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How Much Exercise do You Need to Lose Weight?

Exercise can help in so many ways.
Exercise can help in so many ways.

Exercise is a critical component of weight loss. But just telling people to move more doesn't give you enough information. The two questions most people have are:

  1. Exactly how long will I have to exercise to make a difference?

  2. What types of workouts are best?

The best way to answer the first question is to break it down by results. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are four basic levels.

Level 1 - 60 Minutes Weekly. “Some physical activity is better than none. The greatest health risk comes from being totally sedentary. Getting up and moving is important to start reducing disease risk and claiming benefits. Some health benefits have been identified with as little as 60 minutes of activity a week. (ACSM)”

So 60 minutes a week will give you some health benefits. But it's not really enough for weight loss. If you're only exercising about 60 minutes a week, you'll probably gain weight over time.

Level 2 - 150 Minutes Weekly: “A target of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity provides significant health benefits (additional benefits accrue to those who do more). (ACSM)”

150 minutes is better. You'll live longer and have fewer health concerns as you age. But that amount of exercise still isn't enough to help most people lose weight. It's likely you'll still gain weight over time with this level of activity.

Level 3 - 150 to 250 Minutes Weekly: If you engage in a combination of moderate-intensity physical activities, this is a level where you can probably maintain a healthy weight over time. It's unlikely you'll lose weight, but at least you won't put any more on.

Level 4 - 250 Minutes Weekly or More: Moderate-intensity exercise for this long every week is the key to “clinically significant weight loss.” It's also the level many people will need to stay at if they want to maintain their weight (after weight loss).

That might sound like a lot, but break it down. If you exercise five days a week, that's only 50 minutes a workout. Take nine minutes off that time, and you're down to just 41 minutes a day if you go six days a week.

Some research suggests a shorter workout might give better results. You should exercise hard enough to sweat. But if you keep the workouts a little shorter, scientists found it left you with enough energy to do additional activities throughout the day.

There's also the “afterburn” effect. You continue burning calories when a workout is over. Doing more workouts over time gives you additional opportunities for that afterburn when you finish.

Most people I know spend at least two hours a day on social media and another couple of hours watching television. Carve out 30 minutes from each, and you've got all the time you need.

Click Here to learn how many calories different exercises burn.

How much exercise do you need?
How much exercise do you need?

Now that you know how long you need to exercise, what workouts are best?

The simple answer is, any exercise that you'll do regularly is the best one for you. Jumping rope, lifting weights, cardio classes, and circuit training can all help improve your health and burn calories. It makes no sense to plan a program you have no intention of doing. However, some things give quicker and more reliable results than others.

First, whatever workout program you attempt should make you sweat. If you're not breaking a sweat, you're probably not pushing yourself hard enough.

Second, do at least two cardio workouts a week, three if you can spare the time. The most effective are interval workouts. Intervals allow you to get more exercise done in less time.

Third, challenge yourself with some kind of resistance or strength training two to three times a week. You can lift weights, use machines or work with your body weight. Just make sure to work all your muscle groups. That means give your back just as much attention as your chest, your legs just as much attention as your arms.

One final thought. A common rule of thumb is that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. That means you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet. If your eating habits have you putting away 3,000 calories a day, but you only burn 2,900, then you're going to gain weight.

Whatever your plan is, increase the time and intensity gradually. Start slow and grow.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

Updated 12/9/2020