To examine the effects of exercise on plasma lipids and metabolism during lactation, sedentary, exclusively breast-feeding women were randomly assigned to an exercise (E) or control (C) group at 6-8 wk postpartum. E subjects performed aerobic exercise 45 min.d-1, 5 d.wk-1, for 12 wk. Resting metabolic rate (RMR), energy expenditure, body composition, and dietary intake were measured at 6-8, 12-14, and 18-20 wk postpartum. Maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), postprandial insulin, glucose, and thermic response, and plasma lipid levels were measured at 6-8 and 18-20 wk. VO2max increased by 25% vs 5% in the E vs the C group, respectively (P < 0.0001). RMR was similar between groups and did not change over time. Weight and percent body fat declined (P < 0.01) during the study, but there was no difference between E and C groups. Exercise marginally increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (P < 0.08), but did not affect other lipid concentrations. Insulin response decreased as VO2max increased (P = 0.05). There was no effect of time or group on glucose or thermic response. Exercise improves cardiovascular fitness during lactation, but does not increase the rate of postpartum weight loss.