How Much Do You Need to Exercise to Lose Weight?

minutes of exercise for weight loss

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Exercise is one of the first things people think of when they hear the word “weight loss.” After all, exercising is almost always part of a weight-loss regimen because it’s one of the fastest ways to reduce the number on the scale, explains Bill Daniels, CSCS, CPT, the founder of Beyond Fitness.

But, there are so many additional reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss, such as improving your mood and reducing your risk of a myriad of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. Exercise also increases strength, mobility, endurance, and stamina. Plus, it helps us move better, breathe better, and improve visceral (organ) health. 

If you are considering exercising for weight loss, you may be wondering how much you need to do each day or each week in order to lose weight. Here is what you need to know about exercising for weight loss including tips on how to create an exercise routine.

How Much Exercise Do You Need to Lose Weight?

To lose weight, it is recommended that you get about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of the two each week. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days per week or more. If you prefer more vigorous activity per week, three or more 20-minute sessions (60 minutes) will help you meet your goal.

The ACSM and CDC also recommend engaging in strength training activities a minimum of twice weekly. These activities should hit all of the major muscle groups, working the upper body, lower body, and core.

To reduce your body weight by 5% or more, or to maintain your recent weight loss, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that a minimum of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly may be needed.

If you modestly (not drastically) reduce your calorie intake in addition to exercise, this rate of physical activity per week is likely to improve your weight loss results. Of course, it depends on your starting baseline, changes in dietary habits, and your individual response to these exercises and dietary changes, says Jason Machowsky, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian and registered clinical exercise physiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery's Tisch Sports Performance Center.

Once you've reached your goal weight, the CDC suggests continuing to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a mixture of the two. However, remember that this amount varies by person. Some people may need more exercise to maintain their weight.

Daily Exercise Guide for Weight Loss

Weight loss is achieved through the basic means of calories in (or calories consumed) versus calories out (or calories burned), explains Jennifer Sobel, NASM-certified personal trainer. In other words, if you consume fewer calories than you’ve burned in a day, you will achieve weight loss. 

“One of the biggest issues is that people often wind up eating more because they think that if they exercise that day it entitles them to eat more food because they burn more calories,” Sobel says. “The thing is, we often burn a lot [fewer] calories exercising than we think, and it’s not hard to eat those equivalent calories we burned off in a workout, and then some.”

Jennifer Sobel, NASM-CPT

We often burn a lot [fewer] calories exercising than we think, and it’s not hard to eat those equivalent calories we burned off in a workout, and then some.

— Jennifer Sobel, NASM-CPT

If you are hoping to lose weight, aiming to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy weight loss goal. Losing 1 pound of weight generally requires that you burn about 3,500 calories. But keep in mind that trying to lose 1 pound of fat with exercise alone can be difficult and time-consuming for some people. For that reason, you may want to combine diet and exercise to reach the right calorie deficit for weight loss.

How Much Exercise Is Needed For Weight Loss

Because the road to weight loss can look a little different for every individual, the best way to determine how much exercise you need to support your weight-loss efforts is to first calculate your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, Sobel says.

Your BMR measures the amount of calories your body needs to perform the most basic functions like breathing, circulation, and cell production. Once you determine how much of a caloric deficit you need each day to reach your weight-loss goals, you can then create an exercise regimen that affords you this deficit.

Why Exercise Is Important to Weight Loss

Not only does exercise burn calories and help you create the daily deficit that will yield results, but it also helps build muscle and reduce body fat, explains Daniels. 

“Muscle uses more energy than fat, which means that the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories your body will naturally burn,” he says.

What's more, research has found that muscle tissue contributes to an estimated 20% of total calories burned in a day versus 5% for fat tissue. So, in addition to exercise creating a calorie deficit that helps you lose weight, building muscle too can assist in burning more calories during periods of rest. 

How to Create an Exercise Routine

The ideal exercise routine for you may look different than that of your friend, colleague, or neighbor. These tips can help you create an exercise routine that yields weight loss in a safe and healthy manner. 

Choose Activities That You Enjoy

The best way to establish a fitness routine that you will actually commit to is to choose an activity that you actually enjoy doing. 

“Forcing yourself to do an activity you don’t enjoy will always be an uphill battle and will make it much more likely that you’ll eventually quit,” says Sobel. 

She recommends thinking about the activities you most enjoyed throughout your life and especially as a child—whether that’s playing a sport, gardening or landscaping, or going for a jog. 

“Expand your mind around what exercise is and think of it more as being active, rather than exercising,” she suggests. “Focus on enjoyment first and you’ll naturally hit your goals.”

Start Simple and Progress Slowly

Your exercise routine should be something that you can maintain—not something that totally wears you out and makes you want to take long breaks. Not only should there be no rush when it comes to intensifying your exercise routine, but Sobel warns that doing so could lead to injuries, which is the last thing you want. 

“Whatever activity you choose, think about progressing slowly from week to week,” she says. “Increasing by 20% is a good guide. For example, if you walk 1 mile on week one, walk 1.2 miles in week two.” 

Cross-Train 

Cross training, or switching up your exercise routine frequently with the goal of establishing more balance and strength in your body can help boost weight loss, improve your total fitness, and even reduce your risk of injury.

“If you walk as your primary source of exercise, try adding some strength training as well, or, if you strength train, incorporate some yoga for flexibility,” says Sobel. “Doing multiple types of activities will minimize the risk of injury and help ensure your body is balanced and fit.”

Why Nutrition Should Also Be Considered

Eating a nutrient-dense diet is an important part of any weight-loss regimen. Not only does eating whole foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients help keep you healthy, but they also provide you with the fuel you need to increase your energy during workouts, says Daniels.

He recommends eating plenty of vegetables, fresh whole fruits, quality sources of protein, and avoiding processed foods. He also recommends drinking adequate water to prevent dehydration. The goal is to ensure you are eating a nutritious, balanced diet that will fuel your body not only during exercise but during daily activities.

A Word From Verywell

If trying to reach your exercise goal sounds overwhelming, don't worry. Your workout plan doesn't have to be perfect to be effective. And setting up a workout plan is easier than it sounds.

Following basic exercise recommendations can provide a framework for finding out how much exercise you need per week or day to lose weight. Just remember that consistency matters most. For instance, if you can do less more often, that might be a smarter approach.

If you’re not sure where to begin, use a basic weekly workout plan to make sure that the time you spend working out is time that really helps you lose weight. You also may benefit from talking to a healthcare provider, especially if you are new to exercise as well as a certified personal trainer who can help you develop a workout plan that helps you meet your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much do you need to workout per day to lose weight?

    If you are active everyday with activities or if your job requires you to move around a lot, then you’re going to need less exercise each day than someone who sits at a seat for 12 hours per day. You may want to start with 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 days each week and then expanding to longer and more frequent workouts as you gain confidence and strength. 

  • Which is more important to weight loss, cardio or resistance training?

    The answer really depends on your weight loss, goals, and body type. However, some experts recommend resistance training  because building muscle burns more fat and calories, even if you are at rest. The best exercise programs, though, contain both cardio and resistance training.

  • How much exercise should a beginner do per day?

    The ACSM recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 5 days a week. If you’re just starting out, you can start with less frequency. The key is consistency—even if that involves 20 minutes on 3 days a week. In short, some exercise is better than no exercise.

  • Can 10-minute workouts spaced throughout the day be effective in losing weight?

    Some movement is always better than no movement. In fact, research has found that short bouts of exercise throughout the day can be beneficial. Each burst of exercise is burning calories and if you add them all up at the end of the day, they could amount to the same as if you did one single exercise for a longer period of time. 

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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