How Often You Should Exercise When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

Lauren Bedosky
by Lauren Bedosky
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How Often You Should Exercise When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

There are many great reasons to follow a regular fitness routine. After all, cardio and resistance training offer a host of health-related benefits, from lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol, to boosting mood and reducing anxiety.

Then, there’s the role exercise can play in helping you shed — and maintain — weight. See, the number of calories you burn via physical activity, also known as the thermic effect of activity (TEA), is an important component of your total daily caloric burn. In fact, according to a review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, physical activity accounts for 15–30% of your total daily caloric expenditure.

So, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, you may benefit from adding some good, old-fashioned exercise to your daily routine.

If you’re wondering just how much exercise you need to do in order to lose weight, we asked two experts to offer guidance:

HOW TO EXERCISE FOR WEIGHT LOSS

It may sound simplistic, but a good place to start off your weight-loss journey is with the Physical Activity Guidelines, published by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in 2008 (new guidelines are scheduled to be released before the end of 2018). “With the amount of clients I see, it’s amazing how many people aren’t even doing these fundamental recommendations,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, ACE-certified personal trainer, owner of Genki Nutrition and a media representative for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Adults should be getting roughly 150 minutes (that’s 2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking or 75 minutes (that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity exercise like jogging or an equivalent combination of the two every week, according to the official Physical Activity Guidelines. Add at least two days of resistance exercise per week, making sure to work all the major muscle groups.

The key to staying consistent, however, is to choose activities you like. “Do what you enjoy so you don’t start to associate exercise with dread or misery,” says Alix Turoff, RDN, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Alix Turoff Nutrition in New York City.

If you’re a numbers person, you can take a more measurable approach. For example, if you’re trying to cut the oft-recommended 500 calories per day, you may choose to slash 250 calories via diet and burn 250 via exercise. From there, you have to decide to how and when to burn those 250 calories. Turoff recommends wearing a heart rate monitor to get an idea of how many calories you burn during different forms of exercise.

You can also check out this resource from Harvard Medical School. According to the resource, a 155-pound person can expect to burn 149 calories after 30 minutes of walking at a pace of 17 minutes per mile (3.5 miles per hour), 223 calories after 30 minutes of swimming and 298 calories after running at a pace of 12 minutes per mile (5 mph).

DON’T FORGET ABOUT FOOD

It’s incredibly difficult — though not impossible — to lose weight through exercise alone. You can manage it if you burn more calories than you consume. “You’d really have to be over-exercising, probably to a point where it becomes unhealthy,” Turoff says. For most people, the best approach to weight loss will be a combination of exercise and modest calorie restriction.

Track your daily food intake to get a sense of how many calories you’re eating and how many you should be eating for weight loss (try the MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter). Just remember that as you lose weight, your daily calorie needs change. Turoff recommends adjusting your daily calorie estimate every time you lose 10–15 pounds.

It’s worth noting exercise can affect hunger and appetite. For example, intense workouts like high-intensity interval training or long cardio sessions may cause levels of ghrelin (aka the “hunger hormone”) to dip for about an 1 1/2 hours after you’ve finished, according to a small pilot study published in the Journal of Endocrinology. Meanwhile, some people report that exercise increases their appetite, making them more likely to overeat later, “and then it might defeat the purpose of burning calories,” Turoff says. So pay attention to how your activities of choice affect your appetite. You might find it helpful to eat a small carb- and protein-rich snack (i.e., a banana and a serving of yogurt) immediately after your workout to replenish muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates), kickstart muscle repair and prevent binge-eating later.

Also, it’s important to ensure that you’re fueling with quality foods. “Exercise is the car that’s running, and nutrition is the gas that can make it run. Any type of gas can make it run, but taking the time to use the best gas will keep your car running the longest,” Valdez explains.

After all, macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) play a vital role in fueling your workouts. For example, if you skimp on protein, you may have trouble repairing and building the muscles that were broken down during a workout, Valdez says. Or, if you cut carbs too low, your energy levels dip, leading you to fatigue early in your workout.

To keep your nutrition on-point, Valdez recommends following the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And if you’re stumped, follow-up with a registered dietitian.

About the Author

Lauren Bedosky
Lauren Bedosky

Lauren is a freelance fitness writer who specializes in covering running and strength training topics. She writes for a variety of national publications, including Men’s HealthRunner’s WorldSHAPE and Women’s Running. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with her husband and their three dogs.

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25 responses to “How Often You Should Exercise When You’re Trying to Lose Weight”

  1. Juliana says:

    According to one Weight Loss expert (Susan Thompson of Bright Line Eating)… Exercise can also be a detriment. Especially when you are First learning HOW TO Eat for weight loss.

    Once you become automatic in your Good Eating habits – the less likely your Willpower will falter. Because Exercise can lower your Will Power when you are first starting out. It’s stressful for beginners. There is a thing called AUTOMATICITY – which is when you are doing something so automatic, it is second nature.

    IF you are eating in a way, that nothing will deter you from good habits…then Exercise would be highly beneficial, and helpful in weight loss. But learn HOW to eat better…then exercise. This has been PROVEN to work better.

    Weight loss has more to do with WHAT you put in your MOUTH…then how much you Exercise
    Peace
    & Love

    • StartedExerciseAfterAge40 says:

      Our bodies were designed to work and move! Don’t think of “exercise” as an intimidating chore. We sit WAY too much all day long. Get up and walk for 30 minutes a day when your first starting out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther out instead of driving around for 10 minutes looking for the closest spot. All of these are easy ways to “exercise” while you’re learning to eat better. You need to do BOTH if your serious about IMPROVING your health, changing your body and living a longer life…not just losing weight.

      Exercise doesn’t lower your willpower. Instead, it increases your energy levels, promotes a better mood, improves your sleep, most importantly–it is what your body is intended to do!! Tiny changes at first will lead to you naturally feeling better, looking better, and wanting to do more. Don’t overthink it! Clean up your diet, get up and get moving!!

      • Juliana says:

        Susan Thompson of Bright Line Eating…is known for having the top rated weight loss system, and has studied weight loss, how food affects the brain, food addictions and the process behind Will Power. She also brings out many other studies, that prove a lot of what I am trying to share.

        The notion behind Will Power, is how it is related to what we eat, and how we justify our actions. When people focus on exercising – they will (proven) justify this work & many times figure they can ‘cheat’. Meaning…Oh, I worked out today, so I can eat a little more.

        Also… If a person has not gotten to a point of Automaticity – learning how to eat so that it becomes 2nd nature… any other stimulus, stresses (exercise)…will make it even harder to focus. She actually encourages NO EXERCISE the first two weeks or more….UNTIL you get automatic in your eating habits. Learn how to eat well, automatically… You will know then that you have not crossed a line in cheating on your foods.

        Exercise is a Known Stressor- and using THAT as a means to lose weight – does not make a person lose any faster. In fact, studies have shown that those that Did Not Exercise in the beginning… lost weight FASTER, than those who did.

        Exercise is good…I’m not saying it isn’t. But Don’t make that the first thing you do – Work on Eating the right things first.

        Thanks, Juliana

        Read her Book – or watch her videos on YouTube. She is known to have the most successful weight loss program in the world. She knows her stuff (smile)

        • Mark Holland says:

          thats one persons opinion lol I 100% agree with MFP we are designed to move not sit on our asses.

        • Dan Mobey says:

          I actually agree with Juliana, and I workout twice a day, 6 days / week.

          If you’re already reasonably fit and are trying to take it to the next step, exercise – and specifically HIIT and resistance training – is essential.

          However, if you’ve never exercised OR dieted before, it can be too much at once to think you’ll start both and succeed.

          Diet is 70% of the battle. Conquer it first and you’ll be on your way.

          Maybe a reasonable walk can be thrown it at first but possibly nothing more until you’re comfortable with eating healthy and you’ve cleared the cupboards and fridge of the bad stuff.

    • Stelios S says:

      Juliana is right, though very few people know this. You must experience it over and over or make your research about it. Our bodies are designed for hard work yes, but… Tell that to a body who’s life is “unnatural” for years and years doing an office work and eating empty carbs all day. Do you think your body can instantly change and adopt by eating healthy for a week making you able to work and keep your will up? Do you even know what happens to your hormones and brain?

      I’m glad that you know about these things Juliana, I don’t see this kind of knowledge often. Keep working smart.

  2. 94 Magna says:

    I could use exercise recommendations for octogenarians. I am really not capable of many vigorous exercises without shaking something loose or tearing something. I used to have a trainer who ran our group through an 8-step program on balance, stretching, core strength, etc. but he is gone and I forget the precise exercise regime. Silver Sneakers program is too light and ‘normal’ routines are too intense. The Baby Boom is coming and we need this sort of information from you.

    • deimos19 says:

      Walk. If you are a senior, you probably have a little bit of spare time so if possible, get outside, measure 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles from your home and walk it. Start slow and easy but build it up. It’s cheap, easy, and you can do it anywhere. You may meet some nice people out there also. Remember, use it or lose it.

    • Suzanne Hartgrove says:

      Hi 94Magna. I am 64 and use Grow Young Fitness for seniors. It is mostly chair exercises. They are pretty easy starting off but your muscles do feel it and you do work up a sweat. I love it because I have had a total knee replacement and need the other one done. It is really easy on your joints. I have lost 13 pounds since I started a month and 1/2 ago. I hope this helps you. Have a blessed day. 🙂

    • Dan Mobey says:

      I’m almost 60 and still do HIIT in the morning and lift at night after work.

      My recommendation is resistance training. The HIIT can be too much, especially at first.

      Resistance training has benefits far beyond just muscle tone.

      And it can be very safe if done right.

  3. deimos19 says:

    You cannot outrun a bad diet. In order to lose weight, adjust your diet. You don’t have to starve yourself, just eliminate sugar (all types including honey), grains, and potatoes from your diet. I did it and lost the 25 lbs I have been carrying around for the past 35 years.

  4. NoonaS2 says:

    So, is it 2 1/2 hours a day an adults should exercise? Is riding a stationary bike considered moderate exercise?

  5. Gina says:

    I’m into weight maintenance now, and I know that if I don’t exercise, I can’t eat as much – period! I have several routines that I alternate — weight training and cardio walking — 40 minutes each session, at least four times a week. Works for me!

  6. Gumnuts says:

    Diet is probably the key. I used to do fairly high impact cardio exercises for ages. I would only lose a kilo or two. I hated the exercises. By making small changes to my diet, and walking a few kilometers 4 or 5 times a week after dinner, which I enjoy, I lost a lot of weight. I still stuff my face on occasion but I don’t gain weight as I keep with the light exercise.

  7. Michele Olson says:

    The American College of Sports Medicine recommends accumulating 500 calories worth of exercise per day. Moderate intensity exercise activities are also recommended such as “fitness walking.” Often the recommendations to promote general good health such as 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activities are superimposed on what research shows to be much more effective for weight loss. The ACSM also recommends cutting caloric intake by about 500 calories a day along with exercise activities that burn off 500 calories. The two go together and the research-based recommendations, as noted above, correspond to documented practices of individuals who have taken off significant amounts of weight AND have kept it off.

  8. Denise Lindley says:

    I am a woman aged 58 called Denise. I think that I have got my eating right, but now the exercise. I have MS and permanently in a Wheelchair, with limited movement. Any feed back would be greatly received

    • Krystina says:

      Denise, my mom is in her 80s. She does exercises in a pool. Do you have access to a pool or therapy pool? They usually have a lift to help you in and out. There are yoga programs for people in wheelchairs, and any “sitting fitness” or “upper body fitness” program would be helpful, for sure. There are handcycles also, such as at a therapist or gym, which is great. Suzanne below recommended “Grow Young Fitness for Seniors.” Youtube and the library may have good videos, too. I hope you feel great and improve your physical health soon!

  9. nitemare2 says:

    For a diet my one point to any nutritionist is always if I am hungry all the time they won’t work. The only one that ever worked was the Atkins diet and my Doctor won’t let me use that because of my heart conditions. Even though my cholesterol, and triglycerides were great. It’s hard working 12-14 hours a day and finding time to spend another hour away from family everyday to go to some gym where the gym rats and cheerleaders with the perfect bodies and seemingly perfect jobs that allow them to ignore reality. I take meds that all say may make you tired or sleepy and holds my heart rate low. So if I could find some expert who really understands the problems of those with heath factors it would be great. Whole30 diet creates havoc with those with diabetes. Even getting a steroids shot for pain pushes a diabetics numbers to the dangerous levels. But really love these articles that say it’s only 3 or 4 hours a week to exercise or just cut out sugar etc.

  10. Beth George says:

    Stress and age – two big impacts on weight loss. Drivers for stress for me is work and not loosing weight (or should I say gaining weight). I drink lots of water (atleast 80 fl.oz). I try to work out at least 3 times per week. Eating is sort of good (need to improve). Big issues – like my wine and line to snack. Need to work on this.

  11. VirginiaJim says:

    I’m already doing all the stuff in this article. My exercise routine is running up 50 flights of stairs and walking 30,000 steps a day. I also eat lotsa fruit and veg, and don’t eat junk food. Breakfast is low-fat cereral with skim milk, fruit, and grain. Dinner is meat and carbs. Supper is vegetables. I went from 330LBS to 280LBS in just one month.

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