Better understanding is needed regarding the effects of exercise alone, without any imposed dietary regimens, as a single tool for body-weight regulation. Thus, we evaluated the effects of an 8-week increase in activity energy expenditure (AEE) on ad libitum energy intake (EI), body mass and composition in healthy participants with baseline physical activity levels (PAL) in line with international recommendations. Forty-six male adults (BMI = 19·7–29·3 kg/m2) participated in an intervention group, and ten (BMI = 21·0–28·4 kg/m2) in a control group. Anthropometric measures, cardiorespiratory fitness, EI, AEE and exercise intensity were recorded at baseline and during the 1st, 5th and 8th intervention weeks, and movement was recorded throughout. Body composition was measured at the beginning and at the end of the study, and resting energy expenditure was measured after the study. The intervention group increased PAL from 1·74 (se 0·03) to 1·93 (se 0·03) (P < 0·0001) and cardiorespiratory fitness from 41·4 (se 0·9) to 45·7 (se 1·1) ml O2/kg per min (P = 0·001) while decreasing body mass (−1·36 (se 0·2) kg; P = 0·001) through adipose tissue mass loss (ATM) (−1·61 (se 0·2) kg; P = 0·0001) compared with baseline. The control group did not show any significant changes in activity, body mass or ATM. EI was unchanged in both groups. The results indicate that in normal-weight and overweight men, increasing PAL from 1·7 to 1·9 while keeping EI ad libitum over an 8-week period produces a prolonged negative energy balance. Replication using a longer period (and/or more intense increase in PAL) is needed to investigate if and at what body composition the increase in AEE is met by an equivalent increase in EI.