of yoga and various gym activities. For a 150-lb. person, 30 minutes of hatha yoga burns about 85 calories. The same person performing moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer, running, or bicycling burns 126, 340 and 340 calories, respectively. The energy demands to restore the body to resting levels after exercise also impact total calorie cost of exercise. Aerobic exercise and strength training exercises have the largest post-exercise energy demands, known as afterburn -- you keep burning calories at a higher rate for some time after your workout is over.

Mind Over Waistline

While yoga is not the exercise that will burn the most calories, it can help you make a better connection with your body. Increased self-awareness may just improve your connection with not only your activity but your energy intake and stress levels. Favorable conditions for weight loss occur when you make better choices about balancing nutrition and activity. Yoga could be a positive step toward more activity than you're currently doing and help you transition to an active lifestyle. You don't have to consider it an either or choice. Yoga and gym-based activities complement each other well. While yoga promotes high levels of flexibility and muscle endurance, gym-based aerobic activity and resistance training provide improved cardiovascular health, strength and stamina.

Slow Start or High-Impact?

If you are currently not exercising at all, yoga could be a safe place to start. Other high-impact or high- intensity forms of exercise might not be appropriate -- or appealing enough to stick with. Don't assume, however, that all forms of yoga will be easy simply because they are lower intensity than resistance training or aerobic exercise. Many forms of yoga can be challenging and also come with some risk. Power yoga is nonstop and aerobic. Hot yoga conditions are physically challenging and require a period of adjustment. Experiment with different styles of yoga to determine which one will move you closer to your ideal weight.

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