How Long Should I Work Out to Lose Weight?

Adjust Workout Duration to See Faster Results

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One of the most common questions that exercisers ask is: “how long should I exercise to lose weight?” When people ask the question, they are usually hoping for an answer that gets them off the hook for long aerobic workouts. In fact, the recent trend is to do shorter workouts for weight loss. But that fad might not work if you're trying to lose weight—or if you are simply trying to improve your fitness level.

The best method to determine how long to work out shouldn't be based on trends. Of course, you can (and should) still include short workouts in your fitness schedule. But you will have to do some cardiovascular workouts that last a little bit longer if you want to lose weight and keep it off.

Weekly Guidelines

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should exercise for 150 to 250 minutes per week to lose weight. They also suggest that more exercise provides better results.

If you want to keep the weight off for good, the ACSM prescribes a minimum of 250 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week.

To meet the ACSM guideline, you could simply exercise for 40 minutes every day. But that workout schedule can get boring, which may cause you to quit your program. In addition, to lose weight effectively you need to exercise at different intensity levels. This requires that you adjust your workout duration to accommodate the various workloads.

Daily Guidelines

How long you exercise every day should depend on your goal for that specific workout. If you are healthy enough for vigorous exercise, your workout program should include hard, high-intensity days, easy days to recover, and moderate days when you build endurance, improve heart health, and burn fat. Each of these workout goals requires a different exercise duration.

Short Hard Workout Days (20-30 minutes)

High-intensity intervals (HIIT) workouts need to be short. Why? Because your body simply can’t work very hard for a long period of time. If you find that you can complete high-intensity drills for an hour or longer, you’re probably not working hard enough.

HIIT workouts should last 20 to 30 minutes and feel very hard. Keep in mind, however, that you burn more calories from EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), also known as “the afterburn,” if you structure high-intensity workouts properly.

Measure workout intensity with a heart rate monitor and make sure you reach your target heart rate for the session. If you are well-rested going into the workout, you'll find it easier to work hard enough to reach that goal.

Easier Recovery Days (30-45 minutes)

The purpose of an easy day workout is to allow your body and your mind to rest. Of course, you could sit on the couch to recover as well. But an active recovery helps to increase your body’s range of motion, decreases your stress level and increases your daily caloric burn. 

Active recovery is simply a low-intensity movement that increases the range of motion in your joints. For many people, an easy walk, or a leisurely swim is a good active recovery. Some yoga classes (restorative yoga, for example) are another smart option. An easy active recovery workout can last 30 to 45 minutes.

Long Moderate Workout Days (45-90 minutes)

Most of your workouts during the week will fall into the moderate category. These workouts burn more calories than a recovery day, but still allow your body to recover and prepare for high-intensity workout days. 

However, because your body isn't working as hard on moderate workout days, you need to exercise for a longer period of time to burn enough calories to lose weight. Try to make these sessions last 45 minutes or longer. If possible, schedule one long workout, 75 minutes or more, during the week. This longer session challenges you mentally and builds cardiovascular endurance.

A Word From Verywell

If it seems overwhelming to try to schedule all of these workouts into your weekly routine, don't worry. Start by choosing 1-2 days per week for your hard activity. Then schedule the day after each hard day as an easy day. Finally, fill in the rest of the days with moderate sessions. You can design a plan on your own or use these weekly workout schedules to create your own exercise plan.

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  2. Schleppenbach LN, Ezer AB, Gronemus SA, Widenski KR, Braun SI, Janot JM. Speed- and circuit-based high-intensity interval training on recovery oxygen consumptionInt J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(7):942-953.