How Much Exercise Do You Really Need (to lose weight)

You know you need to exercise. But how much exercise do you really need to lose weight? A sedentary lifestyle can be a recipe for weight gain, lack of energy, and disease. Studies show that moderate amounts of exercise are not only healthy, they’re necessary to maintain optimal health.

Let’s dig into how to lose weight with exercise and an easy program to help you get started.

The Basics of Dieting with Your Weight Goals

To lose weight, you need to take in (eat) less calories than what your body needs to survive (calories you burn).

When you exercise, you move your body, typically increase the rate of your breathing (meaning you require more oxygen than normal), and begin to sweat. These are signs you are burning additional calories and raising your metabolism (which dictates how many calories you need on a daily basis).

To maintain your normal body weight, you need to take in a “maintenance” level of calories. This, of course, varies from person to person and is based on your gender, age, weight, height, level of activity, genetics, gut health, and more.

If you want to gain weight, you typically need to take in more calories than your maintenance number of calories so your body can continue its baseline functions and, at the same time, build additional tissue.

How Does Exercise Help You Lose Weight?

But, if you’re seeking to lose weight, you must somehow create a deficit between the number of calories your body needs to function on a daily basis and the number of calories you’re giving it (taking in through eating). There are numerous apps and websites that can help you determine your caloric needs.

That said, you don’t have to only cut caloric intake if you want to lose weight. There’s another way you can and should employ… and that is exercise.

Exercise helps you lose weight by burning off additional calories while you’re exercising (versus being sedentary) and by burning off additional calories for several hours after your workout (what is known as “EPOC”: excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

Yet it’s not only “how much” exercise you do. To get the most out of the time you spend exercising, you need to work. Yep, that means you need to increase intensity levels and push your body.

But, Exercise Alone Isn’t Enough

Exercising on a regular basis is not enough to sustain and maintain weight loss. You also need to watch your diet.

What should you do? Follow these few simple tips to help you clean up your diet and eat more strategically when it comes to your weight-loss goals.

  • Cut out the junk and processed foods—sticking with whole foods will help your body reduce inflammation and give it the ability to let go of excess body fat while building important muscle mass, which is needed for a strong metabolism. As long as you aren’t overeating, you can naturally lose weight as you eliminate foods that don’t provide the nutrients you need to promote your health and can cause you to feel sluggish and slow your metabolism. (Think refined and overly processed convenience foods.)
  • Include plenty of protein in your dietnot only will protein help you burn fat, but it will help you feel full while giving your body the building blocks and raw materials it needs to build metabolically-active muscle tissue. Include protein with every meal.
  • Use intermittent fasting to your advantage—this easy-to-follow type of diet plan can work wonders when it comes to peeling off those layers of unwanted body fat. Just adjusting your feeding window down to 6 – 8 hours can help you easily and quickly burn off body fat. Try skipping the traditional breakfast meal, and instead, push your first meal back to noon or later. Try to eat something small every 3 – 4 hours and keep those meals within a 6- to 8-hour window for optimal fat burning.

What Kinds of Exercise Should You Do?

Since losing weight and keeping it off require some lifestyle changes, it makes sense that you’ll also need a well-rounded approach to exercise if you want to lose weight and keep it off. First, it’s important to use resistance training to maintain and build muscle mass which will help you burn more calories on a daily basis and will also aid in burning calories as you perform the exercises.

Next, add both forms of cardiovascular training (steady state and HIIT) to your routine for best results. The steady-state cardio will be your workhorse when it comes to burning off calories, and your HIIT training will help you continue burning calories long after your workout session is completed.

Why You Need Cardio for Weight Loss

Cardiovascular training is important for many reasons, but in terms of weight loss, burning off excess calories can help you meet your weight-loss goals. How can you accomplish this through the use of cardiovascular exercise? Try to mix up your use of steady-state and high intensity interval training (HIIT) to keep your body guessing until you meet your goals.

Why You Need Resistance Training for Weight Loss

So, you’ve got the cardio down—check. Now it’s time to kick up your weight training. Why? Because your muscle tissue requires calories to sustain itself. In other words, it is metabolically active.

That means, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns—even when you’re sitting down to read your favorite blog. If your body is burning more calories, that means you can either a) eat more food to support your new caloric needs or b) eat fewer calories than you need and thereby shed excess body fat.

Try this Program to Help You Lose Weight with Exercise

Now just put it all together to start losing weight. You know you need to cut out the junk in your diet, up the protein, and if it works for you, include some intermittent fasting. Lastly, add your exercise (cardio and resistance training) to your routine to speed up your fat burning.

Weight training— do some form of resistance training 3 – 5 times per week to strengthen and build your muscles. Focus on lifting weight that you can lift only 6 – 10 times. Pick 3 – 4 exercises for each body part (chest, triceps, back, biceps, shoulders, legs, abs, and calves) and try for 3 sets of each exercise. Hit each body part 2 times per week—you can split up workouts if you have more time or do a full body workout to get the most out of the time you have to exercise.

Steady-state cardio sessions— this is for straight-up calorie burning purposes. The more cardio you do, the more calories you burn. However, this means longer and slower-paced cardio sessions such as walking, hiking, biking, swimming, group classes, etc. These will typically last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour for serious calorie-burning activities. Shoot for two sessions per week.

HIIT cardio training— add one or two HIIT sessions a week into your routine and watch that body fat melt off. Try to HIIT it two to three times per week.

Start slowly with a few sessions a week if you’re new to exercise and build up to the recommendations above. And always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. All of these tactics will help you lose weight, but in the end, it’s equally important to stay consistent with your exercise plan. Losing weight is different for everyone, and there is a multitude of factors that go into the amount of weight you can lose from any given activity.

How Much Exercise Do You Really Need to Lose Weight: A Recap

Use exercise combined with a healthy diet, and check your results every week or two to see if you need to adjust the amount of exercise you need to meet your ideal weight. And don’t forget to push yourself and your body by increasing your intensity—work it!

The idea is to use as many of these techniques as often as you need to accomplish your personal goals and to maintain that weight loss once you’ve reached those goals.

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References

  • Blair SN, Connelly JC. How much physical activity should we do? The case for moderate amounts and intensities of physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1996 Jun 1;67(2):193-205.
  • Broom DR, Miyashita M, Wasse LK, Pulsford R, King JA, Thackray AE, Stensel DJ. Acute effect of exercise intensity and duration on acylated ghrelin and hunger in men. Journal of Endocrinology. 2017 Mar 1;232(3):411-22.
  • Exercise F. Exercise and Weight Loss [Internet]. WebMD. 2018 [cited 29 October 2018].
  • Calorie Calculator - Daily Caloric Needs [Internet]. Freedieting.com. 2018 [cited 29 October 2018].