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How Much Exercise Do You REALLY Need to Lose Weight?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/10/2013 6:00 AM   :  1162 comments   :  840,656 Views

New guidelines issued from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) state that 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week might not be enough. In 2001, ACSM recommended that overweight and obese adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to improve their health. 200 to 300 minutes per week was recommended for long-term weight loss. But will this amount of exercise really help you lose weight and keep it off?

New research shows that "between 150 and 250 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity is effective in preventing weight gain greater than 3% in most adults but will provide "only modest" weight loss." So ACSM has published new physical activity recommendations in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to lose weight and keep it off if they exercise for least 250 minutes per week. Exercising for more than 250 minutes per week has resulted in "significant" weight loss for these individuals.

So what does this mean? If you're trying to lose weight, 50 minutes of cardio exercise along with regular strength training might be what it takes to see the results you're hoping for.

What do you think? Does 50 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week seem like a lot to you? Or is that in line with what you're already doing? What amount of daily exercise has given you the best results?

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    My BMI is 26. But 30 minutes a day cardio plus daily strength (30 min) was not enough for weight loss.
    Post menopause, metabolism changes, and exercise has less effect.
    I have been on 1000 cal per day for 8 weeks, with cardio and strength training 5 to 7 days a week. I did not see changes until I upped the cardio to 50 minutes (walking 3.5 mph on elliptical/treadmill) plus 20 min strength. Laid off from work a month ago so weight loss is my job right now. Lost 7 pounds in 8 weeks--with a lot of work and focus (food tracking, SP articles, etc.).
    Docs recommend " A help create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal/day should be an intregal part of any program aimed at achieving a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week." Pretty hard to do that without exercise.
    300 minutes of cardio plus diet is what it takes for me to lose.
    I feel I will never be able to eat more than 1200 cal per day again, especially if I must reduce exercise time. Still, better than health problems due to overweight. Whatever it takes! I want my kids to be proud of me. - 7/25/2014   10:06:20 AM
    Exercise is also...getting in (and up since I own a van) to drive to do errands. It is parking way out into the lot to walk to the supermarket to buy your low fat, low-cal, low cholesterol food, and it is hauling the bags in and out of the car your self. It is doing crunches as you bend over and down on the couch or loveseat to fold the laundry. It is getting down on your knees and then straddling up again to clean the tub or even get the cleanser out from under the sink to do that job. So many everyday EXERCISES to do and use MINUTES and you are uber-fit, to boot! - 7/25/2014   9:35:25 AM
    For those of you wondering how you can work full time and get in this amount of exercise I recommend looking into a treadmill desk. You can work, read, watch movies, post to SparkPeople (I'm walking right now), etc - all the things you'd normally do you can do - all while walking ~2MPH and getting absolutely free exercise. I've been walking 20+ miles per week at my treadmill desk for 72 consecutive weeks now and don't feel like I'm giving up a thing or ever "making time" for exercise. It has combined my exercise and my down time into one (and helped me lose 28 lbs). I suppose it helps if you are a computer geek :). - 7/25/2014   12:18:56 AM
  • 1159
    Does it count if you're not obese? I have been working on losing weight for about 5 months now, and early.on I developed a foot injury that limited my ability to do much, if any cardio. I was able to do yoga and get sweaty, but no 50 minutes a day. I still found myself losing on average 1-2 lbs every two weeks. I have lost weight before, but was able to exercise and do cardio and built more muscle than I have now, and at that time I lost 2lbs a week easily. I have lost weight by eating less (portion sizes, count calories!), making healthier choices, and I've realized recently that I've really cut back carbs a LOT. I can't stand the taste of processed food any more, either. I drink lots of water, and drink before I eat when I think I might be hungry, just in case it's just thirst. That much exercise is not necessary, I say do what works for you and just eat healthier! High nutrient foods should be the majority of your meals, and low nutrient tasty goods should be just an occasional treat, and in small quantities. - 7/24/2014   10:31:09 PM
  • 1158
    Currently doing 30-50 minutes of exercise everyday. I walk every morning and some nights I workout on my stationary bike. Some days it's really a push but i try to keep going i eat mostly fruits and veggies so hopefully that helps. i want to get up to 2 hours of exercise a day. Down 20lbs since June 1. - 7/24/2014   6:18:47 PM
  • 1157
    I agree. I started losing weight as soon as I did an hour of walking/jogging per day. My weight loss took off when I started doing two hours a day. I also watch my sodium and fat intake. - 7/24/2014   3:19:11 PM
  • 1156
    Mostly it's a modern human problem with our time, technology and jobs. Weight is a bigger problem today because we're not working 16 hours a day on our farm to care for our family and bring in a harvest like a good old fashioned 1770's homesteader.
    Be very wary of your nutrition in today's day and age, modern packaged food isn't helping our modern lifestyle either! I wish I had an hour a day for just workouts. - 7/24/2014   3:08:39 PM
  • 1155
    I have been able to lose weight with more focus on nutrition than exercise. I'm am a busy mom, wife and student and can't always fit in 250 min. per week. I do what I can and make up for it with my nutrition. It has worked for me in the past, so I will keep with that. - 7/24/2014   1:57:39 PM
    Calories in...Calories burned, it really is that simple. Sorry folks but we have time for what we want to do or we make time for it. I less hour of tv or FB per day. There's your time. Get creative with what type of exercise you do, Push mow your yard instead of riding a mower. Rake leaves instead of using a blower. I can burn 800 calories in a 43 minute bike ride. I burn close to 1500 the day of the week I mow. I spend on average 2 hours of heavy weight training 3x a week. I keep track of pretty close to every single calorie I consume religiously. I cardio 4 times a week usually in the form of biking at an average speed of around 14mph. I've gone from 261 to 207 in about 8 months. Waist has gone from a 42-44 to a 34 and can fit into 32s without a come-a-long. I don't starve myself but I don't pig-out either.
    - 7/24/2014   1:36:37 PM
  • 1153
    I'm doing around 150-200m a week and have lost 40lbs in 6 months. 50m a day with 3 kids isn't something I can pull off at the moment, or do I really want to, I have a hard time finding 30(ish) minutes 6 times a week. I think this isn't taking into account what you're eating. - 7/24/2014   1:32:59 PM
    At first 50 minutes of cardio 5x a week seemed like a lot because I'm a full-time college student and a part-time worker and I want some time to relax. But I'm riding my stationary bike 30 minutes/week 5x a week in the morning before classes, walk to the bus stop, home from the bus stop, and back and forth on campus. My advice is to add 10 minutes of walking to your schedule 2x a day whether it's to the store, to work, or on your break. Breaking it up is a lot easier for me. I also do pushups/sit-ups/bicep curls in my "relaxation" time during my tv shows/while waiting for dinner to cook. - 7/24/2014   1:14:12 PM
  • 1151
    Going too hard right out of the gate is a good way to get hurt and/or burned out. I still think it's better to start with small steps and work up to longer and harder workouts. At least that's what works for me. - 7/24/2014   10:45:45 AM
  • 1150
    Began walking last year and have average 90 to 120 minutes per day, 5 to 6 times per week. So, I am exercising anywhere from 450 to 720 minutes per week. I also hike, stretch, and strength train. Began improving my nutrition 6 months ago. Have experienced vast improvements in health and well-being. Thank you SparkPeople for providing such wonderful tools and a space for wonderful community to gather. - 7/24/2014   9:53:05 AM
    my first day and can't wait to get started have a lot of size 2 and 4 in closet and can"t fit in them today but in time I will be back to wearing them this site is great to get motivated - 7/24/2014   9:16:26 AM
  • 1148
    Do the ACSM guidelines mean exercise only, with no changes in diet? - 7/24/2014   9:08:25 AM
  • 1147
    This 60 year old does more than that per week. But for myself, to experience weight loss, I need to combine the exercise with proper nutrition, staying within a specific calorie range. All that plus a good attitude equals success! - 7/24/2014   8:46:31 AM
  • 1146
    well today is Thursday and I have already worked out 270 minutes this week, like I do every week I ride my bike for an hour, 3x a week I walk 3 miles 2x a week, I swim 2x a week I do strength training 2x a week and I walk my dog everyday.. eat about 1300 calories and I cannot budge a pound.. so.. not sure what the heck I am doing wrong... - 7/24/2014   8:28:30 AM
  • 1145
    After skimming some of the comments, it seems like exercise is greatly a personal preference.
    Its been told again and again that if you exercise for hours, if you go home and eat junk that exceed the amount of calories burned, you'll gain weight. Even eating a low calorie amount of junk, exercise won't give you all the results of healthy eating and calorie control.

    I think its all about how you personally approach it.

    People have lost weight just eating right, some incorporating both.

    50 minutes a day does sound like a lot. Maybe as time goes on and you've met a goal of 30 minutes a day getting up to 50. I know for me, I'm not ready to make my goal so large.
    - 7/24/2014   8:20:15 AM
    Weight loss is 80% or more diet, so this information is misleading. Weight loss can be achieved by diet alone, so any exercise you get is GREAT. Eat Healthy and in moderation and move around a bit and you're well on your way. - 7/24/2014   3:49:46 AM
    Zero. Sorry, I've lost more weight NOT exercising than exercising. The body is much, much more complex than simple calories in -vs- calories out.

    If you're stressing out about exercising enough, that alone will cause you to gain weight due to shifts in stress hormones.

    If you exercise more, you need to eat more, or you'll still send your body into starvation mode.

    There are LOTS of reasons to exercise - it helps you to feel better, gain mobility, flexibility, cardiac health, circulation, stamina, etc. But you don't need to exercise to lose weight. - 7/23/2014   7:22:57 PM
  • 1142
    I unhitched exercise from weight loss. I exercise daily to increase my mood & energy. It's a great stress reliever. Exercise is also great for bone & heart health. So definitely people should exercise. Any calories burned are a bonus.

    Nutrition is more important for weight loss. Have a small caloric deficit most days. I like to focus on portions control, especially not having second helpings at dinner. I also only have dessert once a week. Besides saving 500 calories a day, it's more of a treat when I have dessert on a Saturday night. If I really need a sweet after dinner, a nice piece of fruit or a yogurt will do. - 7/23/2014   3:36:03 PM
    You have to burn 3000 calories to lose 1 pound!! Being post menopausal, it doesn't matter if I work out for an hour and watch my intake, I cannot lose weight because of hormone imbalance and estrogen dominance. It took me swimming 20 laps 6 days a WK for a month to lose 5 lbs!! No more. I believe resistance
    training with free weights with intense short bursts 15-20
    workouts (MRT) keeps you burning calories up to 48 hours post.
    Cardio only shows to burn calories for the period of time you
    workout while Metabolic resistance Training gets you the same
    result with half the time. Check out Shaun Hadsall's video's &
    workouts on Tube or MRT's on U Tube. He also teaches about the science of food, that if you want to loss weight after a intense workout, delay eating for at least 45-60 minutes so fat stores will be depleted. - 7/23/2014   9:37:51 AM
  • 1140
    You can exercise for 4 hours a day but if you are eating too many calories you won't lose weight. If you watch what you eat 50 minutes a day 5 days a week may be enough. For me it's all about calories consumed. - 7/23/2014   9:13:27 AM
  • 1139
    I read the article quickly, but looked to me like they were isolating exercise as a method for weight loss ( a good study will eliminate other variables) so they didn't take into account control of calories. Perhaps less exercise combined with some calorie restriction would be fine. I also image that it will depend on the individual how much exercise is necessary. I am so far finding that reasonable calorie control (not starving) and moderate exercise (brisk walking) 4 times per week helps me lose weight. We will see if I hit a plateau and what I need then. Whether you lose weight or not the exercise will only benefit you, so do whatever you can. Find something you like and go for it. - 7/23/2014   8:27:58 AM
  • 1138
    Exercise is critical to the health benefits of weight loss, in my opinion. In addition to providing those endorphins, exercise strengthens your heart and lungs, convinced your body to make your bones more dense and hang on to the bone density you already have, helps you sleep better (and good sleep had also been shown to be important to weight loss), and gives you another thing by which to measure progress besides the scale. This last factor is incredibly important if you're in this for the long haul, for a permanent change.

    My biochemist husband is fond of saying this: "If there was a pill that would cause you to lose weight, reduce your risk of all diseases, live longer and have a better health expectancy (length of life spent healthy, not just alive), would you take that pill? We have that pill. It's exercise."

    You have to sweat, and you have to do it for at least an hour, averaging 5-6 days a week. That doesn't necessarily mean M-S you work out for an hour per day. It might be 3 days during the week, and then a 3 hour hike on Sunday, or a thirty-minute bike commute one-way every weekday, supplemented by time on and indoor climbing wall when the weather's crappy. The key is finding things you love enough to keep doing. I do races, so my workouts aren't just workouts, they'd time I'm committing to support myself as an athlete. An athlete doesn't sleep in just because it's raining on a run day, she gets up and puts the miles in. She doesn't put food in her body mindlessly, she thinks about what will fuel her body, mind, and soul, and then makes a choice appropriate to that meal. - 7/23/2014   1:00:42 AM
  • GWELLS21
    Right now im doing 45 minutes a day 7 days a week. And after two months of losing 15 pounds im now maintaining. So for me right now thats not enough for weight loss. - 7/23/2014   12:25:16 AM
  • 1136
    In my opinion, if you are shooting for 50 minutes a day every day, then you are setting yourself up to fail. You need to do what works best for you. I exercised 7 days a week for 40 minutes at a time and I still lost weight and have kept it off for 4 years! I don't go by recommendation, but how I feel and how my clothes fit. If you have the time to step it up on particular days, then I say go for it, but otherwise, don't injure yourself trying to be hero!
    - 7/22/2014   11:59:47 PM
  • 1135
    That does NOT seem like a lot. I need a minimum of 350 a week just for maintenance. If I want to lose I need to aim for something closer to 550. I notice that most of my Spark friends who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off tend to exercise this much. I think that Spark is VERY far off base in its exercise recommendations. - 7/22/2014   11:00:21 PM
  • 1134
    Im on the fence. I work out 45-60 minutes doing a combo of cardio and strength. My strength training is done at a high intensity after my cardio. That way my heart rate is already elevated and it stays elevated throughout the workout. I eat 4 or 5 small meals a day. In 6 weeks I've lost about 12 pounds. I struggle with polycystic ovaries, so i don't shed the weight as quickly as others. Each person has to find what works for him or her. I see muscle definition and looser clothes, so i'm happy. I'd love to lose faster, but i have to balance 2 young kids, a full time job, and anything else the army life throws at me. - 7/22/2014   9:52:06 PM
  • 1133
    I completely agree. Especially when you hit plateaus. I lost 55 pounds 4 years ago. At first I was able to lose weight with 30 minutes a day, but I'd plateau and have to up my minutes. Believe me, if you want it bad enough, you'll find the time. I did with a full time job and two young kids. You prioritize it. - 7/22/2014   9:45:13 PM
  • 1132
    Sounds like a lot of exercise to this 63-year-old woman. - 7/22/2014   9:30:40 PM
    That's good to know....I am doing 2 hours a day, 5 days a week so i guess I am ok. - 7/22/2014   9:19:05 PM
    50 minutes 5 days a week!!! when am I supposed to find time for that? And get 8 hrs of sleep a night? and work 9 hours a day?
    I give up - 7/22/2014   9:16:42 PM
  • 1129
    250 minutes a week is a great goal, but most people who need to lose weight will have to work up to this. If you haven't exercised in months or years, it's better to start small (10-15 minutes) and add a few minutes every week. Intensity is also a factor! You might only need 30 minutes if you really go for it.

    I also agree with the person that said exercising more than 45 minutes will increase the risk of injury. For me, a good 30-45 minute walk 4 times a week plus strength training 2-3 times a week is my ideal exercise week.

    But I also think that it's 2/3 about what you eat! And the other 1/3 of exercise is to help with that and release positive chemicals in your body and get your metabolism going. - 7/22/2014   9:16:40 PM
  • 1128
    It greatly depends on the person. Back when I lost 55 pounds, in 6 months, it was doing 30 minutes of light cardio, 6 days a week. I was doing primarily Leslie Sansone videos. Saying everyone needs 300+ minutes a week to lose weight... that's ludicrous, especially for those of us who suffer chronic pain.
    - 7/22/2014   9:03:07 PM
  • 1127
    When I last was working out like a demon to lose weight, it was 1 to 2hrs of high intensity work outs per day, 6 days per week. Ultimately, I knew that it was not sustainable for me. Right now, I am just looking to exercise moderately (30 +) minutes per day. My motivation is different now. I am exercising for HEALTH reasons, not weight loss. Working out for weight-loss was a doomed proposition for me. If you can do it for the rest of your life, great, but I could not sustain the effort needed. When I was working out intensively, I lost relatively little weight due to exercise, most of it came off with dieting. And as with 95% of diets, I ultimately failed and regained all the weight. I just want to be healthy now. The number on the scale is no longer my prime motivator. - 7/16/2014   9:36:31 PM
  • 1126
    Right Now I exercise approximately 400 minutes a week (6 days). I do anywhere between 30 to 45 minutes of cardio a day (walking on the treadmill) and then strength and I lost 11lbs since starting that programme. I feel strong when I'm done, though I do get the slight muscle fatigue that's expected, PLUS with tracking my meals to take into account the calories I've burned, I am able to eat what I like and still see the benefits. Right now I think I am the healthiest I have been in years if not ever. - 7/16/2014   2:08:49 PM
  • 1125
    I'm only doing about 120 a week and losing fine. Then again I'm not exactly inactive outside of that. I don't drive and live in a city so I have more walking than many already figured in to day to day life. I also do all my own housework PLUS some of my in-laws (they have a farm and I don't have the desire to do outside chores at all so while they and hubby do that, I take care of the house and my nephew). - 7/16/2014   1:48:44 PM
  • XTINA56
    Great insights. I was losing weight consistently, WITHOUT exercise, and lost lots of weight over a year. Staying on the same diet, i started training for a marathon by walking 20+ miles a week, and the weight loss slowed, practically to a standstill, for the past 5 months, without the benefit of increased FAT loss. So, go figure! Do what works. - 7/16/2014   12:19:01 PM
    I find this to be true. I was doing 200 a week but I found it wasn't quite enough. 250 leads to loss for me. I'm not a gym rat or anything. I find that an hour once or twice a week, plus ten minutes here and there throughout the day is enough. It is hard to do every week but when I do it I see results.

    Don't forget that exercise also comes in the form of dancing with your friends on weekends and cleaning the house and gardening in the yard. It's not just the traditional cardio and weights so you can have time for it.

    This morning I did a 25 minute yoga video and walked from my car to work (14 min. there and back) so I'm at 39 mins. already at 8:00 a.m. I'll take a 12 minute walk on my work break and I'm almost there. Yesterday I did an exercise video and 4 small walks. - 7/16/2014   12:08:59 PM
  • 1122
    I exercise AT LEAST 180 minutes per week; as a matter-of-fact, since starting here April 1st, there was only 1 week that I did less than that (97 minutes that week). I usually do over 200 minutes per week (I don't think I've reached 250 in 1 week yet, though), and I track all of my food. 250 minutes per week seems like a lot to me, especially with my work schedule. I do the best that I can and hope for the best. - 7/16/2014   12:06:05 PM
    My doctor told me that, for me, (back when I was 45) I'd need to exercise 60 min a day 5-6 days a week to lose any weight at all. And I have a restricted diet already due to pre-diabetes and gout. I didn't believe her but I found walking 3 miles of hills 4 days a week didn't make me lose weight at all. I got healthier but didn't lose. - 7/16/2014   8:51:05 AM
  • 1120
    You don't have to exercise at all. You can still lose weight-if you want to eat very little, be hungry, and be unhealthy. Exercise will lower your bp, lower your cholesterol, lower your blood sugar, improve your stamina, both mentally and physically, lower your depression, and help you sleep. ETC. The body needs exercise. 20 minutes a day is good. 60 is even better! You do what you can; but there is no magic pill, or diet that will ever take its place.

    I don't have time to brush my teeth, take a shower, or drive to work. I do all of them because I have to. Same with exercise. I would rather sit around watching tv, or playing on the computer. But, for my health, I must do more. - 6/7/2014   7:49:17 PM
  • 1119
    From my personal experience, my weight is impacted MUCH more by what I eat than by how much I exercise. It doesn't sound like this study took diet into consideration at all. In February, I followed Haylie Pomroy's Fast Metabolism Diet pretty strictly (confuse to lose, no wheat, whole grains only, no dairy, no sugar, no corn, eating with 3 cycles a week, 3 meals and 2 snacks every day). I was able to keep it up for about 3 weeks to the letter and have done my best since then. I lost 14 lbs the first month and am down another 8 lbs since then. I follow the general guidelines for the most part, but don't eat in cycles. I don't weigh over holidays or when I'm on my cycle, and enjoy birthday parties to the fullest. If I'm craving something, I eat it. Then I get right back on track. Most importantly, I'm nice to myself and don't feel guilty when I have a less-than-stellar day. I have an active job and am on my feet all day and haven't added any exercise above and beyond what I do at work. My body has just gotten more efficient. Two years ago, I exercised all week and followed the SP diet and didn't lose hardly anything. I now use SP to track my weight and to keep my health at the forefront of my mind. Every body and every mind is different, so you have to find what works for you and stick with it! - 5/26/2014   9:09:31 AM
  • 1118
    I thought it was just me but I noticed that I need the 250 minutes to lose. I've been experimenting with higher intensity, shorter workouts it the scale won't budge so I'm going back to 250 minutes per week. - 5/15/2014   12:11:17 PM
  • 1117
    I'm thrilled to see this, as the men in my life (husband, dad, friends) have been warning me against too much cardio. (And I will be honest - I LOVE cardio!) I'm doing strength training as well (alternating days), but only getting about 30 minutes of cardio each day (5 days/week). I'm just not seeing the results that I want to see at this point. I'm going to up my cardio time and see if it helps. Have I mentioned that I am thrilled by this? :) - 4/11/2014   3:58:27 PM
  • 1116
    I go to the gym 6 days a week, I work out for 35 minutes at usually high intensity on the recumbent with the hills and alpine programs, Saturdays is my long day as I have the day off from work and that is an hour. I am dropping a lot of weight quite quickly, and am watching what i eat with a lot of protein, healthy fruits and veggies and complex carbs. I drink a lot of water everyday and treat myself on Sunday with something that I would not normally eat, such as a slice of pizza, etc,,,,this keeps any cravings away for me. I feel great as long as I go to the gym in the morning. - 4/10/2014   11:31:46 PM
  • 1115
    Well this is depressing. - 2/12/2014   8:27:34 PM
    New guidelines means, yet again, the old information was wrong. I choose not to worry about the latest soon-to-be-wrong information.

    The important thing for each person is to figure out what works for them. I've learned that a lot of guidance out there does not lead to weight loss for me (e.g., calories in/out). That's not to say it won't work for others. - 2/1/2014   3:31:06 PM
  • 1113
    A one hour power walk 5 days a week should be fine, especially with a little running mixed in to get my heart beating fast. So I'm already following this prescription. - 2/1/2014   12:59:18 PM

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