Maximizing Weight Loss with GLP-1 Drugs: The Essential Role of Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

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If you are taking semaglutide for weight loss, then you should also know about the importance of lifestyle modifications in sustaining your results. Although GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Rybelsus can help you lower your weight, they are not a replacement for eating a nutritious diet or exercising regularly. Exercise is especially helpful in helping you reach weight loss goals and enjoy numerous health benefits.

However, fitness can be intimidating, especially if you only see people in shape online, or you’ve tried in the past to workout only to feel completely defeated. Don’t worry; this is a common experience. The good news is that exercise is for everyone. It changes and evolves with you. Embrace exercise as a chance to take care of yourself, connect with your body, reduce stress, and build confidence.

Importance of Physical Activity With GLP-1 Drugs

GLP-1 drugs work by activating GLP-1 receptors in the pancreas, which secrete insulin and delay glucagon. Insulin decreases your blood sugar levels, slowing down your digestion. This means food leaves your stomach at a reduced pace, leaving you fuller for longer. Glucagon elevates blood sugar levels, so delaying its production helps improve fullness levels.

While eating less is a goal for many people who struggle with their weight, food intake is only one small piece of a healthy, sustainable weight loss plan. Yes, you need a caloric deficit to ultimately burn more and lose weight. However, just restricting your diet by reducing your appetite can’t give you the foundation you need to have truly sustainable results.

Instead, you need an exercise plan built-into your semaglutide treatment that will help you burn more than you eat, thus triggering weight loss, and keep up your results once you reach your target weight.

GLP-1 drugs are not a full-time solution for weight loss. Think of them as a stepping stone in your journey, allowing you to reduce cravings and food intake while you lay a healthy foundation of nutritional education and regular exercise.

Weight loss is never a one-time ordeal. It’s an invitation to make lifelong changes that help you feel more energized, more self-confident, and both mentally and physically healthier.

Recommended Exercise Guidelines

Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend muscle-strength training two times per week.

Ideally, you should work out at least three to four times per week. Some people prefer to workout everyday while others choose different days that work for them. It’s up to you. Generally speaking, it is better for your body to move more throughout the week than a lot at once. Hitting the gym for two hours one day then not exercising for the other six days of the week isn’t a practical workout plan.

Instead, consider exercise another part of your routine. When you fit it into your schedule at times that work for you, it’s much easier to stick with it.

Benefits of Exercising With GLP-1 Drugs

A recent peer-reviewed article by The Obesity Society confirms that physical activity is an important element of physical health, noting that it supports muscle strength, cardiorespiratory health, and physical function.

Weight loss drugs are helpful, but they are only a tool to help you reach your fitness goals. Living an active life, meal prepping, and being mindful of your activity levels contribute to your greatest possible well-being.

Exercising with GLP-1 drugs promotes total-body fitness, including:

●     Improved heart health

●     Better cardiorespiratory function

●     Increased energy levels

●     Stress reduction and mood stabilization

●     Muscle strength and mass maintenance

●     Enhanced physical function

Exercise helps you become stronger, more agile, and more physically adaptable to challenges. The difference exercise makes can become particularly noticeable as you lose weight and become more mobile. Patients who are in their 40s and 50s often notice signs of physical age that affect them more when they do not exercise.

Exercise is an investment in your present and future, and it lays the foundation for a more active, rewarding life.

Detailed Exercise Recommendations

Physical activity is divided into two main categories: aerobic and resistance (strength) training. Aerobic exercise is often referred to as simply “cardio,” and it involves activities that get your heart rate up. Examples include walking, riding a bike, or using the elliptical machine.

Resistance training helps strengthen your muscles by making them work against force. Examples include weight-lifting, squats, pushups, lunges, and planks.
Even if you have a low fitness level, you can start an aerobic and resistance program. You should receive your doctor’s approval first if you struggle with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or POCD, or any type of heart condition.

The secret to good exercise is consistency. Even if you need to work at a lower intensity, movement of any kind is better than none. As you gain more ability to exert yourself, you can start to increase the intensity of your workouts.

How much is too much? There are a few ways to tell. Aerobic exercise uses your body’s large muscle groups and increases your heart rate. A moderately intense workout will have your heart accelerate 3.0-5.9 times more than it does when you’re not moving. This type of exercise makes you breathe faster and harder, but you can still carry on a conversation.

Perceived Exertion

In exercise, perceived exertion is a 1-10 scale that helps a person measure how hard exercise feels on their body. This is a subjective scale, so there is no wrong answer. This scale is designed to help you gauge your bodily sensations during exercise, so you can make the most fulfilling and safest choices when you workout.

A moderate exertion level would be a 3 or 4. If you feel like you’re using your muscles, breathing harder, and sweating, that can be a good thing. But if you feel like you’re struggling to catch your breath, pushing through pain, and weak from exertion, you need to stop exercising immediately, then return later with a less challenging workout.

You can test your perceived exertion by considering factors like your heart rate, breathing, perspiration, and muscle fatigue. It’s not a bad thing to feel like your body is working harder than usual; but you should still feel well and like you’re able to perform the activity with relative ease. Any physical activity that’s challenging for you shouldn’t feel impossible or painful.

Pulse Monitoring

Monitoring your pulse can be helpful during exercise, especially if you are still learning what moderate intensity looks like for you. The average resting heart rate in a healthy adult is 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). During exercise, a good heart rate zone is between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, multiply your age times 7, then subtract the total from 208.

Once you have this figure, you can easily monitor your pulse during a workout to make sure you’re reaching your target heart rate zone. If it feels difficult at first, be patient with yourself. It’s okay to take things slow and even keep exercise low intensity until you can do more physically demanding workouts.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise helps improve your cardiovascular and respiratory function. It elevates your heart rate to help strengthen your heart, and it improves circulation throughout the body to deliver more oxygen to your muscles and organs.

Aerobic exercise also helps strengthen your lungs, neck, diaphragm, chest, and ribs. This can improve respiration and make it easier for your lungs to intake and expel air when you breathe.

In addition to strengthening the body’s cardiorespiratory function, aerobic exercise can also help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more.

Benefits of Resistance Training

Resistance training helps strengthen your muscles, maintain muscle mass, and reduce your risk of injury. Training twice a week can also help reduce instances of lower back pain, alleviate joint pain, and increase bone density and strength.

Strengthening your muscles can reduce physical pain by improving your posture and muscle utilization. Many people who suffer from chronic lower back pain do so because their pelvis and spine overcompensate for weak gluteal and abdominal muscles.

While aerobic exercise is great for weight loss and overall health, resistance or strength training is what helps you tone and target specific muscle groups.

Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Routine

It’s best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine, especially if you are currently obese. Individuals who have not exercised for an extended period, or those who have any underlying health conditions, can benefit from a medical expert’s advice.

Your doctor can also provide personalized plans to help you reach your goals. If you receive medical clearance, you could also work with a personal trainer who can help customize your exercise routine.

It’s important to start small and gradually progress as you build stamina. This helps raise your confidence and self-esteem while preventing burnout. Many people make the mistake of diving headfirst into physical activity, forcing themselves to do workouts for 30 minutes to an hour when they’ve been sedentary for years.

It may be more helpful to start with small exercises broken up throughout the day. Three 10-minute workout sessions is still 30 minutes a day. It is important to be kind, patient, and compassionate as you build stamina. Every effort put toward being active is worth a pat on the back!

Rest and Recovery Strategies

Your body needs time to recover after a workout, which is why many trainers and doctors advise people to wait 24 hours between exercises. You should also avoid exercising the same muscle groups two days in a row. When you give them time to recover, they grow stronger. Overworking muscles only increases the risk of injury.

Consider breaking up physical activity throughout the week, and try different forms of cardio so you don’t get bored. You may go for a walk, use a stationary bike, and the elliptical in one week, spacing your exercise apart by 24 hours.

However, even on days you don’t do a full-blown aerobic workout, you should still be aiming for at least 30 minutes of movement each day. Just walking can work wonders on your mental and physical health.

Remember to Set Realistic Goals

Weight loss and fitness are challenges for many people. Remember to be gentle on yourself. This isn’t a race; it’s a journey and commitment you’re making toward being a healthier version of you. With the right mental attitude, you can reach your goals, but they should be set based on your current abilities, not the ones you want to have in the future.

A simple goal like “walk for at least 15 minutes five days this week” can be a great starting point for someone who is new to exercising. You can increase the duration and frequency of exercise as you gain more stamina.

Sample Exercise Routines

Everyone’s body is unique, and it’s important to choose exercises that are right for you. These examples are designed to illustrate potential exercises you can try, but you should still consult with a doctor and/or personal trainer before following any program.

Aerobic Routine

●     Go for a 30-minute walk (optional wrist and ankle weights)

●     Do a beginner cardio workout video on YouTube

●     Use the treadmill

●     Ride a stationary bike

●     Use an elliptical machine

●     Swim laps for 20-30 minutes at a gentle pace

Every aerobic exercise should have a warm-up period that uses dynamic moves to activate your major muscle groups. After the main activity, you can move into a cool down with slower exercises that get your heart rate back into its normal range. Finish your aerobic workout off with stretches that target the muscles you used to help them recover.

Resistance Training Routine

There are many resistance training exercises available, but a good beginner-friendly workout could look like this:

●     10-15 squats

●     10-15 lunges on each side

●     10-15 bicep curls with 3-pound weights on each side

●     5-10 glute bridges

●     10-15 calf raises

Just like an aerobic workout, you should warm-up your muscles, then train them. The amount of reps you do will depend on your personal abilities, and it’s okay to do less. Form is important — you’re always better off doing five great reps than 10 poorly executed ones.

Do what you can, and you’ll grow stronger with time. Give your muscles time to adapt, and be patient with yourself. It takes approximately 8 weeks to notice changes from any resistance training program, so go at your own pace.

Remember to Modify Exercise Plans for Different Fitness Levels

The easiest way to change any exercise is to alter the frequency and duration. If an exercise is too challenging, shorten the time you do it, lower the weight, or reduce the amount of reps you perform. Likewise, you can make an exercise more challenging by increasing the time you do it, performing more reps, or increasing weight within a reasonable amount (no more than 10% at a time).


Learning how to exercise in a way that’s rewarding to you is the key to reaching your fitness goals. Along with other sustainable lifestyle changes, exercise helps you live a more active, healthier life with fewer risks of illness and injury.

Weight loss drugs are helping many people who have struggled for years finally see results. But it’s important to remember that you hold all the power when it comes to making lasting change in your life.

With a balanced approach, it’s easier to sustain your weight loss and not rely too heavily on one solution over another. Instead, you can remind yourself that as your body changes, so will your needs, and the best thing to do is adapt to them.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/heart-rate/faq-20057979
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/oby.23930
  4. https://www.johnsonfitness.com/blog/lift-heavier-weight/#:~:text=increase%20in%20most%20dumbbell%20sets,than%2010%25%20at%20a%20time.

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This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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