How Much Exercise Do You REALLY Need to Lose Weight?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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It's not exactly earth-shattering news that exercise is essential for shedding pounds. Along with proper nutrition and a calorie-moderated diet, regular activity is a critical piece of the weight-loss equation—but how much? If you feel like the gym has become your second home, or if you're spending more hours walking, running or doing fitness videos than hanging out with your family, you might be overdoing it. Conversely, if your daily exercise consists of a 15-minute stroll around the block, you might need to ramp up your efforts to see real results.
Fortunately, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has provided some scientific guidance so you don't have to rely on guesswork.

Exercise Guidelines for Overall Health

In 2011, the ACSM released some general recommendations for how much exercise is needed to reap overall health and cardiovascular benefits. According to these guidelines, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Broken down to 20 minutes per day, that might not sound like much—and for obese adults who are trying to lose weight, it may not be enough.
Take care to focus on the types of exercise you're doing in addition to the quantity. The ACSM recommends a diversified routine that includes the following four disciplines:
  1. Cardio Exercise: Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which can be 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days per week. These can also be split into shorter, more frequent segments. Check out our 110 cardio ideas.
  2. Resistance Exercise: This includes strength training of major muscle groups two or three days each week, using either hand weights, resistance bands, weight machines or other equipment. Try to complete two to four sets of each exercise, starting with eight to 12 reps, then 10 to 15, and finally 15 to 20 to improve muscular endurance.
  3. Flexibility Exercise: It's recommended to perform stretching or yoga two or three days per week to improve range of motion. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, then repeat two to four times.
  4. Functional Fitness Training: Two to three days per week, for 20 to 30 minutes per day, adults should engage in exercises that work their motor skills, such as balance, coordination and agility. This is especially important to prevent falls and increase mobility for older adults.

Exercise Guidelines for Weight Loss

If you're trying to lose weight, you most likely need more than the general recommended amount of 150 weekly minutes of exercise—but how much more? The ACSM released updated guidelines for weight loss and prevention of weight regain. For overweight and obese individuals, 250+ minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity will be more effective in reducing weight and keeping it off. Strength training is also highly recommended to increase fat-burning muscle and improve overall health.

What do you think? Does 50 minutes of exercise, five 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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  • 1349
    This was a very informative article!!! - 5/3/2017   3:20:01 AM
  • 1348
    I know I do enough cardio, but I don't get in enough strength training. I'll have to work on it. - 5/2/2017   8:47:16 AM
  • 1347
    I have to do at least 60 minutes of cardio 5 or 6 days a week in order to lose weight and eat a low calorie diet. On a normal day I do 1-2 hours of cardio, 30 minutes of Yoga and 30 minutes of strength training. - 4/10/2017   9:16:39 PM
  • 1346
    I don't think 50 mins/5 days a week or 250 mins to be too much. At my gym-going peak, I spent about 470 mins at the gym over 6 days per week. As a testament that how much you work out is not the most important thing, I was still stuck at 210 lbs. Now I spend 250-300 mins/week at the gym and 1 day high activity outdoors. My last weight check is just under 155 lbs. Turns out food matters more than the time you log working out. Working out has it's place, but there has to be other balances in life! - 3/9/2017   12:47:44 PM
  • 1345
    I know it seems daunting and impossible with time constraints but that's about what I'm doing now. - 3/3/2017   1:11:43 AM
  • 1344
    That does seem a bit daunting. I agree with those who said that this advice could turn off someone who is just starting out. All things in moderation seems to be the key. I shoot for 30 minutes a day, every day, but often count things like yard work, shoveling snow and vacuuming just to fit it all into one day.

    If a person has the time for that level of activity, more power to them but I would hate to see someone discouraged by advice like this. - 11/11/2016   9:57:40 PM
  • 1343
    The guidelines shared in this article have been evidenced in my experience. During my weight loss phase I was putting in the time necessary to cover 35 miles on average per week. This was 35 miles of walking, hiking, running that was in ADDITION to my routine activity. Steps from walking about during the day are not included in this 35 miles.

    That being said, my experience has also taught me that one cannot out exercise ones fork. Meaning exercise is not an excuse to eat more. Many times I've seen it mentioned that weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. I have to agree. What one choses to put into their mouth has a far greater impact on weight loss than exercise will ever have. Ones nutritional intake cannot be ignored. - 11/11/2016   5:12:30 PM
  • 1342
    I think 50 minutes a day, five days a week is quite a bit unless it counts walking as part of that. Between my regular exercise that I do and walking I tend to get between 60-100 minutes per day but that includes the time I spend walking around at work (work at a large spread out company) and walking my dogs. So it will average between 60-100 minutes during the day rather than one or two focused sessions. I agree with a lot of the other comments that what you eat is likely pays even a larger role. - 11/11/2016   4:53:10 PM
    I exercise 60 min 6 days a week. I feel good when I exercise, but the exercise does not seem to help me lose weight. Neither is eating low calorie or low fat. What I have found that works for me is eating between 1800 and 2500 calories a day of whole food. No food additives or processed foods. I don't eat soy and the wheat I eat once in awhile is whole wheat. When I eat food additives and processed food my weight goes straight back up, even at 1200 to 1400 calories a day. I'm down 41 lbs with 85 more to go. Yeahhhhh - 11/11/2016   4:15:08 PM
  • 1340
    I do at least 150 minutes per day & it's finally starting to pay off. I lost 2.8 lbs.
    since last Friday! I hope everyone has a Fun-Filled & Blessed Friday! Happy
    Veterans Day! Linda! - 11/11/2016   3:03:02 PM
  • 1339
    I do at least 65 minutes per day, every day. Get up everyday very early and go to the gym before work. Work very long hours 10-12 hours per day. 45 minute commute one way to work. I have found that if you want it bad enough, you find the time. But I also agree that losing the weight is mostly about eating less calories than you burn. - 11/11/2016   2:26:26 PM
    I agree, who has time to do 50 minutes of exercise every day! working full time, with kids and committee obligations.... - 11/11/2016   2:15:02 PM
  • 1337
    Who has time for that? Life is so busy I'm lucky to get 30 mins in... - 11/11/2016   1:34:57 PM
  • 1336
    It reminds me of Col. Cathcart in the novel "Catch-22," who was continually raising the number of bombing missions his men had to fly, without regard to what it did to morale. God bless the ACSM, always giving us new and exciting ways to fail. - 11/11/2016   10:22:07 AM
  • 1335
    As I got into exercise more late last winter and into the spring, I found that I was often exercising 50 -60 minutes a day especially on days when I also included strength training. Exercising 300 minutes a week has been a goal for some time and it DOES work. Since early January I have lost over 46 pounds and for me getting lots of exercise has been the key to losing that weight and helping me to continue to my final goal. - 11/11/2016   9:48:26 AM
    The only time I go past 30 minutes of exercise is when I'm walking on a Sunday. Other than that I will not go past 30 minutes of exercise. - 11/11/2016   9:15:06 AM
  • 1333
    I think it is a LOT...and articles like this is why I don't really read articles on SP any more. One minute, you're telling us that 30 minutes is what we really need...then you're telling us that if we can just fit in 10 to 15 minutes, we'll be well on our, it's 50 minutes or bust? This is why people get frustrated and this why people quit. I'll keep my own counsel on what's working for me and my weight loss journey, not fret over ever new "finding" in somebody's medical journal. - 11/11/2016   9:09:28 AM
  • 1332
    That seems SO daunting. 10 minutes was a great start and now I have worked my way up to 30 or 35 minutes of cardio 5 days a week. And THAT is doable. Just. I feel overwhelmed trying to figure out how to work full time, run errands, make dinner and fit 50 minutes of cardio into my days. I already get up at 5:30 every morning and it is pitch dark outside now at that time.
    I guess I will keep on keeping on, doing what I am doing and as long as it is working ( 20 pounds off in 2 & 1/2 months), that's what I will do. What I CAN do. - 11/11/2016   7:52:36 AM
  • 1331
    Always love SparkPeople member comments - and they are real. For me, exercise intensity makes a difference in my results. I have the option of going higher and being OK with that level (up to a point). For others, I agree with the saying: "Flat abs start in the kitchen". -- Your food / hydration choices are the biggest part of weight loss and maintenance. Always good to re-visit this topic. - 11/11/2016   5:39:12 AM
  • 1330
    As a single father with a full time job there is no freaking way I could fit 50 minutes of cardio in every day. Now that I am retired - it is easy. I am finally losing weight ha ha. But when the kids were home... forget it! Honestly I think a majority of my weight loss is by limiting my calorie intake, not exercising, though. - 11/11/2016   4:57:58 AM
  • 1329
    I just recently got a workup with a Bariatric Doctor for my lack of progress with my weight loss. My Metabolism is slower than average, not an uncommon thing for people with long term weight issues, and I am not doing enough cardio exercise (average 170 minutes a week). I am supposed to do 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 5 times a week. I basically ride my bike to and from work and the transit center to equal 60 minutes, plus an hour long brisk walk on the days I don't take my bike, or don't work. I am starting to see results. - 11/11/2016   3:23:09 AM
  • 1328
    I agree with many folks here.

    1. This is an old article (although I recently saw research that backed up its claim).

    2. Weight loss is mostly about diet. Exercise is great, but diet is the key. SO, without seeing what the people in the study were eating, the article seems incomplete.

    3. I know for me it's true that without a LOT of exercise, my weight moves downward very slowly.

    So...this article might be true for you...or it might not. - 10/3/2016   9:33:27 AM
    I've exercised more than fours a week at times (sometime even much more so) and I still could not lose a pound. - 8/24/2016   2:25:46 AM
  • TACTAC20
    Why am I not receiving any more daily messages etc. on my email? - 8/20/2016   4:49:01 PM
  • 1325
    The article didn't mention what kind of diets the people were on in the study. It also didn't mention the body types, gender or any health or hormonal issues the people in the study were / have. I think 250 minutes can be a lot. I shoot for an hour a day at least four times a week or more, but that is hard to find time for - and I don't have kids. I think your diet, plus the type of exercising you do is very important when it comes to weight loss, not just the amount of time. Not to mention, rest is important too. - 7/22/2016   3:35:49 PM
    I am a few months from 70, and I exercise 6 days a week. Sometimes I do 2 1 hour classes a day. And most days I walk a mile or two besides. I am overweight, in some of my classes other overweight people also take them. Don't say overweight people are lazy or inactive this may not be the case. Some of us have hormonal abnormalities that make it harder to take weight off.

    It is not right to be judged by looks. - 7/3/2016   10:15:58 PM
  • 1323
    We need to remember to check the dates on articles. This article is 3 years old. Information this old may be obsolete. It always goes back to calories consumed and calories burned. Exercise helps with weight loss but is not necessary. Check success stories on SP. There are those who have lost a large amount of weight and not exercised. Here is an example :
    - 7/3/2016   7:42:33 PM
  • 1322
    I don't know about that. I started with 20 minutes a day 7 days a week, which is 140 minutes a week, and did that for a good few months, then upped it to 30 minutes a day 7 days a week, which is 210 minutes a week. I went from 335 lbs. to 185 lbs. in 9 months. Of course, I was also on a very healthy diet. What I did worked for me. - 7/3/2016   7:03:21 PM
    I think it is better to rely on calorie deficit to loose weight, exercise is for fitness, yes you will also burn calories but exercise alone isn't enough. - 7/3/2016   7:00:17 PM
    I walk 10,000 steps a day watch what I eat and exercise 30 minutes a day and drink 90 ounces of water a day and I seem to be loosing weight. - 7/3/2016   6:54:46 PM
  • 1319
    For someone who might be struggling to balance a full time job,travelling to and from work, raise a family, look after the house, etc this could be the thing that will make them say forget it if they read it. And that is the problem with articles like this. It is very easy to say you need this, but unfortunately many people have to juggle so many things every day on top of trying to lose weight. They might see 50 minutes of cardio AND strength training and say forget it - there are not enough hours in the day to commit to that. And they give up before they start. I think articles like this do more to hinder weight loss than help it. I found way, way easier to work at losing weight and getting healthy once my kids were older, but trying to work full time, look after the home, raise small kids is hard and even harder if you have a long commute to get to and from work. Then add it picking kids up from daycare, getting dinner on the table, helping with homework and the list can go on and on. Many parents feel overwhelmed as it is and trying to find another hour + per day if you count the strength training part is very difficult. We need to find ways to encourage people to get healthy in a realistic way and not shut the process down with articles such as this. - 7/3/2016   6:46:56 PM
  • 1318
    The reason you should exercise is to be healthy, NOT to lose weight. We have our priorities all wrong. We should eat right and exercise because it's good for us and makes us feel better, that's it. Doing these things just to look "better" is a fools goal and will result in, well, no long lasting results. When I exercise regularly I feel better, when I eat healthy I feel better so I am trying to do both so I can keep up with my grandkids and live an active life. I will probably lose weight which will also make me feel better so it's a win, win! - 6/29/2016   8:21:21 PM
    It's simple.... exercise is great for improving your body and general health, energy, and well-being. But, exercise will not help you lose weight unless you modify your diet and calorie intake... Burning enough calories to lose weight without changing food intake is just not possible for most people. The old saying is true... "you can't outrun your fork." - 6/23/2016   4:26:34 AM
  • BRIMAR56
    I am proof that you do not need to exercise to lose weight. I dropped 25 pounds by counting calories; however, I definitely do believe you need to exercise as well as eat right to maintain the weight loss. I quit smoking and let myself go and gained 32 pounds. Exercise definitely gives you more leeway in being able to eat a tad more freely. - 6/17/2016   2:31:15 PM
  • 1315
    I do work out every day, ate least 60-90 minutes.
    Still, if I eat more than my allotment, I gain weight.
    If I work out 2-3 hours for fun while on vacation, but eat a bit more and unusual food, I still gain.
    I never lost weigh because of exercising more than usual. - 6/17/2016   9:49:53 AM
  • 1314
    I believe it is possible to lose weight with no exercise at all, just by eating right.
    Of course, exercise makes it more fun and easier,
    but I don't think it is mandatory for weight loss.
    Eating right matters so much more! - 6/17/2016   9:46:55 AM
  • 1313
    I have been happy with my weight loss with 150 or more of moderate exercise per week. Some of the exercise I do is vigirous so that is an added support but I find that I have been losing inches instead of weight which makes me feel good. I figured if I had the ability to make my own meals I could do better but thats only half of it. I do eat a lot better now than I have in a long time. - 6/17/2016   1:51:35 AM
  • 1312
    I exercise at least 250 to 300 minutes a week if not more, but I don't loose weight unless I adjust diet. I have to learn to eat for the weight I want, and its not easy. - 6/15/2016   11:00:16 AM
  • 1311
    This article is so out of touch it's ridiculous. It's targeted to "overweight and obese" people.

    Overweight and obese people may not be physically capable of 50 minutes a day! It's like asking a normal person to run a marathon or triathlon with no training or prep work at all! That's just not going to happen!

    Most "overweight or obese" people are so sedentary, if they did 50 minutes one day, they would be so sore/achy the next day they would be incapable of exercise for a few days. Then they are "behind", and "off track", and now the pressure is on to do 75 a day, because they missed, and they get depressed and feel like they can't do it, and... you get the idea.

    It's far more important to do SOMETHING each day, if only for 5 minutes, and make exercise a daily *habit*, and work the volume up bit by bit as you are able, than to try to do a ridiculous amount that is just beyond your capability.
    - 6/15/2016   10:06:58 AM
  • 1310
    I'm a believer in strength and fitness. I still do not lose weight unless I limit my calories. - 6/15/2016   10:01:14 AM
  • 1309
    I've been running for over 8 years, in 2011 and 2012 peaking at about 870 miles per year. I'm not sure what that translates to in minutes, but I lost essentially no weight between 2008 when I started and 2012. My other numbers improved dramatically (BP, fasting glucose, lipids). I injured my knee in 2013 and for a while, I could barely even walk, and ended the year with less than 500 miles. I may have gained a few pound, but not a lot. In 2014 and 2015, I guess I got about 600 miles per year, or about 300 minutes per week including other exercise activity, according to my Fitbit. I lost no weight and in fact gained a few more pounds. In October last year, I did a half marathon, finishing in 2:27. I determined that in order to improve my time, I would need to run a lot more, AND control my nutrition better, if I wanted to see both results in weight loss and time improvement. To that end, I've doubled my weekly mileage, monitored my intake very closely (2000 calories per day, strictly, 30% fat, 35-40% carb, and 30-35% protein). My weekly exercise minutes are floating around 450-500 now, with much of that being vigorous running, plus a nice mile to two mile cool down walk. So far, I'm just shy of 600 miles for the's run will put me over the mark. I'm also down 44 pounds since Jan 1, with 6 pounds left until I'm at the high end of my target range, and 9 until I'm at the lower end. I'm also pleased to report that my 5k PR has improved from 27:20ish to 25:11. The moral of the story is that it takes a lot of exercise and focus on nutrition in order to lose serious weight. Not one exclusive of the other. You CAN lose weight by dieting alone, but you won't get healthy. You CAN lose weight by exercise alone but it takes a lot more than 300 minutes per week of vigorous exercise if you want to do that. If your idea of exercise to lose weight is to just walk without adjusting your nutrition habits, plan on walking 800-1000 minutes per week, unless you are satisfied with losing weight at the rate of a couple ounces per week. Finally, once you've lost the weight, I'm convinced that continued diligence is required on both the exercise and nutritional fronts if you want to keep off any weight that you've lost. That is especially important for those of us who have, in the past, found our weight in the obese category. Also, be careful not to rely only on BMI as your measure of obesity. Look into your body fat percentage as well. I'm now in the "average" category, down from mildly obese, and 1-2% body fat away from the "Fit" category...which I will achieve in 6-9 pounds. BUT, even there, I would be considered overweight on the BMI scales, yet I can outrun many who are considered healthy as far as BMI goes, but don't exercise. - 6/15/2016   9:23:32 AM
  • 1308
    I find it much easier to lose weight exercising than restricting my diet. Swimming and riding my bike is playing. Restricting food gives me a headache and makes me tired and irritable. When seriously trying to lose weight, I aim for a minimum of 300 calories burned through exercise each day. - 6/15/2016   8:56:25 AM
  • 1307
    The last time I steadily lost weight I was limiting myself to 1200 calories a day, while taking kickboxing and karate for a combined total of nine hours of hard working out each week. It took a year to lose ten pounds (I know some of that was muscle gain, but I dropped two sizes only for a year of effort). I fully believe that the more you exercise, the more weight you will lose. That just seems common sense, and for most sedentary people, that sounds right. But for those of us who are already on our feet all day long (10 hour work shifts, standing the whole time)...I'm already getting in 17,000 to 23,000 steps a day and the last thing I want to do some days is work out more! - 6/15/2016   8:07:27 AM
  • 1306
    This article was written in 2013, much has changed since then regarding required minutes, exercise, name it. The thing about 50 minutes, well it is an intimidating number...and it is a lot. At least five times a week I exercise on average 40+ minutes a day. Often this is doing two entirely different workout routines that are 20+ minutes. This is not where I began my journey, I was morbidly obese and had both knees replaced when I was 47. I was the furthest thing from fit, or healthy. It took a concerted effort to find my fit, I started slowly and built from there. I am talking 10 or 15 minute workouts...the thing is, once I began working out, I finished every routine I ever started. Working out at home works for me, I love the flexibity and variety that are offered on YouTube. There are options that are mindful of our health, size, limitations. Typically we each become our biggest hurdle. Make changes you can live with...that make sense and seem reasonable to you. Listen to and respect what your body tells you it needs. Exercise is a key component in any healthy living puzzle. Find your fit, wake up your inner athlete. Did not even know I had one until I was 56, now that girl loves to play. Exercise your strong, it will not disappoint. - 6/15/2016   7:16:18 AM
  • 1305
    It sounds a lot, but my weightloss is really slow and I have noticed that it is better on weeks when I excercise more. I think I probably need to excercise more for better weightloss. I don't think I would have in my 20's or 30's but now I suspect that figure is right for me. - 6/15/2016   6:50:15 AM
    If I gain a few pounds, I take it off by limiting my calories to 1600 per day and walking 5-7 times a week for at least 30 minutes. After a few weeks I begin to see results. - 6/15/2016   6:14:50 AM
  • 1303
    I released 65 lbs, and have maintained that for almost 3 years now, with only mild exercise occasionally. While I am adding more exercise into my life for overall general health and well-being, certain amounts, specific hours of exercise were certainly not necessary for me in order to lose whereas significant dietary changes were a requirement.

    cj - 5/13/2016   5:36:59 PM
    The thing with weight loss is everybody is different. I have been up and down in weight most of my adult life, between a size 8 to a size 22 and I have tried every "diet" known to man and woman. What works for me it to have between 50 to 80 minutes of exercise daily while carefully watching my intake to lose weight..... that is what works for me. The key is figuring out what your body is telling you. My husband can eat anything and everything and stays within a 10lb weight range and is not overweight. Before we met, I had lost about 100lbs by exercising alot and eating little, but nutritiously. As we dated we were very active and I continued to maintain. Then we got married (second marriage for both). I moved to his state, changed my job, was working on a master's degree and my whole normal routine went out the window. Slowly weight came back for a number of reasons. I wasn't doing the amount of exercise I had in the past, my husband wasn't excercising with me as much, and I fooled myself into thinking I could eat like my husband eats. Well, that 100 pounds made its way back plus another 10. I was tired, grouchy, and I couldn't do the things I had been able to do before like running, walking, and biking. When we would go on vacations I was always self conscious about being the biggest woman there and wouldn't do things I wanted to do. It has been very discouraging but at the end of February this year I had had enough. I tried a new "diet" but found it difficult to maintain. I did lose weight but felt it was a gimmick with them just wanting you to buy all their expensive products; but it did me to start back to the way I've been successful before. As of today, I've lost 40 pounds. Yes, I have a long way to go but I am determined to do what works for me and not compare myself to others. So, that means I will be exercising at least 50 minutes a day and probably more on some days, eating a limited, nutritious diet and enjoy being able to do more than I have in about 8 years. I feel less stressed, have more energy and am not as grouchy. The trick is finding what works for you and this works for me. - 5/12/2016   2:20:57 PM
  • 1301
    That's funny because just last week I thought to myself that maybe my 30 min 5x a week isn't working enough and I should bump it to 40 -50 min per session to really see results. I just barely started so time will tell. - 3/31/2016   7:39:48 PM
  • 1300
    Agree with Icedemeter. I am fairly sedentary but losing slowly and steadily following Spark meal recommendations. I understand the value and need for activity but I think this article seems to indicate that unless you do the recommended amounts, you won't lose weight. I think it's more important to get the food stuff down and find things you love to do for activity. Imposing on yourself stringent food plans or exercise plans that are not sustainable in YOUR reality is a huge mistake. - 3/3/2016   3:48:45 PM

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