Not enough exercise and you might not lose weight, too much and you might get reverse results. How much exercise do you need for weight loss?
Exercise can greatly benefit mental capacity, mental health, reduce aging and risk of heart disease.
It can also help you lose weight if you do the right workouts in the right quantities. So how much exercise do you need to do to see results?
The short answer is it depends. You might exercise 5 times a week and gain weight, you can also lose weight without any exercise.
How does weight loss and gain work?
To understand how much exercise you need to lose weight you need to know how weight loss and gain work.
Your body needs energy to function. It uses energy when you walk, when you talk, when you eat, when you sleep,… The energy your body uses is measured in calories. You can get calories from food.
When you absorb more calories from your food than you use your body stores this energy for later. In prehistoric times this was essential. Calorie rich foods were not always available, no energy could go to waste.
You store this excess energy in the form of body fat or glycogen stores in your liver and muscles.
In these times our ability to store energy is still useful but less so. The main problem is that too much stored body fat is bad for your health.
Luckily you can also reduce how much body fat you have. When you absorb less calories from food than you use your body turns towards stored energy. In other words, your body starts to burn body fat and glycogen stores.
How does exercising helps you lose weight?
This is where exercising can help you lose weight. Exercising helps you use more energy. That means it becomes easier to start burning body fat and glycogen stores and you can use more of it.
There are 2 main ways exercise can help you do this.
The most straightforward way is by temporarily increasing movement and movement intensity with cardio and HIIT workouts. You burn more calories while you move more.
The second way is more indirect. With muscle building workouts you increase muscle mass. One of the things that heavily influences how many calories you burn is how much you weigh. By gaining muscle you burn more calories with everything you do.
Can you lose weight without exercising?
It’s important to note that you can certainly lose weight without exercising.
Losing weight is about burning more energy than you absorb from food, your calorie deficit. Exercising is one way you can increase the amount of energy you burn throughout the day.
There are other ways to get into a calorie deficit like for example eating less calories. There are multiple ways you can absorb less calories or burn more. Your weight can go down regardless of whether you exercise or not.
That being said, exercise can provide you countless benefits and help you lose a few extra pounds in the process.
What are the best weight loss exercises?
Not all different kinds of exercise have the same effect on weight loss. You can categorize them into 3 groups. Cardio, HIIT and weight lifting. Every exercise has a bit of both but it’s often easy to see what category is more relevant.
Cardio and HIIT help you lose weight mainly right now, by increasing the intensity of your movements. However, when you stop, the calorie burning stops soon after as well.
Weight lifting on the other hand is to build more muscle. By increasing your muscle mass everything you do 24/7 burns more calories.
This leads to weight lifting having the most long-term weight loss results for the least amount of time and effort. For most people this is the best weight loss exercise. Once you have enough muscle mass you can switch over to more cardio.
Do keep in mind that being able to stick to your workout is an important aspect of weight loss as well. If you hate weight lifting chances are you are not going to stick to it. In that case cardio workouts might be better.
Examples of calories burned in 30 minutes
It’s hard to measure how many calories extra muscle mass burns in the months to come. Exact calorie burning numbers are mainly available for cardio workouts. You can also find numbers on weight lifting but these are not the complete story when it comes to calorie burning.
Here are some examples of calories burned in 30 minutes for a 155 pound person (1):
- Water Aerobics: 149 calories
- Stretching (Hatha Yoga): 186 calories
- Weight Lifting (vigorous) 223 calories
- Stair Step Machine (general): 223 calories
- Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
- Running 5.2 mph: 335 calories
The amount of calories you burn with exercise is influenced by factors like height, age, weight, intensity,… So for you personally, the exact numbers might be different.
As you can see, exercise doesn’t burn that many calories compared to the calorie amount in certain kinds of food. Most people can’t rely on exercise alone to get them to their weight loss goals.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
How much exercise is enough to lose weight?
Doing exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose weight.
For example, there is person 1 who absorbs 2500 calories from their food a day and person 2 who absorbs 2000 calories a day from their food.
These 2 persons might do the same workout but it’s possible that only person 2 is losing weight.
This means the amount of exercise you need to lose weight is a very individual thing that depends on a lot of things.
A good thing to keep in mind is that one pound of fat (0.45 kg) is about 3500 calories.
That means that you have to run at 5.2 mph for about 5 hours and 10 minutes to burn an extra 3500 calories. Whether or not these calories come from stored body fat depends on your diet.
How long after starting exercise will you lose weight?
If you have no more energy from food left in your body, you instantly burn stored calories.
This energy can come from both body fat and glycogen stores.
Some people should avoid heavy exercising
In general, exercising will burn more calories the more intense you do it but that does not mean everyone should start out their first workout day with a long sprint.
Some people might want to be cautious of heavy exercising or any exercising at all.
If you have not exercised in years, chances are your heart and other muscles are not ready to keep up with you yet. Add a lot of extra weight to the mix and you have a potentially dangerous situation. The risk of overworking your heart is very real in this situation.
People in this situation might want to start out with doing some extra walking every once in a while and building up from there. Losing some weight by focusing on your diet can also reduce strain on your heart.
Heavy exercising can be very stressful on your body. If you’re already putting a lot of stress on your body in one way or another, it might not be smart to stress it even more with heavy exercise.
Certain heavy workouts can also put a lot of pressure on your joints and back. If you’re not sure if your workout would be too much you can always contact your primary care provider.
Should you work out every day to lose weight?
Too much exercising can put a lot of stress on the human body. This can actually make losing weight harder. In that case more exercising would mean less weight loss.
There are a lot of factors that influence how much you should work out every day. Things like how often you should work out, the kind of workout you have in mind and the shape you are in are all important.
For most people something like going for a 30 minute walk every day only offers benefits. On the other hand, if you’re talking about high intensity interval training, it might be wise to let your body repair for a day or two.
The amount of exercise your body is able to deal with will increase the more you work out. You can start out small and increase from there.
Final tips for exercising to lose weight
Now you know how much exercise you have to do. Here are some final tips if you’re looking to exercise more to lose weight.
Increase intensity or duration
If you look at calculators and formulas to find out how many calories you burn a day, you can see that how much you weigh influences that amount a lot.
This means that the more you lose weight the less calories you will burn with the same workout. If you stick to the same routine you will hit a weight loss plateau sooner or later.
To keep the number on the scale moving you can regularly increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.
Are you injury sensitive?
Some people are more injury sensitive. If that’s you, you might want to choose exercises that generally cause less injuries.
Involve a friend
Getting an accountability partner can motivate you to stick to your workout plan. Often it is harder to break a promise to someone else than a promise to yourself.
You can ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable. You might even be able to persuade them to join you.
Be careful of “rewarding” yourself
What sometimes happens is that people start “rewarding” themselves when they start exercising.
Something like “I deserve this, I went for a run this morning”.
It’s easy to “reward” yourself too much. If you eat more than you burned off you get a reverse effect from exercising.
Routine over willpower
Some days you will have less willpower than others. Willpower even reduces throughout the day.
A routine on the other hand, is something you will do no matter what. Once you turn exercise into something you have to do instead of something you should do, it becomes a lot easier to stick to your schedule.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet
Finally a very important point is that exercise doesn’t burn that many calories compared to how many calories some foods contain.
A donut of 100 grams contains around 452 calories (2). To burn that amount of calories you would have to run about 30 minutes at 7.5 mph.
Is working out 30 minutes a day enough to lose weight?
This depends greatly on your other habits. If you do other things right you can even lose weight without exercising.