When Keeping Weight Off Is Hard, Here Are 3 Exercises to Help


The basic formula for weight loss — exercising to burn calories and reducing caloric intake — is simple, but for many the key to keeping weight off seems to be more elusive.

As it turns out, there’s a science behind why that is. When we lose weight, it creates a decline in our metabolic rate, which is how many calories burned while at rest — and this makes it harder to keep the weight off.

Credit: Håkan Dahlström/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Eating a balanced diet and participating in a regular exercise regimen are crucial to losing weight, but experts agree that increasing your metabolic rate is the foundation for keeping that weight off. To do that, successfully understanding the weight loss process from both inside and outside of the body is essential.

This includes understanding the support your body needs internally to keep the weight off during a weight loss journey, plus what role your heart and your secondary heart, also called your soleus muscles (found in your calves) play in helping your body maintain its new weight after weight loss.

Understand Your Resting Metabolism

Your resting metabolism rate or (RMR) describes the biochemical activity that goes on in your body when you are not physically active. This metabolic activity keeps you alive, breathing and warm. When you sit quietly at room temperature, that is the standard RMR reference point. It’s also called one metabolic equivalent, or MET. A slow walk averages two MET, bicycling is four MET, and jogging is seven MET. Most people can expect to expend 80 calories a day due to RMR.

Those who lose weight can expect a slight drop in their RMR, because it’s fat that is not metabolically active. But, unfortunately, individuals who lose fat through diet and exercise also experience large drops in their RMR as well.

Related: Why Your Workout Routine May Not Be Working for You

Cardiac output is the primary source of metabolic activity, which happens when oxygen is delivered to the tissues of the body. All of this happens through blood flow. The blood in an adult’s body, nearly four to five liters, should circulate throughout the body every minute or so. But the amount of blood the heart can pump out with each beat depends on how much blood is returned to the heart between beats.

Arrow points to soleus muscle. Credit: Rob Swatski/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

When we sit quietly, blood and interstitial fluid pools to our body’s lower half, and this pooling reduces how much fluid the heart pumps out during each contraction. This reduces cardiac output, which also leads to a reduced RMR. Excessive pooling also contributes to less heat being generated in the body and a drop in body temperature. And because metabolic activity depends on tissue temperature, your RMR can fall lower. Just having a 1 degree Fahrenheit drop in body temperature can cause a 7 percent plunge in your RMR. And research has shown that middle-aged women typically experience a 20 percent cardiac output drop when they sit quietly.

Physicians believe the best way to maintain a normal resting metabolic rate after weight loss is to activate muscles deep within the leg to help keep blood and fluid moving through the body. It’s necessary to do this even when you are sitting or standing quietly. These muscles, called soleus muscles, are also referred to as our “secondary hearts” because they pump blood directly to our hearts and help us to maintain our normal rate of metabolic activity.

3 Ways to Train and Work Out Your Soleus Muscles

1. Get to Squatting

Squatting is an ideal exercise to train your soleus muscles. Soleus muscles are deep postural muscles that only require low-intensity, but long-duration training. Any type of squatting triggers a significant increase in soleus muscle activity, but full squats that can be maintained for extended periods of time can give you the best, well-trained soleus muscles.

2. Participate in Yoga & Tai Chi

Weight-loss yoga. Credit: Jasmine Kaloudis/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

For those that cannot engage in squatting or don’t find it exciting enough, Eastern disciplines like yoga and tai chi are a great alternative. Both infuse long-duration balance exercises that can create stronger soleus muscles through their specific postures and movements.

3. Do Heel Raises

Heel raises, the kind airlines recommend to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long-distance flights, are also great soleus muscle exercises. Doing them seated or standing provide a great workout as long as you lift your heels up or stand on the balls of your feet.

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